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Talent Management: What's Your Deal Anyway?

Everybody seems to agree that talent management needs to be aligned with the business (it’s hard to believe there was a time when we didn’t). We measure our training programs, staffing plans, etc. with a keen eye on the issues critical to the organization we support.

But alignment exists at a deeper level. The deeper deal is almost always implied, not stated. The TM professional must know what that contract is, and whether the organization thinks it is being fulfilled. Now, it is true that most organizations will demand more than one thing. In large organizations, one division may have different expectations from another. And most organizations go through cycles, changing the deal to meet the times. Even so, if you can’t define your deal, you can’t manage it.  

Five Kinds of Deals:

Organizational expectations are complex. In my experience, they can be grouped into five categories:

  1. Administer the Medicine 

    Do whatever is necessary to avoid lawsuits, fines, or other bad outcomes. Provide systems, guidelines, training, and support that keeps us out of trouble and away from bad publicity. When this is the deal, the primary criteria used to judge the learning function is EASE. What we provide should be, at best, invisible. What is visible must be quick, non-intrusive, and painless.

  2. Deliver Basic Capability 

    This is all about new talent. We equip people to do all of the things the organization requires. It’s about basic skills, tools, and information needed for job success. With this deal, we are measured on RESPONSIVENESS. i4cp’s research has found that organizations don’t excel at anticipating talent needs, so by the time those needs are recognized, it’s already too late: Of more than 600 large employers surveyed around the world, only one in five (19%) indicated they are effective at identifying and preparing successors to fill executive-level roles and even fewer (15%) indicated they are equipped to do the same for mission-critical roles that extend beyond the C-suite. And TM may be the ones who clarify and codify what is needed.

  3. Replicate our Success Model 

    Over time, organizations invent or discover preferred ways to get things done. Especially in times of growth or retrenchment, the most important work of the talent function is to replicate those models of success. This may be through ongoing development programs, or though episodic interventions, when new locations or divisions are in startup mode and whole systems must be replicated. In these circumstances the critical measure of us becomes CONSISTENCY.

  4. Provide Tactical Support 

    The organization calls on us to help them pursue key goals. Our work is integrated into action plans (e.g., opening a new plant or implementing a new payroll system).  Here, the organization is apt to measure us first on IMMEDIACY. Our work is integral to goal attainment, so whatever results we promise must happen now.

  5. Strategically Partner 
    This is the job of supporting broadly based strategic initiatives (e.g., globalization, TQM, leadership, etc.). This is the “seat at the table,” when we are part of the planning process, a key driver in the plan for success. Under this deal, we are most often measured by COMPREHENSIVENESS. Strategic partnerships are complex, and will typically require the full repertoire of our capabilities, all in sync and there on demand.

You’ve Got to Do It All

In the past, we often saw these categories as a hierarchy. Our goal was to achieve strategic partnership—the proverbial “seat at the table.” And in doing so, we could leave the other, “lesser” deals behind. If this was ever true before, it is certainly not today. The talent landscape is no longer homogenous, even within a single company. Meeting different expectations can require different capabilities and may even require different management systems, processes, or organizational structures. But remember—there is no such thing as no deal.

Think about the organization you serve. Think about each stakeholder you serve. What’s their deal? If you asked that stakeholder, how would they describe the deal?

Is that the deal you want?

One thing is certain: You can’t get to the deal you want if you don’t know the deal you have.  

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