Talent Management-Back to First Principles

Published on November 27, 2015

I was recently invited to speak at a conference targeted at talent management professionals (so not scary at all). Finally, after a series of discarded topics, I had a title that might just work, ‘First Principles’, I was going to take the brave or somewhat stupid decision to go back to first principles on what is talent management, to a room full of talent professionals…

Like all good presentations it would start with a definition, ‘what is talent management?’… I was already floundering. My simple Google  search led to hundreds of well composed phrases, talent management was ‘ (from the good people in Wikipedia) ‘the anticipation of required human capital for an organisation and the planning to meet those needs’. OK, now I have to be honest, what I was reading seemed to be a world away from my role… this presentation was looking like another candidate for the discarded pile.

But was it really a world away… of course it wasn’t and so I came up with my first first principle for going back to basics.

Start with the end in mind.

When I started in role, this was clear and defined in my mind as it was a desire of the board to align talent management with their three year strategy. As time had marched on, this had evolved somewhat and there were projects and programmes attached but I found myself needing to review and realign with my own strategy in this area. I also found that I needed to be honest and see how and where I had drifted from this strategy.

As strategy became a reality, I then started to think about change and how important the management of change is to the success of a programme. This became my second principle.

Change is inevitable, but needs to be managed.

Embedding a learning or development culture changes the very essence of an organisation; expectations and deliverables will change and people need to be aware of what is going to take place and why. Naturally some are more plastic than others in this regard and so a clear roadmap of change that is published and backed by key stakeholders is one of the most valuable exercises that I complete as a matter of course. I find that people who know where they were in the change process are the most enthusiastic and become my foot soldiers and ambassadors.

The science is important-but so is common sense

We all know that the best companies have a range of scientific interventions to support or debunk their thought process. As a consultant I have seen this range from set competency based interviews, to 10 layers of interviews and assessments. I myself love a good assessment interview and the pathways that are investigated therein. What I have found important is the suitability and use of intelligence to ensure that an organisation has made the best recruitment decision for example, or has promoted the right person for the right reason.

We all know people who have clearly been popped into a role for whatever reason, often outside the formalised talent management process, it is the talent professionals who are left with the fallout most of the time. If the result is that the right people are hired then great! Job done.

With all this in mind, I was struck by the need for realistic processes and standard levels that are adhered to by the business because they are a mix of common sense and science and actually for a line manager make life easier and less, lets be honest, risky.

Everyone needs to be part of the plan

As I was reviewing my presentation and my return to first principles, I did find myself thinking about my own client population and asking if everyone in the organisation had a development intervention over the past year. What did this look like at the different levels and was it more than just a succession plan for senior leadership? Because value creation does not only come from the senior leadership team!

It is usually at this stage that HiPo programmes are often trotted out and it did feel to me like this area needed a series of first principles also, specifically around potential, performance and readiness. We don’t develop everyone to the same level, I am reminded by the thoughts of a previous colleague who would often cite ‘you don’t get a dog to climb a tree’, talent management, is by nature, mean. So resource allocation is key and not everyone is a HiPo. That’s a tough message for some.

Selection is more important than development

Which brought me nicely to where I was going to run off stage and hide in the bar. Back to the dog and the tree, some aspects of a competency framework are impossible or at least very difficult to develop. Therefore, hiring the right mix of judgement, EQi, adaptability along with job skills is critical to future organisational success. Being in a position to define, examine and assess this in future staff leads to a more adaptable workforce.

There, boom, presentation done.

12 hours later, I took to the stage to present ‘Talent Management-going back to First Principles, and why that is important’.  I could take artistic licence and say that I had a standing ovation and 3 call backs… but this isn’t rock and roll… I did have 20 minutes of questions and comments though  🙂

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