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Is effort twice as important as talent when recruiting for a sales role?

motivation sales

A large number of organisations have departments and initiatives aligned to the word talent. It has become the management buzzword of the moment:

‘Talent Development’
‘Talent Management’
‘The war on Talent’
‘Talent identification and recruitment’

I would contend that the word talent is overused, misunderstood, and misused in our general discourse. This, especially is the case when we try and explain exceptional performance in sports, music, art, business, sales et al.

The contention that I make in this blog is that it is only a part (and an overrated part) of a mix of attributes that allows an individual to perform at any task. Lets first look at the definition of the word talent. From the Oxford dictionary: ‘an natural aptitude or skill’ From the Cambridge dictionaries online: ‘someone who has a natural ability to be good at something, especially without being taught.’

Therefore talent is the natural predisposition that an individual has to perform. It is what one ‘comes to the party’ with. However if it is only about talent then what is the point of effort, practice and striving to become better etc. I believe in many walks of life we have a propensity to write the end result i.e. élite performance as the result of talent. What we don’t see is what happens behind closed doors – the hours and hours of deliberative practice, making mistake after mistake but taking the corrective action to enhance the skill.
In her recent book Grit, Angela Duckworth offers a different perspective. She places talent into an equation:

Talent x Effort = Skill
Skill x Effort = Achievement

Effort is twice as an important as talent.

Talent (the natural propensity to perform) x effort (deliberative practice) develops skill. Skill x effort (deliberative practice) = achievement

This is linked to the work that Carol Dweck has completed on Fixed v Growth mind set. This body of work challenges the talent myth and contends that if we develop a growth mindset i.e. people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

How does this then play in the field of sales? (A function that the company I run consult in). Back to an age old question – are the best sales people born or made. If we are recruiting raw talent what criteria are we recruiting against?

Surely all aspects of the ‘competencies’ need to excel in a sales role can be developed over time and effort and are not just a ‘gift from the gods’.

Above is a very basic generic competency map, it is not intended to be comprehensive but to allow an assessment of what the component parts are that make up potential sales success. Each one of these challenge talent and highlight aspects of development. Should we then not be looking to recruit individuals who have demonstrated twice the amount of effort to talent ( Duckworth’s model). What are the attributes behind effort we should look to recruit for:

  • Focus
  • Resilience
  • Persistence
  • Self-motivation
  • Self-efficacy
  • Determination
  • A thirst for learning
  • Non- defensive
  • Not fearful of making mistakes

Maybe companies should rename the departments and initiatives and call them:

  • Grit Development
  • Persistence and Resilience Management
  • The war on fixed v growth mindset
  • Effort and deliberative practice identification and recruitment

In conclusion: Talent is necessary but not sufficient. As a stand alone commodity without the correct mindset attributes I have mentioned it is overrated and counter productive for producing teams and a culture made up of self-reflection, ability to recognise and learn from mistakes and grow into challenges.

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