Progressive strategies in talent management – how talent professionals are adding value
published by , on 04/04/2009

I have been privileged in the last couple of years or so to have several conversations with respected professionals in human resources, learning and development and talent management. In every case, I have asked them three key questions:

  1. What is your philosophy on talent?
  2. What are you doing in talent management that might be considered progressive?
  3. What benefits are you seeing as a result?

I have to say that the answers I’ve been getting are not at all what I was expecting.

In answer to the first question, I was expecting a range of answers ranging from “as long as our people are competent in what they do we’re happy” to “it is essential to play to the strengths of individuals”. I have to say how surprised I have been to discover that professionals who think deeply about the subject of talent seem to be very close when it comes to their prevailing philosophy. If I had to sum up the (vast) majority view, it would be something like this:

We recognise that all our people are different, with different talents and strengths. We aim to tap into this gold and put it to good use in our organisation. Of course we also need to make sure people have the essential skills for the job and don’t make costly mistakes but we try to focus on what’s positive and manage round people’s weaknesses rather than trying to create clones. We also believe that our people need to own their own talent and take responsibility for their careers. The organisation will establish processes that support this and we will train our managers to be good facilitators but the responsibility lies with each individual.

In answer to the second question, I was expecting to hear about some pretty classy systems and processes but I have learned that progressive does not mean complex. In fact the things talent managers do that seem to have the most impressive impact seem to be logical and commonsense, although I have learned about some novel approaches too. Key fundamentals seem to be about putting a lot of emphasis on recruiting the best people and investing in their development. There is also a strong effort to promote a talent culture which seems to stem from two key threads: training managers to be great talent facilitators and providing a forum for senior managers to discuss key talent and opportunities to make best use of these people in the corporate interest.

The more novel approaches I have heard about include allowing any member of staff to train others in the things they’re best at (even outside company needs) and staging company end-of-year pantomimes where staff get to demonstrate skills that wouldn’t be seen in their day-to-day work.

To the third question, the answers range from a general raising of the talent profile to concrete performance gains. The two key performance indicators that get quoted most often are a reduction in attrition rates (in other words people are most likely to stay with an employer if their talent is recognised and used) and an increase in internal senior appointments – which seems to stem from the conversations senior managers are having about their talented staff.

I always ask my interviewees if they are happy to express a view about talent liberation, the philosophy which is best described as follows:

Organisations reach prime performance when they recognise, value, develop and use the unique talents of all their people in the delivery of their objectives.

Everyone I have spoken to so far has been very positive and encouraging about the talent liberation philosophy. They like the four stage process for making the most of talent (recognise, value, develop and use). They love the concept of reaching prime performance, suggesting it is right at the heart of their chief executive’s agenda. They like the inclusive reference to “all their people” which is the opposite of many talent management perceptions. And finally, one learning and development director in investment banking said the qualifying words “in the delivery of their objectives” were essential. For him, talent liberation was great as long as it didn’t become “talent anarchy”.

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