What is Talent Management, really?

talentTalent management is a systematic, comprehensive process to attract, retain, assess, identify, motivate and develop team members at [company].”

“Broadly defined, talent management is the implementation of integrated strategies or systems designed to increase workplace productivity by developing improved processes for attracting, developing, retaining and utilizing people with the required skills and aptitude to meet current and future business needs.” (2006 SHRM Research Quarterly)

Blah, blah, blah

That first definition is one I wrote when I began designing a talent management program at a former employer.  My boss wanted a tangible definition that executive leadership would understand.  But in retrospect, it is boring, and sounds a lot like one more HR program that’s getting in the way of leadership getting their “real” work done.

The second definition is right from SHRM itself.

Does the definition really need to include those popular HR buzzwords “attract, retain and develop?”  If there is a true partnership for continuous learning and career growth, doesn’t that imply that people will be lining up to join the organization?  Doesn’t it infer that they will stay because they are fulfilled?

Talent management is a living, breathing, dynamic element of an organizational culture that fosters continuous learning and career growth as a partnership between employees and the organization.

That’s more exciting, isn’t it?  It’s no longer a “program”, it’s a way of life.  It isn’t “something more for the leader to do”, it is the way leaders lead.   It doesn’t have a beginning or end, and it isn’t an “event.”  It is woven into the fiber of the organization.

Of course, we have to start somewhere, and a solidly designed process is necessary to ensure that talent management remains a dynamic element of the culture.   What should that process entail?  I have some thoughts….

The process needs to be a fundamental expectation of leadership.  Given the busy-ness of today’s organization, regular and candid dialogue between leaders and employees gets pushed aside in favor of “real work”.  This IS the real work of leadership.  Leaders must be clear on the role, and their skills must be developed and strengthened.

The process needs to be meaningful to the employee, the leader and the organization.  The employee needs insightful and helpful feedback, the leader needs to see improved performance and the organization needs to have data to assess the effectiveness of the process.

The process needs to be relevant.  The employee needs feedback both about performance in his current job, but also about his future possibilities.  The leader needs to be engaging in dialogue that relates to her department’s mission and work so that there is a “return on the dialogue.”

The process needs to be fair and consistent.  Employees and leaders alike need to trust the system, meaning that when talent assignments occur, they occur to those who are perceived as competent and deserving.  This means it must be inextricably linked to performance, and that performance management must be meaningful, relevant and fair.  Making this happen certainly sounds like strategic HR to me.

The process needs to be simple.  The collection of performance and talent data so that the organization can assess the effectiveness of the process can’t take hours on end at a single point in time.  Then it becomes a burden to leadership, and causes apprehension for employees.  If meaningful dialogue is occurring regularly as part of leadership role, the actual documentation can be simple if leaders are trusted to have meaningful, relevant and regular dialogue with their employees about performance and development.

The key here is leaders who know their role as talent managers, are skilled at the role, and execute effectively.  The process is merely a confirmation that the role is being carried out, along with documenting the results of the effort.

If talent management is woven into the fiber of the organization, then senior leadership is holding their leaders accountable.  The accountability is in the dialogue, not the documentation.

Would it make sense, then, to suggest that HR has their work cut out for them in developing a talent management culture, starting with developing leaders to create an atmosphere of continuous learning and career growth?

Does this describe talent management in your organization?  If not, it might provide a good framework with which to evaluate and redesign.

3 thoughts on “What is Talent Management, really?”

  1. While your thoughts ARE elevant and I concur, they are tall orders and often difficult to execute. However, they can be created in organizations with good leadership and partnering between HRM and the organizations learning professionals. In agree it must become a culture and not a program. http://nxtbk.co/9nv

  2. Thanks, Kevin! You can probably tell my “N” is showing – great idea, difficult to execute. And without executive sponsor, probably impossible. What fascinated me though was the concept of treating the “program” not like a program, but like a way of life. I wonder if the semantics are really as different as they seem to me.

    Like your article – I would offer though that the talent management programs I’ve been associated with in the private sector have competitive recruitment as well, not appointed.

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