Five Steps to a Talent Management Strategy that Addresses Business Needs and Realities

By Aaron Sorensen and Steve Strelsin

June 7, 2012

When it comes to your talent management strategy, ask yourself: Are we aiming too low? Should we settle for compliance with HR policies and programs? Or should we aim higher and turn talent management into a capability for winning the battle for business?

In helping organizations ranging from Fortune 500 companies to family-owned businesses, we’ve learned that there are five steps the HR leader must take to get off the talent treadmill and execute an integrated talent management strategy that actually delivers business results.

1.  Articulate the business needs and realities

Talent management is a means to an end – better business results – not the end itself.  Don’t lose sight of the fact that talent management practices must deliver business results as opposed to HR results. Start a talent management program by identifying business-based needs and circumstances. Answering the following questions can kick start that process:

  • What are the key elements of our strategy and vision and their possible implications for our talent needs in the future?
  • What business challenges do we need to address? How?  What circumstances about our business do we need to reinforce?
  • How are external forces -- industry economics, competition, customer dynamics, financial constraints and innovation/emerging technologies – impacting our business?

2.  Define the desired talent management end-state

Next, it is important to identify a desired end-state from a talent management perspective that reflects the questions above.  One effective way of articulating a future state is to determine the questions that employees and leaders in the organization should be able to answer in the future.  For example, employees in the desired future state would consistently answer the following questions in a manner consistent with business objectives:

  • What’s expected of me?
  • What are the implications of my performance for the business and for me? What happens if I perform well or fall short?
  • How well am I performing in my current position?
  • How can I develop, improve and advance at this company?

Organizational leaders in the desired future state would consistently answer the following questions in a desirable manner:

  • Where might our talent constrain our ability to execute the business strategy?
  • Do we have an adequate talent pool to compete in the next three to five years?
  • To what extent are our people getting better in the competencies that matter most?
  • Do we know who are our high potential employees?  Are they getting the right amount of development opportunities?
  • How well are our skills being utilized?

3.  Picture the power of an integrated talent management Program

A useful talent management strategy can be developed by working backward from the end-state questions above, and addressing how the company in the future will acquire, deploy, develop, engage and retain talent. Those activities need to be aligned to deliver their full value. Integrating these components will ensure that the talent management system is more purposeful and repeatable.  In addition, it will help ensure that the business can acquire top talent, accelerate development efforts, deploy talent where the business needs it most, and retain “A” players with engaging work and competitive rewardsScenario planning that includes two to three examples of what an integrated talent management system can accomplish for the business is very useful in building a clear and compelling case.

4.  Describe the support that will be required

Don’t underestimate the effort. Even with world-class integrated talent management practices, organizations can still find their system sub-optimized without the following three key enablers to success:

  • Change management:  Integrated talent management initiatives drive change at both the individual and organization level. This requires careful analysis of change readiness and identification of potential areas of resistance so that a plan can be created and managed to ensure successful implementation.
  • Technology:  Some level of technology is needed to support the talent management system, ensure sustainability and minimize the administrative burden. Get the IT team involved up front. It is critical, though, that the technology be an enabler of the process. Don’t let technology become an excuse to avoid face-to-face interaction and stifle constructive conversation.
  • Training and development: To get the full value from the investment in an integrated, business-based talent management program, managers must be trained and motivated to use new talent management tools and processes. In addition, leaders must also be trained on how to get the most out of the data generated from these efforts so they can make fact-based business decisions.

5.   Identify success meaures and milestones

Reaping the full value of an integrated and business-based talent management initiative can require up to two to three years of effort. Therefore, it is critical to articulate before the work begins how you’ll know if you are making the appropriate progress. Set milestones that will help the team assess progress, pace and direction, and agree on the results metrics that will define the ultimate value and impact of this work.

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