Talent management has been in the spotlight recently as many organizations face historic talent shortages, a workforce struggling with fatigue and burnout, and the ongoing pressure to reduce costs and increase productivity. Not only do organizations need to find talent with the right skills for today, but they also require an agile workforce who can adapt to the constant changes in job demands. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, half of all employees will have to reskill by 2025. The pressure is on talent leaders, and organizations alike to ensure their people are prepared for the future of work and this pressure is not likely to dissipate any time soon.
At the same time, the balance of power has shifted, and employees want to choose where, when, and how they work. Employees have altered their expectations of work following the pandemic, and are prioritizing meaning, purpose, and balance in their work lives. These changing expectations have placed organizational culture and leadership behaviors at the forefront, with many organizations lacking the critical leadership capabilities to address the changing organizational and workforce needs.
While the work of talent management remains the same – attract, select, hire, develop, perform, and retain the required talent to meet current and future needs – the environment in which organizations operate has changed dramatically. With the rapid pace of change, the rise of modern technologies, and ever-changing customer, organizational and employee demands necessitate a more fluid and agile approach to talent management. What is a priority today, may not be one tomorrow, and this means that talent leaders need to create a compelling vision for the future, yet be flexible and nimble to course correct as required.
But where do you start? How do build a talent management strategy that works for employees and organizations alike? What are some of the ‘do’s and don’ts’ that will make your organization successful?
I’ve seen lots of changes in the 20+ years of talent management work. Here are 5 core talent management strategies that will serve organizations through this next wave of change:
1. Build Your Talent Strategy to Meet Business Needs
It can be easy to sit at your desk and craft a talent strategy on your own, but do so at your own risk! An organizational talent strategy should consider the diverse needs of each unit, business or function. Implementing an overarching talent strategy is typically the default method, but be careful not to build a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach that does not address the urgent needs of each function.
It is critical to partner with business leaders to get their input on the top priorities that will have the greatest impact. It is easy to focus your plan to address the talent needs in the current fiscal year, but what are you doing to build the skills of your employees to meet the needs of tomorrow? What are the next most important strategic shifts that will require you to build, buy and/or borrow new skills and capabilities to meet tomorrow’s needs? How will you start working on tomorrow’s needs today?
Business challenges and needs often change, make sure you meet with your leadership team at least quarterly to review your plan.
2. Keep Your Strategy Simple, Usable, and Meaningful for Your Customers (not just a boring PowerPoint deck)
The customers of your talent strategy are the employees and leaders of your organization. The first principle of a solid strategy is to ensure that it resonates with your audience. It should be simple, meaningful, and relay a compelling story about the impact it will have on employees and the business. I believe that developing a plan-on-a-page is a great approach because no one has the time, energy, nor desire to read a 25-page deck anymore.
Talent management is about crafting impactful and engaging talent experiences for internal customers. In today’s world, our default position seems to be that it is better to add more features to existing talent programs (e.g., performance management) because we believe our customers want them. If you are adding more processes/ features without considering if they add incremental business or customer value, you better think twice. Make sure you solicit employee/manager feedback on your talent programs before making changes. Remember that no one will complain if your programs are too simple to use. People love simplicity – it’s why the KISS principle is sage advice.
I learned the hard way that a simple, well-executed strategy beats a complicated, poorly executed one every day. It is not about the net number of initiatives you include in your strategy; it is about ensuring that you are launching sustainable, executable programs that add real value to your customers.
3. Make Sure Your Strategy is Interconnected (vs a set of separate activities)
The overall talent system (i.e., hiring, selection, onboarding, learning, performance, development, succession) is like a manufacturing process, in that there is an input and output of each sub process. It can be easy to optimize one area only to jeopardize the overall performance of another. To have an effective and efficient talent system, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts and every sub-process needs to be maximized to ensure successful outcomes overall.
One example of this is when a manager focuses on near-term priorities when hiring, while ignoring a longer-term need to develop a deeper leadership pipeline for their function. In other words, you can hire a technically strong manager today, who may not be the best candidate from a future leadership perspective. This decision requires that additional time, money and resources be spent on development down the line with no guarantee of success. You can solve a problem today, only by creating a bigger, more expensive one tomorrow.
4. Measure Talent Management Against Business Priorities (vs. leaving progress to chance)
I’ve learned that the best way to be credible to business leaders is to speak in the language of the business. Business leaders don’t care as much about HR terms as you do. It is important to be specific about what you are going to do, when you are going to do it, and the resulting business impact of each initiative.
I used to include many standard talent metrics in the strategies I developed until I learned an important lesson from a CFO. He informed me that if your initiative doesn’t end up with tangible results on the income statement or balance sheet (i.e., cost, sales, revenue, etc.), it really doesn’t matter. I initially thought that HR metrics were enough, and that cost avoidance was good metric to share with finance teams, but now I know otherwise. HR metrics are good, business metrics are great.
If you want to be a legitimate business partner, you must articulate how each talent initiative will impact that achievement of the overarching strategy and lead to favorable business metrics.
5. Help Everyone be Accountable for Talent (vs thinking it’s just HR’s job)
I mistakenly thought I had full ownership over organizational talent outcomes. Thankfully, I learned that this was an impossible and unrealistic expectation. The role of a talent leader is to establish the processes, systems, and programs required for success, and influence leaders to implement these programs to achieve expected outcomes. Every talent program starts and ends with a conversation between a manager and employee, meaning that managers are fully accountable for bringing these programs to life.
The impact of talent management is not measured by the implementation of a new system, process, or technology. You can have the most advanced systems or technologies, but people forget that the success of each talent program is measured in the quality of conversations had. Managers need to be supported, coached, and guided to make this happen with the support of their leaders and the talent team, and they also need to be held accountable for talent outcomes.
Talent management is a challenging, but a fun area to work in. The goal is to drive performance, development, and career outcomes for employees, and enable better business results for the organization. The external environment will continue to change, and the pressure will be on talent leaders to ensure the organization has employees with the required skills to be successful today and tomorrow. This means that talent leaders need to define a vision for the future, and continually review and adapt their strategy and plans required to address needs. A simple, well-defined strategy that results in measurable business outcomes is the goal, and to accomplish this, talent leaders need to design programs that create positive experiences for employees and leaders alike.
About the Author
Mark Coulter, MIR, CHRP, CHRL, is a talent management and organizational development expert and leadership coach. He has over 20 years of experience in human resources with a focus on leading talent management functions in automotive, retail, consumer packaged goods, and beverage organizations, including Fortune 500 and Fortune 50 companies such as Campbell Soup and Lowe’s. Mark has expertise in implementing end-to-end talent solutions in the areas of talent acquisition, employee & leadership development, performance management, succession planning, and career development. He currently works as the Director, Talent Management Solutions at HRSG, where he partners with clients to design and implement competency-based talent management solutions to achieve business and workplace outcomes.
Whiting, K. (2020, October 21). These are the top 10 job skills of tomorrow – and how long it takes to learn them. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/10/top-10-work-skills-of-tomorrow-how-long-it-takes-to-learn-them/.
 Whiting, K. (2020, October 21). These are the top 10 job skills of tomorrow – and how long it takes to learn them. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/10/top-10-work-skills-of-tomorrow-how-long-it-takes-to-learn-them/