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Best of breed

Talent management has become an intrinsic part of the modern corporate ethos. Philip Wilding, Newcastle Business School’s HR expert reveals the key elements of a successful and dynamic talent management strategy.

The increased attention paid to ‘Best Employer’ awards and other CSR activities are a direct consequence of this shift, as brand values and the perception of organisations have become as much a HR issue as a marketing one. It is useful to view talent as a dynamic concept, specific to the organisation and industry and influenced over time by changing managerial priorities. Current research suggests that companies will benefit in formulating their own meaning of what talent is rather than accepting universal or prescribed definitions. Furthermore, it is important to differentiate between those strategies which exclusively focus on those identified as potential future leaders and those which are inclusive of all employees.

Historically, HR processes have focused on short-term performance and behaviour and this continues to be the driving rationale of many strategies. However, as the transition to a knowledge-based economy continues apace, it is more important than ever for employers to proactively address the issues this raises. Those companies that have moved beyond a short-termist approach, choosing instead to take a medium to long-term view of those individuals who have the potential to progress within the organisation are in a far better position to assess and develop talent. Yet identifying talent is a process many organisations have yet to fully embed into HR processes. HR Directors have a key role in providing leadership in the design and development of approaches to talent management and ensuring they fit the needs of the organisation. As part of this process, it is essential talent management is recognised as a strategic objective fully supported by those at the top of the organisation, with an appropriate level of budgetary support. Managing individual talents and building a sustainable business involves balancing a number of challenges. For example, keeping employees engaged, flexible, and responsive, sourcing talent globally and managing the inward-looking attitudes of Generation Y. Accommodating the changing expectations and preferences of individual employees is more important than ever, particularly as the demographic of the workforce changes and more flexible ways of working, including part-time employment, become commonplace. In the short term the key objectives should be identifying talented individuals within the organisation and putting in place a plan to retain them, while attracting other talented people. For those not part of the talent pool, organisations need to consider the implications and how they will be managed, for example reduced engagement and increased staff turnover. Furthermore, it is essential to communicate what is meant by talent and how it is identified. In the medium to long term, research and best practice has identified a number of broad key attributes of a successful approach to talent. Developing talent may be based on a blend of informal and formal methods, although processes need to be developed to track the performance and progress of those identified as talent. Ultimately there needs to be a talent management pipeline that includes acquiring, retaining, developing and managing talented people.

This should include an organisation-wide understanding of skills gaps and using in-house programmes, coaching and succession planning to develop talent accordingly. Linking talent management with other HR activities will ensure horizontal integration, while engaging line managers and allowing a greater degree of flexibility for specific areas of the organisation and specialist skills. To maximise talent across the organisation, any strategy should contribute to diversity management and equal opportunities, by developing diverse talent pools and including flexible training programmes to suit a broad range of employees. While many other indicators are available – staff retention, engagement, application levels and brand reputation, for example – senior level buy-in will be best secured with a demonstrated return on investment from talent management efforts.

Ultimately, organisational success is the most effective evaluation of talent management and as the battle to attract and retain talented staff intensifies, HR Directors and their talent management strategies are crucial to ensuring long-term success. Talent management is no longer a luxury to be focused on senior leaders and high-flyers; it is an essential and integral part of corporate sustainability and long-term growth. The challenge for HR Directors is to ensure their strategy identifies, develops and attracts talent, across every level of the business. www.newcastlebusinessschool.co.uk

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