Talent Management by any other name...

Talent Management, Integrated Talent Management and Strategic Talent Management … what does it all mean? Heck, do you capitalize the terms or not? As the Talent Pillar Director for i4cp, these are some of the questions I struggle with on a daily basis. But the use of this terminology is not just an issue of tomato vs. tomahto. Well-defined terminology is becoming a make-or-break issue for many HR professionals as senior leaders lament that HR needs to fix Talent Management. The definition that becomes important is what the senior leaders understand Talent Management to mean.

The term "Talent Management" was coined by our friends at McKinsey & Company in a 1998 study. In the 10 years since its introduction, the term has expanded from three activities – (1) development of an employee value proposition, (2) identification of sources of talent and (3) systematic removal of underperformers – to 20 different activities identified in a recent i4cp survey conducted for the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).

A well-respected Australian training and performance management consultant, Derek Stokley, defines Talent Management as "a conscious, deliberate approach undertaken to attract, develop and retain people with the aptitude and abilities to meet current and future organizational needs. Talent management involves individual and organizational development in response to a changing and complex operating environment. It includes the creation and maintenance of a supportive, people oriented organization culture." With all due respect – to both Mr. Stokley and managers – this definition is too long and convoluted for management to understand, let alone embrace. I do not mean to pick on Stokley, as I see new Talent Management definitions daily that are just as lengthy.

My personal fear is that, in the minds of executives, Talent Management is just another way to say Human Resources. As you may know, we practitioners were once termed "Personnel" before rebranding ourselves as "Human Resources" because it was sexier. It's kind of like the way Destiny Hope Cyrus became Hannah Montana, until she wanted to be called Miley Cyrus because she's all grown up and in Vanity Fair now.

The "MAD" (Mary Ann Downey) definition of Talent Management is the processes/programs – or whatever other "p" word your organization uses, like "policy" or "project" – a company implements to maximize its human capital. This is different from the MAD definition of Human Resources, which is the function responsible for creating the infrastructure to manage employees. (A note to unenlightened managers who may be reading this blog, HR is not responsible for managing your employees. HR is responsible for ensuring you have the tools to effectively manage your employees – hence the reason your title has the word "manager".) Some organizations choose to make HR a competitive advantage (e.g., Strategic HR). While this is not a requirement for the HR function, these are the forward-thinking firms where HR professionals strive to work.

As a final note, I do not disagree with Stokley's definition of Talent Management; nor do I disagree with many of the others I have read or have had described to me by members. They are all valid definitions. My belief is that, as practitioners, if we use clear and concise (ten words or less) definitions, we will gain buy-in and respect from our management partners.