About the Author(s)

Lidewey van der Sluis symbol
Nyenrode Business University, Breukelen, The Netherlands

Emmerentia N. Barkhuizen Email symbol
Centre for Work Performance, College of Business and Administration, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa


Van der Sluis, L., & Barkhuizen, E.N. (2023). Meaning in motion: Evolving images of talent in organisations in a disruptive world. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology/SA Tydskrif vir Bedryfsielkunde, 49(0), a2099. https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v49i0.2099

Note: Special Collection: Navigating Talent in a Disruptive World.

Original Research

Meaning in motion: Evolving images of talent in organisations in a disruptive world

Lidewey van der Sluis, Emmerentia N. Barkhuizen

Received: 30 Mar. 2023; Accepted: 04 Aug. 2023; Published: 29 Nov. 2023

Copyright: © 2023. The Author(s). Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Orientation: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, concurrent with Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), introduces a new work environment and vocabulary that challenges traditional talent management (TM) thought processes, taxonomies, and practices. As a result, we must reconstruct the meanings of workplace talent and TM to ensure business continuity in a disrupted workplace.

Research purpose: The main objective of this research was to investigate the current thought processes and meanings associated with the concepts of talent and TM as catalysts for enhancing meaningful work experiences in a volatile workplace.

Motivation for the study: Research exploring the meaning of talent and TM as a two-way approach in the new world of work is yet forthcoming.

Research approach/design and method: A literature review was conducted to synthesise a shared comprehension of the meaning of talent and TM in the new work environment and their practical applications.

Main findings: The findings reveal that the current definitions of talent and TM are ambiguous and contradictory. Consequently, there are numerous dichotomies regarding the most practical method of implementing TM during a crisis. From a multi-value perspective, talent provides valuable insights into how talent and TM practices can be optimised in a world of work characterised by disruption.

Practical/managerial implications: Leaders and talent practitioners must reimagine and transform TM practices for sustainable and meaningful individual and organisational impact.

Contribution/value-add: This paper provides novel and unique insights into how talent can best be optimised in the new world of work.

Keywords: 4IR; COVID-19 pandemic; meaning; talent; talent management.


The conceptualisation and meaning of workplace talent management (TM) have grown in popularity since McKinsey consultants coined the term ‘war for talent’ and positioned talented individuals as the key actors for organisational excellence (see Eriksson, 2019; Michaels et al., 2001; Wiblen & McDonnell, 2020). In support, early publications argued for TM as the critical determinant of organisational success (Beechler & Woodward, 2009) and organisational sustainability (Boudreau & Ramstad, 2005). More than two decades later, these arguments still hold value, but with competitiveness, the triple bottom line and return on investment now added as critical outcomes of talent and TM (Ashif, 2019; Lawler, 2018). The recent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and the resulting ‘new world of work’ forced management and practitioners to redesign TM practices to ensure business continuity in times of great uncertainty and workplace disruptions (Fernandes et al., 2023). While workplace vocabulary, such as ‘hybrid’, ‘social distancing’, ‘sanitising’, ‘work from home’, ‘safety’ became commonplace during the pandemic, organisations had to scramble to develop just-in-time solutions to mitigate workplace risks and create meaningful work eco-systems to keep employees engaged (Mahapatra & Dash, 2022). Managing talent during COVID-19, therefore, proved to be a great challenge and requires progressive ways of managing people in the new world of work (Anggraini & Ma’arif, 2022).

Despite a proliferation of empirical research on TM in multiple workplace domains and contexts, the scientific rigour thereof is still perceived as ambiguous as far as the theoretical grounding, underlying philosophies, and practical application of managing workplace talents are concerned (Kaliannan et al., 2023; Metcalfe et al., 2021). The multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary nature of TM and predominant psychological discourse towards the concept of human talent relative to other disciplines result in a Babylonian confusion on how to approach talent and TM best in the workplace context (see Dries, 2013; Meyers et al., 2020). Järvi and Khoreva (2020) caution that leaders and practitioners should understand the foundations and boundaries of TM implementation to drive strategic renewal during change. Furthermore, the underlying meanings of talent and TM in the workplace should be grasped to enable positive individual, team and organisational outcomes during times of crisis (see D’Armagnac et al., 2022).

The main objective of this research was to explore the current thought processes and meanings attached to the concepts of talent and TM. Next to this, we explore how the underlying meanings of talent and TM facilitate motions and actions to enhance the meaningful work experiences of talent in a volatile workplace. Finally, we explore the value of talent from three perspectives, namely; the strategic value of talent, the value of talent stakeholdership and a social blockchain approach for talent management to construct a framework that can promote TM practice during times of crisis. The following questions direct our research:

  • What is the current nature and meaning of talent in the workplace context?
  • How does the meaning of talent influence TM approaches in organisational contexts?
  • How can talent, from a value perspective, contribute to business sustainability during times of crisis?

Our research is motivated by the fact that Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the COVID-19 pandemic introduced a new world of work and vocabularies that challenges traditional thought processes, taxonomies, and practices (Fernandes et al., 2023). This requires researchers and practitioners to make new paradigm shifts and understand the underlying nuances of a disruptive workplace to ensure sustainable individual and organisational performance (Aguinis & Burgi-Tian, 2021). As such, we must re-construct workplace talent and TM meanings to ensure business continuity. We use existing strands as a point of departure to build meaningful talent perspectives that can advance the scientific rigour of the TM field. New theoretical insights and arguments could aid theorists and practitioners in making sense of practical phenomena and problems. Next to this, we believe that understanding the meanings of various talent taxonomies facilitates the motion of meaningful talent perspectives and practices. This paper intends to take essential measures in that direction and develop research propositions that can be tested empirically.

Literature review

The meaning of human talent

When looking up ‘talent’ in various publication domains, it becomes clear that talent, at its very basic, is seen as something valuable and a gift or aptitude inherited by the person (Sparrow & Makram, 2015). According to Tansley (2011), the original meaning of the term talent refers to something of value, a gift out of faith, given to a person to serve with. Talent is, therefore, a unique gift which reflects an ability that someone has and was born with, like time, health, energy, creativity, beauty, and physical and spiritual energy (see Ward et al., 2017). Busenitz and Lichtenstein (2019) and Neubert (2019) posit that people do not create talent, but rather a supernatural body, the Creator.

Objective and subjective meanings of human talent

The conceptual ambiguity of talent and its application in the workplace resulted in the ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ viewpoints of human talent. Most attempted talent definitions revolve around a more objective approach towards talent (Gallardo-Gallardo et al., 2013), which refers to the alignment between an individual’s talent and how it fits within the organisational context (see Jooss et al., 2019). The focus is also on objective talent characteristics such as competence, commitment, contribution (Sandeepanie et al., 2020), abilities and knowledge (Bolander et al., 2017).

The object approach to talent has its roots predominantly in human capital and resource-based theories. From a financial and economic perspective, the human capital theory views people as investments that should yield a return on investment for the organisation (Hanfield-Jones et al., 2001). Ideally, investing in human assets should lead to positive outcomes such as enhanced organisational performance (Wilson, 2015). The resource-based theory involves strategically detecting an organisation’s key assets and capabilities contributing to its sustainability and competitive advantage (Bowman & Hird, 2014). The underlying assumption is that human resources generate performance and that ‘more is better’. Any firm that can cause higher quality ‘inputs’ is expected to produce higher quality outputs (Ployhart, 2015).

All combined, the object approach represents the qualifications of the talented individuals (i.e. knowledge, skills, abilities, competencies and capabilities) which drive their performance and value added to the workplace (Yildiz & Esmer, 2021). A talented individual, therefore, from an objective perspective, refers to ‘something’ that could be of value to the organisation (Gallardo-Gallardo et al., 2013). From this perspective, talented individuals are viewed as ‘agents’ that deliver a service in return for some reward. The ‘owner’ or employer expects a return on investment in terms of performance from the agent. Researchers, however, highlight various moral risks relating to the employer-talent relationship, such as a disconnect between goals, agents pursuing self-interest and personal interests to the detriment of the employer, unrealistic performance expectations for employers, favouritism and poor hiring practices (see Baldo et al., 2019; Vokić, 2016).

The ‘subject’ view of talent focuses more on the human side of individuals by viewing talent as ‘someone’ in the workplace (Gallardo-Gallardo et al., 2013). Albeit neglected, a humanistic management approach shows more significant concern for the flourishing and well-being of employees instead of focusing primarily on achieving business results (Melé, 2016). The subject view of TM can be traced to various disciplines, including organisational behaviour, sociology and psychology. From a behavioural perspective, talent can be viewed as a combination of ability, motivation and engagement (van Dijk, 2008) that can influence human relationships in the workplace (Tetik & Zaim, 2021). Li et al. (2022) believe that social exchange and social cognitive theories combined with the field of organisational behaviour gradually improve employees’ self-efficacy, psychological contract, and innovation and give them a voice. Dries (2013) identified various psychology streams, such as industrial and/or organisational psychology, educational psychology, vocational psychology, positive psychology and social psychology, that underpin TM to understand the nature of workplace talent. The psychology perspective focuses on employee perceptions, attitudes and attributes in pursuit of performance. Similarly, Jooss et al. (2019) advocate that the subjective foundation of talent plays a vital role in their ability to perform and meet expectations. Therefore, organisations should give sufficient attention to individual needs, especially knowledge-based workers such as talent (Che et al., 2022).

Research by Bieńkowska et al. (2022) showed a combination of harder people management approaches (i.e. financial performance outcomes) and softer people management strategies, such as investing in employee well-being contributed to the job and organisational performance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kutieshat and Farmanesh (2022) found that new human resource management (NHRM) enabled employees’ innovative performance during COVID-19 while controlling for organisational innovation and innovative employee behaviour. New Human Resource Management is a shift from traditional human resource management (HRM) practices towards new people management practices that allow for responsibility, flexibility, creativity, autonomy, and participation in production, ensuring sustainable practice during COVID-19 (Kutieshat & Farmanesh, 2022). A new approach towards people management also establishes a virtual work eco-system considering employees’ psychological needs during and in the post-COVID-19 world of work (Caligiuri et al., 2020). Aguinis and Burgi-Tian (2021) proposed several avenues for a more humane approach to managing performance during COVID-19. These authors suggest that leadership should be ethical and responsible by focusing on employee well-being and assisting them in maintaining a healthy work-life balance while working from home. Leadership can promote meaningful work experiences during COVID-19 by ensuring that performance expectations are explicit and aligned with the organisation’s goal (Aguinis & Burgi-Tian, 2021).

Based on the above, we propose the following:

Proposition 1: Workplace talent, from an object view, could sustain short-term business during disruptions;

Proposition 2: A subject perspective to talent could promote more meaningful work experiences, resulting in sustainable performance during disruption;

Proposition 3: Talent, from a combined object-subject view, could sustain the business during and after post-disruption over the long term.

The meaning of talent in the organisational context

The multi-disciplinary nature and opinions around talent from the scientific fields such as psychology, education and HRM (see Dries, 2013) result in significant tensions and multiple viewpoints and approaches about the application of talent as a construct in the workplace (see Nijs et al., 2014; Thunnissen, 2015). This broadens the scope of research and suggests that there is even less consensus in the TM domain regarding talent and TM (Gallardo-Gallardo et al., 2020; Jooss et al., 2021).

Talent management was initially defined relatively narrowly by focusing on basic human resource management practices such as attracting, developing and retaining key employees (Barkhuizen & Gumede, 2021). Collings and Mellahi (2009) attempted a more strategic perspective on defining TM by highlighting key aspects such as systematic activities, processes and talent identification of key talent positions for sustainable organisational competitiveness. This definition is further expanded to include talent pool development of high potentials. The latter definition recognises the strategic importance of a talented workforce in achieving organisational goals through an enabling work environment (Kontoghiorghes, 2016).

The focus on talent pool development for high potential opens up a further debate on who should be considered as the talent in the workplace (see Dries, 2013). Some early classifications of talent evolved around Welsch’s system that categorises employees as A, B and C players (Capelli & Keller, 2014). Category A (about 20% of the workforce) are typically considered the high flyers and worth investing in, whereas Category C players (about 10% of the workforce) are considered the difficult employees that should instead be dismissed. Category B players are necessary to maintain the basic performance of the organisation. As such, A-players or the so-called ‘star’ performers are prioritised above the remainder of the employees. The majority of research alludes to the primary investments into A-players (i.e. high potential or performers), whereas C-players (the low performers) are neglected and overlooked (Kaliannan et al., 2023). According to Sparrow (2019), this approach is doomed for failure as the performance of Category A players is based on the availability of positions to perform and leaves little space for job enrichment and meaningful work.

The above talent classifications lend themselves to establishing sub-groupings of employees in the workplace who are allocated or exempted from the organisation’s talent pool based on the objective assumptions of whether these individuals are talented (O’Connor & Crowley-Henry, 2017). This results in a conundrum and pressure points of exclusive versus inclusive TM approaches. The dichotomy of exclusive versus inclusive talent continues to dominate academic literature (see Kaliannan et al., 2023).

Inclusive talent

The inclusive approach is a more recent development because of egalitarian concepts, workplace regulations and legislative frameworks driving equal treatment of people (Capelli & Keller, 2014). According to Thunnissen (2015), the inclusive conceptualisation of TM contains policies and practices related to talent applying to all employees. Inclusive TM strategies correspond with the principles of human potential development by using internal potential (Savanevičienė & Vilčiauskaitė, 2017). Research by Swailes et al. (2014) explains two conditions of inclusive talent in the workplace. Firstly, employees get the same opportunity to show their potential, but only those who exceed performance expectations will be included. This approach again cascades into an exclusive approach where only those with potential and those who can perform are progressing in the workplace. Secondly, all employees are allowed to participate without expecting them to showcase their talent to meet the criteria. Consequently, the organisational strategy and culture should be designed to locate and use talents of all the employees (Swailes, 2020). The inclusive approach towards mastery is criticised for being too generalist and HRM-orientated without considering the unique fast-tracking career needs of high potentials and higher performers (Iles et al., 2010). High-performing talents will likely leave their employment if their career needs are not catered for (Obeng et al., 2021).

Exclusive approach

The exclusive approach towards TM focuses on specific parts of the workforce, namely the ‘elite group’ of talented individuals that generates value for the organisation and to whom scarce workplace resources are allocated first (Sparrow & Makram, 2015). Holck and Stjerne (2020) state that exclusive TM approaches contribute to social segregation, potentially spreading to broader organisational and economic inequality. Moreover, perceived injustice and marginalisation in TM can result in disengaged and poor-performing employees (O’Connor & Crowley-Henry, 2017). In support, Meyers (2020) and Lai and Ishizanka (2020) caution against the psychological causes of being allocated a certain ‘talent status’ such as the erosion of social, group and organisational identity when excluded from talent pools. On the other hand, those individuals considered the ‘elite’ can experience burnout when they lose their talent, status and prestige (Malik & Singh, 2020).

The authors believe that a hybrid approach towards TM could be more beneficial during times of crisis. According to Anggraini and Ma’arif (2022), blended TM can be considered a creative approach to ensure business continuity and competitive advantage in a pandemic environment. According to Barkhuizen and De Braine (2022), a combination of exclusive and inclusive TM approaches for talent pool development contributes to the work identity of individuals. Research by Develí et al. (2022) showed that leadership, by applying social intelligence and social skills to create a more inclusive climate during COVID-19, contributed to employees’ organisational identification. As Harding (2019) mentioned, the extent individuals move between alienation and inclusivity influences the meaning they derive from their work. Advocates for a hybrid approach towards talent that combines exclusive and inclusive talent approaches, not only differentiate and distinguish themselves from their competitors but also overcome contentious employment relations aspects such as marginalising and excluding so-called ‘non-valuable’ employees (Yildiz & Esmer, 2021). A more blended approach allows for investment in all employees by putting them in positions based on their potential and providing them with the career development opportunities required to enable their performance (Meyers & Van Woerkom, 2014).

Proposition 4: A blended talent management approach, combining inclusive and exclusive talent approaches, will enhance meaningful work experiences during disruption.

Rethinking the current paradigms for talent management: The value of talent

The strategic value of talent

Much has been written about the potential strategic value of talent in the organisation. From the available work presented, it appears that talent is an ‘object’ or a ‘strategic asset’ that, through various ‘strategic’ TM interventions and practices, can contribute to key organisational deliverables (see Collings & Mellahi, 2009). In simple terms, talent should contribute to some exemplary achievement for the organisation, whether through their unique capabilities or the position they are employed in (see Scullion et al., 2016). From a triple bottom line approach, a reciprocal relationship exists between the organisation and talent preferences. A study by Alhaddi (2015) showed that new talents, such as Generation Y, are more likely to be attracted, retained, and engaged in organisations that follow a triple-bottom-line approach. Conversely, Mujtaba and Mubarik (2022) found that an effective TM system (i.e. acquisition, development, retention) significantly contributes to organisational sustainability and the bottom line through sustainable employee behaviours. A study by Ahmad et al. (2020) showed that the value and performance of talented individuals could be enhanced through re-strategising performance management systems and strengthening employee–employer relationships. Hughes and Christensen (2021) advocate that talented employees, who can deliver service excellence are essential in both stable and disruptive times.

The value of talent stakeholdership

The stakeholders in the TM process are an issue for ongoing debate. According to Freeman (1984, p. 84), stakeholders refer to ‘any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organisation’s objectives’. From a stakeholder theory perspective, stakeholders should be able to define and create value, promote ethical capitalism and identify appropriate management practices (Parmar et al., 2010). The challenge arguably presented to develop a shared understanding of the value and talent, and the contribution of these individuals to meet the needs of the various stakeholders. Traditionally, the stakeholders in the ‘people management process’ were limited to HR practitioners, management, and to some extent, employees (Bolander et al., 2017). The recent COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent declaration of a global state of disaster expanded pressure on organisations to consider the mandates and needs of external stakeholders such as national governments and other shareholders (Hamouche, 2021). Therefore, talent stakeholdership can be viewed from three perspectives: Firstly, internal investments into talented individuals to meet the organisations’ strategic objectives. Secondly, the collaborative involvement of both leadership and HR practitioners facilitates the effective implementation of TM practice. Thirdly, stakeholdership involves meeting the new demands and external stakeholders in the new world of work.

As mentioned elsewhere in this article, talented employees are central to achieving core business outcomes. Arguably, talent should be considered the most important stakeholder in the workplace. According to Barkhuizen (2022), the value of effective talent investments is reflected in an individual, (i.e., job satisfaction, motivation, meaningfulness, happiness), in a group, (i.e., productive energy) and organisational level, (i.e., organisational commitment, improved service delivery and performance). The changing demands of clients and customers force organisations to establish a talent-wellness organisational culture where talent can innovatively deliver satisfactory customer service (Nzonzo & Du Plessis, 2020). Moreover, effective TM practice can build talent resistance during the pandemic in people-centric organisations (Ugboego et al., 2022).

Deken et al. (2018) advocate for a more reciprocal, strategic, process-orientated relationship and activities between managers and employees where they apply their talents collaboratively to generate organisational value. This process also refers to the emergency perspective of TM, where instead of following a pre-existing strategy, employers and talent combine their resources and needs to shape the strategy during ongoing interactions and relational synergy. Social interactions could lead to reorientations in the needs and preferences of both parties. Deken et al. (2018) further mentioned that management might not be aware of the resource needs. Therefore, a combined approach to resourcing between the different actors (i.e. workplace and talent) can result in strategic outcomes for the organisation.

Considering the proposed collaborative employer–employee relationship, leaders can facilitate better social relations between stakeholders by applying various social intelligence attributes such as social understanding, situational awareness, situational response, social memory, social perception, social skills, social knowledge and creativity (Shahid, 2017). According to Fisher (2019), social relations give rise to social capital that includes resources inherent in social relations that talents can mobilise to facilitate action. As suggested by Tantalo and Priem (2016), approaching talents as subjects increases individual motivation and exhibits more substantial commitment to and trust in the firm than treating talents as objects. Swailes (2013, 2020), challenges the ethical application of talent stakeholdership as most talent investments are diverted towards an exclusive group of employees while marginalising others. Consequently, most employees who might be able to grow and contribute to the organisation are deprived of career development opportunities.

Most studies on leadership capabilities in the post-COVID-19 work environment support the idea of co-collaboration to facilitate the strategic value of talent. Porkodi (2022) found that leaders who promote individual and organisational collaboration can assist actors in adapting to the new disruptive workplace. Likewise, a study by Oleksa-Marewska and Tokar (2022) found that leadership strategies such as building a work environment are characterised by involvement and a shared vision. The latter study also emphasised the importance of an adaptive leadership style considering the well-being needs of employees. According to Ahmed and Ismail (2020), leadership is a core entity in promoting meaningfulness, purpose and connectivity during COVID-19.

The contribution of HR as a strategic business partner for people management practice remains a significant concern as the profession is still considered an administrative function (Boselie et al., 2021). Consequently, many companies were left without an effective people management strategy to sustain business practices and continuity when the pandemic emerged (Adikaram et al., 2021). This further resulted in significant challenges for HR regarding people management practices such as staffing, compensation, performance management, training and development, and general employee well-being (Hamouche, 2021). The changing workplace requires HR to adopt a much more vital role as a change agent to prepare talent and the broader workplace for a more rapidly transforming world of work (Palmer et al., 2020). Therefore, HR must manage under uncertainty, facilitate global work and redefine organisational performance (Caligiuri et al., 2020). Chen (2021) advises that HR practitioners, as strategic business partners, can adopt innovative management approaches during the crisis to promote hybrid work environments and test the impact on performance. All combined HR can be viewed as an integrated value-driven business function that reduces risks and contributes to critical outcomes by aligning with the business agenda (Mitsakis, 2014).

Proposition 5: A meaningful and emergent co-collaboration relationship between internal talent management stakeholders (i.e leadership, HR and talent) can enhance the strategic outcomes of the organisation during disruptions.

A paradigm shift: A social blockchain approach for talent management

As mentioned earlier in this paper, the earliest definitions of talent evolved around the potential ‘value’ that talented individuals could add to the workplace. The value attached to talent further provides input into TM architecture to generate value for the organisation (Sparrow & Makram, 2015). As Claus (2019) mentioned, employers should focus on developing meaningful employee experiences to attract and nurture the required talents. Consequently, concepts such as supply, value and block-chain emerged to describe a more linear perspective to shape workplace talent towards achieving business outcomes (Kisi, 2022; Ngamsirijit, 2019).

Several scholars advocate for a value chain perspective towards TM, whether from a supply, value or blockchain perspective (see Cappelli, 2009; Keller & Cappelli, 2014; Saif & Islam, 2022). Although the supply-chain perspective received more attention in HRM literature, we believe this approach can also be of much value to TM as the central tenet in both approaches remains effective people management. The most popular definitions for supply chain management itself evolve around three key areas: firstly, to reduce the duration of liquidity; secondly, to reduce the degree of risk a company may face in its daily operations; and thirdly, to increase the company’s earnings and projected revenue (see Lu & Chen, 2021). The need for a supply-chain approach towards TM results from an imbalance between the demands and supply of talented individuals, which can either result in having too few or too many employees (Cappelli, 2009). Moreover, the data-driven nature of current business and the emergence of human capital metrics and analytics calls for a value chain approach that will link people and organisational data to optimise TM strategies towards achieving key organisational goals (Ngamsirijit, 2019).

According to Keller and Cappelli (2014), the supply-chain perspective of TM denotes a system and just-in-time human capital strategy that will ensure the provision of the right human capital at any given point in the organisation. Simply put, a talent supply chain ensures the right person in the right job at the right time. The rapidly changing world of work implies that new jobs will be created that will require new future skill sets (Schuler et al., 2011). Consequently, the ‘war’ for scarce skills will increase as organisations compete to attract the right talent in quality and quantity to add value (Van Hoek et al., 2020). According to Jena and Ghadge (2021), a combined supply chain-HRM approach can improve organisational performance. The supply-chain approach further allows for effective people-management practices, contributing to sustainable organisations (Ramalho & Martins, 2022).

Saif and Islam (2022) expanded the supply-chain concept further by integrating people management systems with a blockchain framework (BcF). The rationale behind this thought process was to capitalise on 4IR and its technological interventions, such as blockchain, to create enabling digital systems for optimising people management in the workplace. Blockchain is an integrative technology that enables smart people management functions from recruitment to retention (Mishra & Venkatesan, 2021). Blockchain technology in TM can reduce the time and costs of verifying and selecting the right potential (Ramachandran et al., 2023).

Talent management approaches and practices are a social blockchain of buying, developing, leveraging and enabling workplace talent (see Kisi, 2022). Applying Cappelli’s (2008) supply chain approach, the social blockchain image of talent depicts TM as a value chain with potential as a starting point and performance as the final delivery, thinking of talent as raw material that should be managed towards an end product. In other words, TM consists of a social blockchain technology that boosts performance outcomes. Following the talent-as-agent approach, the organisation is an indifferent user of people who can and want to do the work. Following the talent-as-resource approach, the organisation is the user and consumer of resources. Following the talent-as-behaviour approach, the organisation is organiser of workplace thriving, followed by the experience of learning and vitality at work. Mapping a person (subjective) into a position or job (objective) that aligns with his or her interests contributes to meaningful work experiences. A social blockchain can therefore build trust between stakeholders and enable sustainable business (Devine et al., 2021). Van Hoek et al. (2020) are further of the opinion that the growing importance of TM in the supply chain process can overcome pandemic challenges by creating learning opportunities to prevent failures.

Proposition 6: An integrated supply chain-talent management approach can ensure that organisations proactively obtain the required talent for future sustainability.


This research explores the current thought processes and meanings attached to talent and TM to enhance meaningful work experiences that will ensure business continuity during times of crisis. In addition, we explored the value of talent from various perspectives to determine how to best position employees for sustainable business practices during times of crisis. Our research shows that the status quo and gaps in TM’s meaning, nature and application persist amidst the disruptive workplace. In particular, workplace talent is a work in progress, as a universally agreed definition remains absent. In line with other scholars (see Dries, 2013), we argue that the absence of a scientific theoretical base limits the understanding and meaning and nature of human talent in organisational contexts. Consequently, scholars continue to draw on many theories as they see fit, resulting in a plethora of workplace talent attributes such as being a ‘person’, ‘object and tangible’ asset, actor, resource, stakeholder or outcome (see Kaliannan et al., 2023; Meyers et al., 2020). Therefore, the meaning of workplace talent remains multi-faceted, complex and jargon loaded as multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary ideologists attempt to coin the concept within a specific organisational domain.

Diverted opinions about workplace talent cascade into talent classifications (i.e. object vs. subject) and categorisations (A, B and C players) (Bolander et al., 2017; Capelli & Keller, 2014). The changes in the workplace because of the COVID-19 pandemic challenge the distinction between hard (object) and softer (subject) talent perspectives as contemporary and future people management requires a more human-centric approach (Gallardo-Gallardo et al., 2013; Jooss et al., 2019). New perspectives and viewpoints on the nature of talent can further assist in solving the ever-present dichotomy and conflict between inclusive and exclusive talent approaches by combining the strengths of both approaches to allow for blended TM practices, whereby all employees can be allocated to talent pools based on their potential and performance (Sparrow & Makram, 2015; Thunnissen, 2015). Based on the limited research available, a blended approach appears to be the most effective way to sustain individual and organisational performance (Aguinis & Burgi-Tian, 2021; Bieńkowska et al., 2022) and sustainable organisations (Mujtaba & Mubarik, 2022).

Considering the foundational challenges and gaps in the foundational elements of talent and TM, we turned to a more value-based approach to detect how talent can be managed more effectively during a crisis. We focused on three value perspectives: the strategic value of talent, the value of talent stakeholdership and a social blockchain approach to embrace the value of workplace talent during disruption. The framework is presented in Figure 1.

FIGURE 1: Talent-meaning-in-motion framework.

The framework begins with the premise that accomplished individuals (with various attributes) contribute strategic value to the organisation. We consider both the hard and emotional aspects of a talented individual to create a holistic view of how these individuals can be best positioned to provide strategic value to the organisation. This approach allows for the optimisation of individual strengths in driving fundamental business outcomes, while also considering the individual’s well-being (see Bieńkowska et al., 2022). As a result, employees’ psychological requirements are met by creating meaningful work, which contributes to sustainable performance and business continuity (Caligiuri et al., 2020; Kutieshat & Farmanesh, 2022).

The value of talent can further be enhanced through the emergence approach, where organisational leaders and employees combine their unique talents in mutually beneficial and symbiotic work relationships to meet reciprocal needs (see Deken et al., 2018). As such, employees are exposed to a more inclusive talent approach where they are allocated to positions based on their potential and can recreate the organisational strategy together with leadership (Meyers & Van Woerkom, 2014; Sparrow, 2019). Moreover, combining inclusive and exclusive talent approaches could overcome the marginalisation of ‘non-valuable’ employees and enable the development of careers and talent pools (Harding, 2019; Yildiz & Esmer, 2021). The social relationships between leaders and workers generate the social capital required to mobilise talent (Fisher, 2019). As Ahmad et al. (2020) mentioned, improved employee–employer relationships can increase the value of talented individuals.

Human resource and talent practitioners, leadership and employers form a crucial internal stakeholder relationship that redefines organisational performance in the face of uncertainty (Caligiuri et al., 2020). In times of crisis, HR business partners create innovative hybrid work environments to ensure sustainable performance (Chen, 2021). Claus (2019) emphasised the significance of generating meaningful employee experiences to attract and cultivate the necessary talents in the digital age. Therefore, employing a social blockchain approach to TM is imperative. By maximising the value of talented employees, the social blockchain aligns people management practices with technology to enhance organisational performance (Jena & Ghadge, 2021; Mishra & Venkatesan, 2021; Van Hoek et al., 2020). The predictive capability of the social blockchain not only saves time and money associated with talent recruitment (Ramachandran et al., 2023), but also ensures that organisations have the right talent of the right quality to contribute value to both internal and external stakeholders (Keller & Cappelli, 2014).

Practical implications

This paper has multiple implications for practice. Talented employees are required to ensure business continuity in stable and unstable environments. As internal stakeholders and drivers of TM, leadership and talent practitioners must comprehend the definition and essence of talented individuals to ensure the achievement of strategic objectives. To meet the evolving requirements of employees and stakeholders in the new and future world of work, leadership and talent practitioners must adopt progressive mindsets and develop innovative TM practices. The framework presented in this research paper offers leaders a one-of-a-kind opportunity to combine their strengths and resources with exceptional employees and contribute collaboratively to achieving organisational objectives. This will also facilitate a more inclusive workplace culture where employees contribute to the organisation’s strategic direction. The social blockchain is a valuable instrument for preparing organisations for hybrid work environments because it uses a combination of technology and people practices to create internal and external stakeholder value.

Limitations and recommendations

There were some limitations to this study. Firstly, there is limited empirical research on TM during pandemics or 4IR. As a result, the authors had to rely on available studies to draw conclusions regarding talent advancement and TM. In addition, the diversity of perspectives and approaches towards TM hinders efforts to develop a common comprehension of the meaning and application of talent in the workplace. Research on how TM can promote meaningful work practices is limited. The highlighted limitations provide several opportunities for enhancing TM practice in an ever-changing work environment. As with previous research, the lack of a theoretical foundation for workplace talent poses a problem when defining workplace talent. A lack of clear comprehension of talent in the workplace leads to ill-defined and ineffective TM practices. Secondly, extensive research has been conducted on inclusive and exclusive TM. Rarely are talent concepts empirically tested concerning individual and organisational outcomes. The development of measures to detect talent approaches and further investigation relative to individual, group, and organisational outcomes will promote a greater understanding of the context-specific application of inclusive and exclusive TM, and the circumstances in which blended approaches are deemed more effective. Thirdly, in a similar vein, management, practitioners and researchers advocate for the strategic value of talent and contributing to strategic outcomes. Limited empirical research currently exists to verify these arguments. Future research can focus on relating talent with strategic organisational outcomes such as performance, sustainability and competitiveness. Fourthly, the research investigated the concept of a social blockchain based on the value-chain and supply-chain management principles and blockchain methodologies. There is a need for additional research into the application and substantiation of the social blockchain and its underlying dimensions in various TM contexts. Lastly, the disruptive workplace has existed since the inception of 4IR and its technologies for some time. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has intensified workplace disruptions. Despite the abundance of research on the effects of 4IR and COVID-19 on TM, most of these studies are cross-sectional. Consequently, longer-term cause-and-effect inferences cannot be made. Future research can benefit from longitudinal research to more precisely investigate the cause and effect of unforeseen crises.


The COVID-19 pandemic and disruptive 4IR technologies necessitate shifts in the mindset and strategies for TM in the new world of work. Many organisations have not yet reached maturity and embraced the people management opportunities a chaotic world presents. In addition, progressive thought processes are necessary to maintain performance and business continuity during disruptions. This requires an understanding of the field of TM in two ways: firstly, the meaning of workplace talent and TM, and secondly, TM as a driver for meaningful talent work experiences. This paper outlines some viable strategies for maximising workplace talent’s value. Given the strategic significance of talent for a sustainable workplace, it is essential to reposition and transform the TM function.


Competing interests

The authors have declared that no competing interest exists.

Authors’ contributions

L.v.d.S. and E.N.B. jointly compiled the article and provided editorial inputs.

Ethical considerations

This article followed all ethical standards for research without direct contact with human or animal subjects.

Funding information

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability

Data sharing is not applicable to this article as no new data were created or analysed in this study.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the authors, and the publisher.


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