CitationDownload as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Thought leaders share their views on the HR profession and its direction for the future
Article Type: Strategic commentary From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 9, Issue 5
Managing talent: keeping it simple
Wendy HirshPrincipal Associate at the Institute for Employment Studies.
“Talent management” has been a big HR buzzword over the past few years. In some ways, it has been most helpful. We can see it as the HR profession reminding itself that developing people to meet future business needs, as well as simply training them for current roles, ought to be part of normal good management (Yarnall, 2008). The “talent” idea can also help to link the internal identification and development of good people with external recruitment and retention, forming part of a wider resourcing strategy.
But there are also some big problems, especially with the talent word itself. It immediately raises a host of unanswered questions about “who is talent?” (Tansley et al., 2006): whether talent means showing potential for the top of the organization, whether it can apply to everyone, or it is something in between the two. Managers start worrying about how to identify talent and individuals start to wonder whether they are talent or not. We see in the current craze for a nine box talent grid (with three levels of performance on one axis and three of potential on the other) a desire to know who is in which box. This can then obscure the more important understanding of what people are good at and what they want to do with their working lives. Any psychologist will also tell you that talent as a single human attribute simply does not exist. Any classification system for potential is only useful if we know for what kinds of future work roles we are considering individuals.
So HR can easily create a good deal of confusion and anxiety when it talks about talent management. IES research found that line and senior managers are puzzled by the lack of HR attention to career development, succession planning and workforce planning. But managers see these things as an integrated set of issues, all concerned with developing people for the future. When HR does get involved, managers are too often given several, complex and apparently disconnected, processes to implement (Hirsh et al., 2008).
Five action areas for talent management
So where do we go from here, especially at a time when the private sector is still fragile, the public sector faces major workforce cuts and line managers are over-stretched? I would like to suggest five action areas that are often the weak spots in implementing an effective talent management strategy:
Focusing talent management interventions on groups of jobs or people who, without pro-active attention, will put the business at risk. So the rather unhelpful question “who is talent?” is replaced by “where does the business need to focus its talent management effort?” This may need to be on people with executive potential in early career, mid-career or already near the top. But other groups of jobs/employees may also need active attention, such as experienced professionals, who are often hard to recruit. Organizations often need several target areas for talent management activity and should clearly communicate them.
Positive career and development discussions should be available to all employees. Such conversation needs to be two-way and about future direction as well as potential. HR needs to give clear advice on such discussions and how they may link with processes such as performance review and development planning.
Managers need to act collectively to identify and develop successors and those in talent pools. Discussions between groups of managers need to run through business divisions and/or functions, reaching into talent pipelines and facilitating career moves across internal organizational boundaries. It can help to integrate these talent discussions into a regular, broader people and business review process.
Active career development – getting access to the right range of work experiences – is the key to generating credible successors at any level. At present promotion is likely to be slow, but people with potential still need a sequence of challenging roles with supportive managers and access to senior mentors. Learning from peers in talent pool communities can also be very motivating.
Sustained support from HR is needed to facilitate line management reviews of talent, to manage the information generated, and to give managers the skills and confidence to address career issues with individuals. You need to clarify who in HR is responsible for this, both corporately for the senior leadership populations and within divisions and/or functions for other critical groups and people earlier in their careers. The job of HR here is to make the “future stuff” easier for the line to tackle in a more integrated way.
About the author
Wendy Hirsh is Principal Associate at the Institute for Employment Studies, where she leads the work program on people development and has a particular interest in succession planning, talent management and careers. Wendy Hirsh can be contacted at: email@example.com
Hirsh, W., Carter, A., Gifford, J., Strebler, M. and Baldwin, S. (2008), What Customers Want from HR, Report No. 453, Institute for Employment Studies, Brighton
Tansley, C., Harris, L., Stewart, J. and Turner, P. (2006), Change Agenda: Talent Management: Understanding the Dimensions, CIPD, London
Yarnall, J. (2008), Strategic Career Management – Developing Your Talent, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford