Okay, Okay, We Get It About Talent Management! But Do We Really?

This article is written by Lorrie Lykins and Carol Morrison.

So there's good news and not-so-great news about talent management (TM): On the positive side, organizations - especially top performers - recognize that operating in silos restricts their ability to respond quickly to changing business needs. A holistic approach to talent management has become mission-critical. Some organizations have already plunged full speed into integrated TM, but with mixed results. The bottom line is this: We get the message about the importance of TM, but when it comes to practical application, most organizations haven't yet gotten it right.

Most companies that say they are working in earnest at integrated talent management readily acknowledge that they don't do it very well. Commissioned by ASTD, i4cp's Talent Management Practices and Opportunities survey found only one in five respondents reporting that their organizations manage talent effectively to a high or very high degree, a clear indication that there's ample room for improvement in gaining proficiency in talent management. Sometimes the road to high performance begins with recognition of the obstacles that are holding us back.

i4cp's research has identified a handful of major stumbling blocks that are keeping companies from managing talent effectively. Addressed in detail in our new Talent Management Playbook, those challenges include slapdash strategic planning (if any), poor internal communication about TM, ambiguous leadership and insufficient training for managers.

Some may argue that it's the rule rather than the exception that most companies start down the TM path without a clear plan, making effective execution impossible. Successful TM implementation begins with clearly defined outcomes that align with the overall business strategy. Organizational strategy also dictates the focus on functions to be integrated: recruitment, retention, compensation, succession planning, learning and development, performance management, or more. Indeed, i4cp's survey revealed that the need to execute strategy is the leading driver of organizations' desire to improve at TM - even among companies that are effective talent managers already.

Clear messaging about the purpose, goals and value of TM is key: Companies need to first define what TM means, determine which employee groups should be targeted, and then communicate this clearly across the organization. For example, most companies focus TM on "pivotal talent," but the meaning of the term can differ widely from one organization to another. A company facing a looming shortage among skilled workers in a specific operational area might consider those employees pivotal talent. In another firm, high-potentials in line for executive positions could be pivotal. TM objectives and programming will vary accordingly.

Involved leadership is crucial - senior management's commitment to talent management must be communicated clearly and constantly. TM cannot be relegated to HR alone; a C-suite champion is vital to achieve companywide buy-in and drive long-term success. i4cp's research shows a direct correlation between senior-level support of TM and successful outcomes. Further, survey results showed a correlation between TM effectiveness and its inclusion as a strategic imperative for the entire executive team.

One i4cp member told us that his company has established a committee that addresses this: "We have an executive team who are members of a talent management committee. This includes executives from across business functions throughout the company. It also includes the CEO. We meet quarterly and set goals for the year for talent management."

Another example is Providence Health & Services, which began in 2008 to assess its resources in terms of what was needed to develop a plan. Their chief HR officer secured support from the executive council to build out a centralized talent acquisition organization and put dedicated staff and resources in place in order to define and develop a sustainable strategic center of expertise. The company doesn't approach its efforts as an initiative, but as a core function that must be sustained and connected to the strategic business planning cycle, and the firm credits its success with having a strong champion on the executive team.

Finally, survey responses pointed out that managers may need specific training in order to manage talent adeptly. All the program objectives and metrics in the world won't help an organization move forward if the expertise and capabilities required to constructively handle day-to-day interactions with workers aren't there. Arm managers with the know-how they need and greater talent management effectiveness will follow. And there's an additional benefit: Education and line managers' buy-in often go hand in hand.

i4cp's 4-Part Recommendation:

  1. Don't jump the gun; invest time in strategic planning that identifies business outcomes and how talent initiatives support them.
  2. Reach consensus on the meaning and value of talent management to your particular organization and its culture. Communicate this clearly and often.
  3. Establish distinctive leadership for TM with accountability grounded in the executive team.
  4. Involve line managers in the process and equip them with the training they need to manage talent effectively.
Lorrie Lykins
Lorrie is i4cp's Vice President of Research. A thought leader, speaker, and researcher on the topic of gender equity, Lorrie has decades of experience in human capital research. Lorrieā€™s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other renowned publications.