Look Carefully, Dig Deeper, Connect the Dots

Ranjit Nair

Fixing Talent Management Blind Spots

By Ranjit Nair, Ph.D
Sr. Strategist/Talent, Leadership & Organizational Development

Let’s get real: a talent strategy isn’t about musical chairs and who sits in what seat and when. It’s about building an authentic culture around people—all people—honoring them and enabling them to unleash the best they have.  Given the opportunity, everybody brings something to the table.

Managing talent is not easy.  But companies that do it right—invest the time to make the process an integral part of strategic imperatives and align it to their purpose, requisite leadership skills, mission and goals—thrive.  Moreover, in the age of the humanization of the workforce, a robust talent strategy has become the impetus for innovation and sustainable competitive advantage. 

Indeed, talent management is a must in today's workforce, which is abound with disparate generations—from Traditionalists to Boomers and Gen Xers to Millennials—all motivated by different drivers, with varying skill levels, knowledge, and competencies in workplaces filled with stress, performance pressures, and tight deadlines.  For organizations to succeed, they must invest in developing employees who will blossom into managers and leaders that will dictate and drive their future competitiveness.  To do so well requires a strategic focus on talent management and succession planning that emphasizes internal development, deeper succession pipelines, and a segmented approach that categories talent into meaningful categories.  

High-performance organizations increasingly recognize the need for a clear and actionable talent management strategy. What they want is an inclusive strategy where, among other things, recruitment, assessment, training and development, retention and leadership programs are each closely aligned with the organization’s business objectives.

The talent management challenge is further exacerbated by the leadership drought, a rising tide of workplace humanization brought on largely by ascent of the millennial age, and an unprecedented need for all organizations to strategically grapple with the conundrum of social media.  To be successful in this new world order, companies must develop a talent strategy, led and sponsored by their chief executives, and linked inextricably to:

  1. A clear vision of how and where the company is heading
  2. A purposeful culture around people to unleash innovation as a habit
  3. A purposeful financial plan (short-term annual operating plan and long-term strategy)

So, how do we do it?

1.    Assess All Talent 

People are the reasons why your company will fail or thrive. Companies need to ensure that everyone on their payroll knows the company’s vision and their role in achieving that end.  Talent management programs must be a visible part of any company and should be communicated widely and with aplomb and honesty.  The CEO should be the program’s sponsor and take every opportunity to showcase talent management vision, execution, and goals. Moreover, each employee should be respectfully, honestly, and individually communicated with about program results.  Everyone needs to know where they stand and what they need to do to continue making an impact for the company.

2.    Build Authentic Leaders 

Developing leaders is not a one-time event.  Rather it needs to be done continually, and development should be available for both current and upcoming leaders.  More importantly, the succession pipeline should be part and parcel of the talent development strategy. A thorough review, conducted twice a year formally and part of an intentional ongoing process, feeds and nurtures a pipeline that becomes a bastion of leadership bench strength.  These leaders—current as well as the up-and-comers—should hone their leadership skills through experiential learning.  That is, they develop these capabilities while on the job, mentored and guided by senior management including the CEO.  These action learning mechanisms can be integrated with mergers and acquisitions, special “tiger-team” project teams, global initiatives, international assignments, or research and development. 

3.    Implement an Integrated Strategy 
Any talent strategy should not only be strategic (aligned to the financial and business strategy) but also be linked with other critical human capital programs and processes such as performance management, rewards design and delivery, talent acquisition, and career development and learning.  The impact of the talent strategy should be measured in terms of its outcomes and influence on executing the company’s strategic imperatives.  

4.    Engage the Entire Workforce 
Talent planning and succession management should be an all-company affair and not just for existing leaders, high-performers or rising stars.  Everybody brings something to the table and everyone should be enlisted to help the company survive, rise and thrive.  No one should be left out.  The communications around the talent strategy should be colorful, enlightening, and filled with success stories—and yes, I mean “stories”—real stories about how specific individuals were enriched in the program and how they came through the academy.  Today’s workforce is yearning for authenticity and sorely needs a dose of humanity.  The humanization of the workforce creates a window of opportunity through which companies can unleash competitive advantage using talent identification, development and retention.