Organizations have been speaking for years about an alphabet of talent shapes—T-shaped, M-shaped, P-shaped, E-shaped, π-shaped, and I-shaped—that can help develop company strategy and maintain a pipeline of diverse capabilities. If you’re unfamiliar with these talent shapes, they may be best understood as members of the following two groups:
Semi-specialist profiles: T-, π-, and Y-shaped talent illustrate the importance of deep knowledge in specific areas, with varying levels of knowledge in other topics. Consulting firms were advocating for hiring T-shaped consultants back in the early nineties.
Semi-Specialist Talent Profiles
Source: Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2018.
Leader / Manager profiles: M-, X-, and E-shaped talent have knowledge, skill, and ability in multiple areas, leading to their capacity to amplify the strengths of the specialist letters.
Leader / Manager Talent Profiles
Source: Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2018.
Additionally, I-shaped talent has the deepest knowledge, but some argue the least versatility.
These concepts have also been discussed outside of HR realms, demonstrating the desire to classify talent shapes and profile experiences with an ever-increasing collection of letters to describe what talent organizations need. This desire aligns with the increasing numbers of organizations shifting away from traditional career frameworks toward those that value a constellation of experiences. Do these talent shapes have any merit for career development, talent management, or learning strategies?
The most innovative teams and organizations can call on diverse capabilities, experiences, and ways of thinking for new ideas to satisfy customers—there is not one specific shape that is “right” or “desirable” across the board, or even for a specific industry. Understanding and communicating what experiences are available on a team can help identify gaps and enable a plan to fill them—talent shapes offer an understandable language to solve these problems.
On the other hand, like any label, these shapes can constrict thinking around talent selection, succession, development opportunities, internal mobility, or selection for stretch assignments. Organizations that embrace a growth mindset support the idea that talent could “shapeshift,” or adapt through practice and learn from mistakes. Some research, including Bersin’s, confirms that these growth mindsets enable increased business and talent outcomes.
Consider how your talent ecosystem (employees, contingent workers, freelancers, etc.) might see their own capability and growth interests in the near future. Contrasting different options to think about talent shapes to guide employees’ careers can benefit individuals, leaders, and the organization, giving them a language to communicate individual preferences, requirements for the team, and organizational needs.
Worker personas serve as an alternative to the rather rigid talent shape alphabet in design thinking. Personas are an output of design thinking practices in which organizations use interviews and observations to develop composite characters with specific attributes. Originally developed for use in consumer marketing, personas have been used by Deustche Telekom, for example, to better understand the interests, needs, and desires of the workforces. Personas help companies to understand the interests and preferences of a variety of talent without enduring the potential issues associated with labeling. Identify common threads around the need to build depth, breadth, design work, roles, and teams in ways that appeal to workers’ aspirations.
 (1) “Business Trend: ‘E-Shaped’ People, Not ‘T-Shaped,’” The Chief Curiosity Officer Blog, July 26, 2012, https://culturecartography.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/business-trend-e-shaped-people-not-t-shaped; (2) “Innovation Calls for I-Shaped People,” Bloomberg.com / Bill Buxton, July 13, 2009, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2009-07-13/innovation-calls-for-i-shaped-people; (3) “How to Get Hired: Understand if You’re an I, T, or X-Shaped Person,” TryDesignLab.com / Meghan Lazier and Andrew Wilshere, https://trydesignlab.com/blog/how-to-get-hired-understand-if-youre-an-i-t-or-x-s; (4) “Break Organizational Dependencies with an ‘E-Shaped’ Staff,” LeadingAgile.com / Derek Huether, https://www.leadingagile.com/2017/02/e-shaped-staff.
 “Learning undone: Enabling the ‘career constellation,’” Deloitte.com / Terry Patterson, Erin Clark, and Ina Gantcheva, May 23, 2018, https://hctrendsapp.deloitte.com/posts/hr-times-blog/2018/learning-undone-enabling-the-career-constellation-.html.
 “The diversity and inclusion revolution: Eight powerful truths,” Deloitte.com / Juliet Bourke and Bernadette Dillon, January 22, 2018, https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/deloitte-review/issue-22/diversity-and-inclusion-at-work-eight-powerful-truths.html.
 “Growth vs fixed mindset: which one does your company have?” WeForum.org / Rosamond Hutt, November 30, 2016, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/11/growth-versus-fixed-mindsets.
 Why Fostering a Growth Mindset in Organizations Matters, Senn Delaney, http://knowledge.senndelaney.com/docs/thought_papers/pdf/stanford_agilitystudy_hart.pdf.
 For more information about design thinking, see Design Thinking in HR, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Jeff Mike, 2016.
 The Career Management Framework, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Dani Johnson, 2016.