Multiple Dimensions of Talent

People are muti-faceted, there is no precise way to measure any dimension, and people are constantly changing. Understanding just some basics about the various dimensions of talent can help you be a better manager and design better jobs.

D. Brown Management Profile Picture



There is no "One Best" dimension of talent. The optimum combination for doing a job well depends heavily on the job that needs to be done including the environment that job is done within - especially the manager. 

Below we will explain a few of the dimensions of talent that factor heavily into a person's ability to do a job. This is not meant to be an exhaustive explanation, just a basic primer. You can use this with your team as an introduction to the broader Talent Value Stream (TVS) including training, retention, and development.


Dimension Examples - Using a Bar of Gold

  • Size: Width of 40 millimeters or 1.58 inches. Length of 80 millimeters or 3.15 inches. Thickness of 18 millimeters or 0.7 inches. 
  • Volume: 57.6 cubic centimeters or 3.51 cubic inches.
  • Weight: 1 kilogram or 2.2 pounds.
  • Value: Market value in April 2023 was $64,240. As jewelry or art, far more than the raw material up to priceless. In a survival situation like on a deserted island, far less down to being a burden to carry. 

There are other dimensions such as conductivity of electricity, conductivity of heat, melting point, hardness, etc. This is just an example of some of the dimensions of a material. 


Comparison to Talent - Some Reminders

  1. Don't mix up vocabulary words, a measurement scale, and a dimension - millimeters, centimeters, and inches are the same dimension - of linear distance. 
  2. Talent has many more dimensions - all with imprecise measurements using multiple and over overlapping vocabulary words. 
  3. Not all dimensions of talent matter equally for a given job role and/or stage of growth.
  4. Both people and companies change over time.


Dimensions of Talent (Basics and Vocabulary)

There are many more dimensions of talent, this is just a basic starter list. When we talk about talent, we are really talking about multiple dimensions and how they are integrated together to achieve an outcome. This integration occurs at both the individual and team level. Developing a common vocabulary to use as a team will accelerate everyone's growth and help troubleshoot gaps more quickly. From general to more specific, here is a starter list of dimensions:

Capability and Competency: The demonstrated ability to do something whether it is a hard skill, soft skill, or any other dimension of talent. Compensation is driven by consistently applied competencies to deliver outcomes. 

Capacity: The actual capacity (time) to utilize a capability to achieve an outcome. It must be assessed if this is a true capacity issue driven by circumstance or a choice on time application. Circumstances may be temporary or permanent. Choices can change over time with coaching.

Potential Progression: Setting aside choice (desire) and capacity (time), we all have a growth trajectory curve to each dimension (aptitude) including a point of diminishing returns. These growth curves are often jagged with two steps forward and one back, but over time the progression can be clearly seen. For growth, potential progression is far more important than current capabilities when choosing how to invest your leadership time. Projecting future capabilities including by when, the probabilities of success and the development plan to get there is a crucial leadership capability. There are many external “Life Factors” that impact professional progression curves including health, children, divorce, caring for sick/aging parents or other relatives, etc. 

Hard Skills: See Tip #7 in The Little Book of Talent, actions that are performed as correctly and consistently as possible, every time. They are skills that have one path to an ideal result. Hard skills are about repeatable precision. Consider the progression of hard skills in a martial art associated with each belt level including promotion testing. Do you have the hard skills for yourself, and your team mapped out this clearly with each progression building on the prior stage? 

Soft Skills: See Tip #7 in The Little Book of Talent, highly flexible skills that can be applied to many situations and have many paths to a good result, not just one. These skills aren’t about doing the same thing perfectly every time, but rather about being agile and interactive, about constantly recognizing patterns as they unfold and making smart, timely choices. Soft skills usually bring together a variety of hard skills to deliver an outcome. For example, Excel, financial and scheduling hard skills are prerequisites for putting together a change request. Knowing your audience including what is important to them and their communication styles so you put the change request together in the best way requires a combination of soft skills and experience. 

Values and Beliefs: These form the foundation of culture and show up in behaviors. Values and beliefs determine how people learn, apply, and teach their hard and soft skills. Consider the difference between someone who believes abilities are innate (born with it) as compared to someone who believes abilities can be developed. Consider the differences in values and beliefs between people with the ability to inspire millions, all with amazing and very similar hard and soft skills: Hitler, Churchill, Martin Luther King.


Cognitive Intelligence: The process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and senses. Includes various intellectual processes: perception, attention, formation of knowledge, memory (working and long-term), evaluation, judgment, reasoning, computation, problem solving, decision making, and projection. This includes both crystalized knowledge coming from prior learning and experiences as well as fluid knowledge, which involves the ability to solve problems and reason about things independent of previously existing knowledge. There is no single assessment for intelligence that represents the whole person.

Working Memory: The capacity to both hold and manipulate information in the mind which is important for reasoning, problem solving, and decision making. This varies widely between individuals.

Emotional Intelligence: Most often defined as the ability to perceive, use, understand, and handle emotions. Daniel Goleman’s model outlines five main competencies: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

Experiences: “All things are created twice. There's a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation to all things.” - Stephen R. Covey

Both the mental and physical creation are critical. There are no substitutes for real-world experience including the confidence and credibility gained. This experience can be accelerated in multiple ways including observing others in real-world situations, real-world simulations for training, consistent and frequent feedback mechanisms including metrics and coaching, rigorous debriefs and self-reflection, and curated experiences that progressively overload for maximum growth without breaking.

Relationships: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” - African Proverb

The effectiveness of a leader is largely determined by the strength and size of their network of relationships. We don’t achieve much alone. This can be accelerated in many ways, but the foundation must be trust and alignment for long-term mutual benefit. 3 Critical Network & Relationship Buckets

Resources: These include people on their team, financial resources, equipment, time, etc. that can be leveraged to varying degrees to create an outcome. Resources are rarely static and often constrained. Two people of equal talent will produce very unequal outcomes depending on the resources they have to work with. As with capacity, it is important to evaluate how much of the resource constraint is circumstance and how much is choice. Both can change. This is the leverage to individual capacity and is how contractors can get dramatically more production out of the same people at different stages of growth. 

Cognitive Biases:  Systematic patterns of deviation from the norm and/or rationality in judgment. To have a cognitive bias is to be human. To the degree which these can be identified then minimized will improve the effectiveness of decision making both individually and as a team. An example is the Dunning-Kruger effect where people poorly self-evaluate their capabilities across all levels of their development from beginner through mastery. 


Logical Fallacies: Reasoning that is logically incorrect, undermining the validity of arguments or recognized as unsound. It is unlikely that any communication exists without some form of fallacy, usually unintentional. The degree to which these can be identified quickly and worked through as a team largely determines the effectiveness of decisions and alignment towards execution of those decisions.

Complexity of Mental Processing (CMP): The maximum scale and complexity of the world that you are able to pattern and construe and function in, including the amount and complexity of information that must be processed in doing so. From Requisite Organization by Eliott Jaques, page 18. Part of his Stratified Systems Theory (SST) for organizational design.

Convenient Planning Time Horizon: How far into the future a person can envision a result and overcome both anticipated and unanticipated problems to achieve the expected outcome. 

The picture of the future that people not only vaguely think and talk about, but can actually deal with, forecast and control by doing things on a scale which they can feel comfortable with. 

A construction business requires many roles and tasks with very different time spans, from installing conduit measured in hours to building a project measured in months to building a new market measured in years.

The longer the time horizon of a role, the heavier the feelings of uncertainty and weight of the responsibility. CMP is the raw mental power that enables a person to deal with the increasing levels of complexity and discretion in decision making that come with increased time spans. 

Time Application: How someone actually spends their time largely determines their outcomes. This starts with how they think about the best application of their time to achieve the outcomes required given their resources. The next step is actually spending their time on these activities. 

An example would be a newly promoted foreman who is still allocating their time like a craftsperson rather than prioritizing their responsibilities for planning, communication, quality control, and administrative activities. 

This is a great place to start with the development of someone because how someone spends their time is highly visible. Helping someone organize their calendar including daily, weekly, and monthly rhythms is a great first step in helping them move effectively into a new role.


Remember that this is just a starter list to begin evaluating your organizational structure, job roles, and people against starting with an objective look at yourself. 



Related Training

Perspectives on Development - Focusing on Strengths AND Weaknesses
There are a couple of schools of thought on development. The highest performers tend to embrace both of them. Don’t ever let a weakness of yours or anyone around you become an excuse for not achieving your goals.
Succession Planning at All Levels
If a construction company is growing at 15% per year, then it will double in size about every five years. Therefore, in general, every position must be training at least two people that will be capable of succeeding them within five years.
Growth Trajectories for Talent Development
Most people want to think about the growth trajectory of their lives, careers, and business as being a steady climb up a 100% grade - reality is very different and organizational development must align with reality.