Talent Management Road Kill, Part 2

Readers responding to Part 1 raised some very valid points:

  • R. Bistrick noted that many in HR have no associated industry work experience, which limits their understanding of the business and its issues to one of keywords, often without the benefit of context. (This is certainly true for many corporate recruiters!)
  • “It is not a new concept that HR is, and will continue to be, an ‘easy mark’ for the blame game and manipulating perceptions,” said A. Jordan, “unless HR professionals become acutely adept at appropriately demanding and nurturing ways to become and remain part of the strategic planning process in an ongoing fashion within any industry or organization.”

A much more common element of the feedback provided demonstrates the apathy around this issue. Many wrote that the blame for the failure of senior management to accept or recognize the work done by HR on strategic issues rests not only on HR, but also on the shoulders of the senior leaders themselves. Effectively, such statements amount to, “It’s not my fault if you don’t see what I do as being strategic!”

Accepting Responsibility, Answering Key Questions

Stepping up to the strategic plate requires that you know and can answer the hard questions that get thrown at HR and that you build solutions into the processes that drive HR to demonstrate action on the answers.

While the questions are many and vary by industry, some of the more common ones include:

  • Does it make more economic sense to hire inexperienced talent and develop it to meet specific needs, or recruit just in time?
  • What is the fiscal impact of having a vacancy in both key and non-key jobs? What is the impact of hiring below-average, average, or above-average performers in key and non-key jobs?
  • What are the leading indicators of having too much or too little talent on board?
  • What factors limit our ability to hire, retain, and motivate great people?

(For more on the tough questions that get lobbed at HR, see my article on Recruiting Questions from Hell.)

Talent Management Element Audit

Simply being able to answer the questions above is not enough to prove that you have risen to the level of strategic performance that senior managers expect. You must become adept at marketing your actions and impact internally around each of the talent management elements listed below.

Consider using the following list as an audit. If your organization fails to do more than one third of the items on the list, then you could be at risk, even if your managers like you as a person.

The list below is organized around the following talent management components:

  1. Talent management strategic planning
  2. Workforce planning processes
  3. Recruitment and staffing processes
  4. Retention processes
  5. Development processes
  6. Employment branding processes

Talent Management Strategic Planning Elements

A talent management strategy that defines the coordination required between each of the major systems involved in talent management is essential to ensuring strategic level performance.

The high level elements required in your talent management planning include:

  • Integration with other core business and strategic planning activities.
  • Defined processes to extract talent inventory drivers from business strategy and product/service lifecycle plans
  • Clearly defined points of coordination and collaboration required between talent management factions
  • Performance measures and targeted levels of performance for each of the talent management system processes
  • Communications to inform individual line managers of talent management initiatives that will impact them as forecasted by quarter.

Workforce Planning Process Elements

Workforce planning is an essential process that takes input from a multitude of directions and translates it into forecasts around the organizations talent pool used to focus other talent management processes. It informs other processes and line managers about the type and volume of new talent needed, the movement of existing talent, and the release of talent no longer of use to the organization.

The high level elements required include:

  • An inventory of key questions your personalized workforce planning process must answer to line manager’s satisfaction
  • A clearly defined set of data feeds that contribute information about the demand and supply of requisite talent
  • A forecasting model that has been validated by senior leaders
  • A communications process that provides actionable information to line managers “just in time”

Recruitment and Staffing Process Elements

Recruitment and staffing process are responsible for the acquisition and deployment of talent in the organization. Largely driven by forecasts from the workforce planning process, recruitment is responsible for filling new talent needs that cannot be mitigated through internal redeployment or development. Staffing is responsible for maintaining the optimal deployment of talent throughout the organization.

High level elements are:

  • A position prioritization schema that allocates recruiting and staffing resources to positions based upon their potential to impact the success of the organization
  • A mapping of pre-identified talent tools relevant to each family of positions in the organizations and the optimal channels used to reach each
  • A defined set of processes to identify and reallocate existing talent that could better serve the organization in a different role (i.e. proactive redeployment)
  • Performance measures and targets for each of the core processes used to power both recruitment and staffing initiatives

Retention Process Elements

The retention process is by far the most overlooked process in talent management, and by far the only one many organizations have yet to dedicate full-time headcount to. The retention process is responsible for identifying key talent that is essential to the organizations success, mapping its key retention drivers, and coordinating the delivery of said drivers when possible.

Key elements include:

  • A pre-defined process to determine who in the organization is essential to the success of the organization (Note: This is not the same as taking an org chart and lobbing off the bottom 85%; this is a mapping of roles and incumbents that are truly mission critical. Many organizations could lose a high percentage of their senior management team and still have the ability to achieve the firm’s mission!)
  • A process to continuously determine what factors drive retention of this special population
  • Authority to treat the pre-identified mission critical population differently
  • Performance metrics which demonstrate the impact of retention efforts both in percentages and dollar impacts

Talent Development Process Elements

Talent development is often seen as the least integrated of the core HR functions into talent management. While it is true that skills only enter an organization in one of two ways — either being purchased (recruited) or built (development) — rarely is recruiting and training/development coordinated. Under talent management, coordination is not an option, it is a prerequisite.

The major high-level elements of talent development include:

  • A process to determine the cost benefit of building versus buying talent for each of the major job families and experience levels needed in the organization
  • A forecast of what talent needs identified in the workforce plan can be developed internally by the time needed at a better cost/benefit ratio than recruiting or staffing can provide
  • A defined set of training and development channels that can be relied upon to provide needed skills by the time needed and at the mastery level needed
  • A plan for each talent resource in the organization that links his or her capability/capacity to the workforce planning forecast of requisite talent

Employment Branding Process Elements

While the bulk of talent management focuses on the here and now, the employment branding process focuses on making the here and now easier to manage long term. It uses the longer term projections from the workforce planning process to drive research initiatives that determine what factors make a firm desirable as the employer of choice and coordinates the development of an employment brand that embodies those factors.

The major high level elements of employment branding include:

  • A process to determine the desirable employment factors among key talent pools as identified by the recruiting and retention processes
  • An analysis of current perceptions about the organization relative to each of the major desirability factors as determined above
  • An organizational change plan to adjust an organization to meet the needs of target talent when possible
  • A communications strategy capable of adjusting or manipulating the perceptions of the target audience
  • Performance metrics and targets for each relative to each goal identified in the organizational change and communication strategies


The dictum is clear: Talent management is seen as strategic by senior leaders, but the perception is that HR professionals in general are incapable of executing it well. As a result, many senior leaders are tapping non-HR professionals to fill choice talent management related roles.

To stem the tide and secure your future, you must become adept at marketing to senior leaders your successes in the area of performance management in a way that responds to their perceptions, not yours. While your actions and performance to date may have been strategic in nature in your eyes, it’s not your eyes that matter.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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