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2018: The Talent Management Tipping Point

Looking forward into 2018, I think we are approaching a tipping point for talent management. Talent management is changing, and TM professionals must lead that change.

I’ve seen a lot of definitions of talent management, but they all essentially suggest that it’s a strategy designed to make the best possible use of human capital now and in the future, that it aims to ensure the maximum return on talent by creating organizational conditions and culture that foster engagement and commitment.

But the term contains the word management, and the common definition of management is: “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.” And therein lies the change that is upon us.

We are losing control. Technology, global economics, changing demographics, the gig economy, and other factors are creating conditions that offer the individual more and more control. Talent management approaches based on the assumption that organizations are in control will begin to break down.

Nowhere is it more obvious than in talent development. The single most-used source for learning today is YouTube. More learning modules are being published each week than were created between 1950 and 2000. Learning is everywhere and it is beyond our control.

In 2018, I think leading organizations will accelerate the transition of TM from deployment and cultivation of talent to discovery and optimization. That doesn’t mean we won’t still work on staffing, development, performance management and all the rest; but I see approaches shifting in some fundamental ways. Our primary work will be to discover where capability is, where it is being developed, and to use that knowledge to optimize how talent is leveraged.

Going forward, development professionals will need to be concerned not just with what people are learning; but with where and how they are learning it. Since we won’t be controlling the process, we’ll have to discover it. We’ll need to use our skills to facilitate the spread of capability from whatever is its source to everywhere it can add value.

We’ll need to think and act differently. When I started my career in learning it was axiomatic that the best approach was to find broad areas of need and maximize ROI by training large populations to meet those needs. But what if you could train 10 persons in three key competencies (or even one person in one thing) and yield a billion dollars? We’ve got the analysis skills, and we can use them to uncover the most valuable learning whether it will be applied with a broad brush or a pinpoint.

The ubiquity and speed of learning today requires a new agreement with the C-suite. We must help them to see learning as a constant evolution of the organization, as a series of experiments that happen simultaneously and quickly and not just as highly organized interventions.

This change is upon us. Some are already taking up the challenge. In 2018 the best among us will turn the page.  

John Coné is the former Chief Learning Officer at Dell Computers, and the Chair of i4cp’s Chief Learning & Talent Officer Board.

Read more 2018 talent predictions.