Talent Managers Need to 'Step Up'

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Many organizations fail to manage talent effectively because they are stuck using outdated practices and narrow ways of thinking, according to a webcast sponsored by global consulting firm Mercer.

The June 26, 2014, webcast “New Frontiers in Talent Management” focused on steps that HR professionals can take to help their organizations compete more effectively in the war for talent.

“There’s an enormous amount of change taking place around talent management,” said Christopher Johnson, a London-based senior partner with Mercer. “We as talent management professionals need to step up and step into a new way of thinking.”

Johnson said that “Why can’t we?” is “a critical question to ask” about many aspects of talent management. For example, he said, HR professionals should be asking why they cannot predict talent movement well, and why they cannot tailor development experiences effectively for leaders.

Johnson said there are four key steps to improve talent management:

  •       Understand the needs and dynamics of talent pools.
  •       Quantify what’s happening in the talent pipeline.
  •       Shape the portfolio of experiences for key employees.
  •       Approach talent decisions with a long-term mindset.

Understanding the needs of talent pools involves elements such as education, training, health and wellness benefits, and an effective work environment, such as one that fosters collaboration, said Johnson.

Analyzing the talent pipeline is critical. “We need to understand the flow of talent through an organization,” said Johnson. He said HR should identify which levels in the organization have the highest and lowest rates of attrition and whether there are areas where the organization relies too heavily on external hires rather than internal candidates to fill gaps.

Tonushree Mondal, a Philadelphia-based partner with Mercer, said during the webcast that this type of analysis can identify problems such as bottlenecks in the talent development process. “You would always want the velocity and flow to be at a particular pace” through the talent pipeline.

However, she noted: “Making sure we have the data takes a lot of time.”

Identifying the skills needed by top talent and providing the right mix of work experiences for those employees can be approached by thinking about “head, heart and guts,” said Johnson and Mondal.

Competencies associated with the employee’s head include business acumen and a strategic mindset. Skills and abilities involving heart might center on building relationships and developing teams. Competencies linked with guts include the ability to sense business opportunities and what Mondal termed “fire in the belly.”

These competencies are essential for 21st century leaders, said Mondal, adding, “You need to customize the developmental journey.”

Finally, Johnson said organizations must take “a much longer-term view, a more holistic view” of talent. But instead of strategic talent management, said Johnson, “what we’re seeing when we work with clients is a much more hunch-based, intuitive approach to making decisions.”

To change that approach, “You’ve got to shift the mindset of the people managers,” he said.

Johnson and Mondal said that talent managers should be asking a number of questions on a regular basis, including:

  •       Who gets promoted and when?
  •       What is the right time for a developmental assignment?
  •       When do we stop investing in someone’s development and start over with someone else?

Most leaders can make good decisions about developing and managing assets such as buildings, patents, equipment and brands, said Johnson. “What we’re looking for is people-related decisions taken to the same level of rigor.”

Meanwhile, workforce solutions firm ManpowerGroup released a report on June 17 titled The Talent Shortage Continues: How the Ever Changing Role of HR Can Bridge the Gap that identifies three roles HR leaders must play to sustain talent for their organizations. It says that HR can narrow the talent gap by becoming:

Supply-and-demand experts. Provide market intelligence and have a grasp of what skills are available.

Marketers. Attract and retain talent the same way that marketers segment and target users of products and services.

Designers. Find the right mix of contingent, outsourced, partially retired and other nontraditional employees.

HR is “the one group with the expertise and influence to reshape companies’ talent base by acting decisively to ensure a sustainable workforce,” the report states.

Steve Bates is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area and a former writer and editor for SHRM.

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