Talent is a scarce commodity. Any organization must make a concerted effort to manage that talent and talent management should be part of the furniture in HR parlance, not a buzzword. But does everyone understand the meaning of this concept or do we all fill in the blanks as we see fit? Maybe you think talent ‘management’ a misnomer? Managing may sound the same as ‘keeping under control’ and that is precisely what prevents talent from growing. What is your understanding of dealing actively with talent? How do we apply that as part of a results-oriented and strategic HR policy?
There are many reasons to justify the existence of talent management. Since 2000 Belgium, in tandem with many other Western economies, has set off resolutely on the path toward a knowledge economy. In the Lisbon guidelines, European leaders set the target to make Europe the world’s most dynamic and competitive knowledge economy by 2010. The shift this created in the labour market has had a far-reaching impact on companies and their HR management.
For instance, in a time of talent drought in the labour market, an organisation may find it hard to find the right talent. There is strong competition from many other firms. How does a company position itself as an attractive player in the labour market? To a large extent the answer lies in talent management.
But attracting employees is not the sole purpose of talent management. The employee also demands it. The modern generation demand a personalised approach when it comes to assessing their skills and mapping out their career paths. They make informed choices and weigh up a job or employer against their personal development needs. At the same time they want a healthy balance between work and home life. If an employer then has proper talent management in place, it can adapt to reality. Traditional careers and training programmes no longer suffice for locking in mobile young talent, engaging them and developing them.
Cost saving is another equally important argument in favour of talent management. Staff turnover is high; it is taking longer to fill vacancies (48 days in 2007 versus 42 days in 2005, figures supplied by SD Worx personnel agency). It is expensive to source, train and initiate a new employee. Talent management has a more direct impact on cost saving as well: motivated employees perform better, which indisputably has a major influence on the company’s bottom line. Talent management is more than a buzzword – it has a fixed place on the HR agenda.
In the 1980s, but mainly in 1990, the competence mindset made its appearance as the foundation of any HR policy. It started with the organisational strategy, followed by job descriptions which were meant to flesh out the strategy and then suitable competence management came. Unfortunately though, the organisation-focused competence management mutated into a gap mindset in some organisations, whereby the skills necessary for the job are compared to those of the (potential) candidate. By comparing the two, it becomes clear which skills the employee does not yet have. With the best intentions an attempt is then made to instil these skills through training and coaching.
Another approach, other than the organisation-focused approach, is the person-centred approach. Here HR places the focus on the individual and his or her specific potential and attempts to use his or her skills to the best advantage of the organisation. In practise, this approach is mostly applied for high potentials, the top employees in the company.
In our view, proper talent management is ideally a combination of these two approaches. It is extremely important to use the talents and inherent motivation of people as the point of departure in order to obtain engagement and facilitate empowerment so that people will do their job with heart and soul. A business should simultaneously keep an eye on the skills it needs for playing out its strategy so that it can achieve results. Competence management remains an HR cornerstone.
Talent management implies consciously dealing with and developing an employee’s potential so that he or she can be utilised as part of the company’s strategy both now and in the medium term. For that reason we advocate an integral approach to talent management. That means every employee should be given the opportunity to develop his or her talents. It also means that all HR processes and leadership style should reflect the manner in which one wishes to develop talent management. Talent management is not a separate HR process, but impacts on all existing processes. It is nothing less than a total mindset, a big picture view of strategic and integrated HR policy. Talent management is a strategic choice an organisation makes.
Attracting, engaging, developing
This integrated approach manifests in the form of a talent management model whereby attracting, engaging and developing individual talents are the three main pillars. These three aspects of talent management are linked and form a loop. First, talent is attracted, then engaged by the company and subsequently offered the opportunity to develop new skills over time. During the development process the employee may then be attracted by a new function or by additional or different responsibilities. The employee is cushioned in a talent cycle that offers ample opportunities for growth.
At the same time a system of competence management is fostered which assists in promoting the envisaged company strategy and results. Competence management supports the person’s growth during the talent cycle. This growth must be guided and supported by management and the business culture. Good leadership is one of the key leverages in the competition for and retention of talent. Leadership is decisive in creating a motivating work environment and a stimulating organisational culture.
The perfect recipe for good talent management
There is no generally applicable success recipe for effective talent management. The manner in which talent management is addressed in an organisation must reflect the organisation’s strategy and values. It follows that each organisation’s take on this will be different, just as each organisation’s strategy and culture differs too.
Our view is that talent management is the future HR hot topic and that it is not a ‘soft’ issue but drives the organisation’s results and is key to achieving a successful and sustainable economic policy.
(This article was co-authored by Annemie Salu, Senior advisor at the SD Worx Knowledge Centre)
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