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Jill Miller


Research Adviser

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Are talent management challenges keeping you awake at night?


Talent management remains one of the top organisation priorities according to a recent HR Outlook survey report by the CIPD, in association with Workday. The survey of 143 HR and 152 non-HR senior leaders were asked about core people-related issues, with a particular focus on talent management.  

In line with a previous HR Outlook survey in 2013, cost management again took the top spot as the most common current and future priority for organisations.

However, despite the ongoing focus on cost-control highlighted by the survey, talent management takes a strong position in the top 5 list, coming in second place for HR leaders and fifth for non-HR leaders.

Other CIPD research has shown that competition to attract and retain great people is very much alive and organisations are still struggling to recruit for certain skills.

When asked in the survey what organisational challenges ‘keep you awake at night’, talent management challenges topped the list. Leadership capability was the number one concern for both HR and non-HR leaders.

For HR leaders, ‘ensuring you have the skills and talent you need’ was the next most prevalent issue, also featuring in the top 5 for non-HR leaders.

HR leaders were more likely to say they are proactively reaching out to young people than to other workforce groups.

Some of the other factors leaders say are ‘keeping them awake at night’ are in line with the overall priority of cost management, being about cost-control and delivering priorities on a limited budget.

The findings show it’s not just current skills requirements on leaders’ minds, in the continuing environment of cost control, but also how to attract and retain great people with the skills needed to fulfil the business’ future ambitions.

So what are leaders doing in practice to meet this challenge and ensure the organisation has the talent it needs for the future?

The development of existing staff is a primary focus, with just under half of HR leaders (48%) telling us they are directing their efforts at up-skilling employees with the skills the organisation needs for the future. It’s clear that leaders are thinking about this development in a strategic and planned way, as a third of both HR and non-HR leaders cited succession planning as a key area of focus.  

There is a notable focus from HR leaders on ‘growing their own’ talent.

And when asked about the particular workforce groups they are focusing on to fill their talent requirements, HR leaders were more likely to say they are proactively reaching out to young people than to other workforce groups.

If viewed as a long-term, two-way investment, rather than a cheaper recruitment option, this approach can reap dividends for an organisation, putting it on the front foot against others who have kept their focus on immediate skills requirements, especially in areas where particular skills are scarce.

Of course, with a significant focus on up-skilling existing staff and long-term investment in ‘home-growing’ talent, an organisation wants to try and hold on to its people. This is the view of 38% of non-HR leaders who say they are focusing on retention (compared to 29% of HR leaders).

They may put a higher emphasis on retention due to their close connection with the front-line business impact of losing people.  

To some extent, development and retention can go hand-in-hand, with investing in someone’s career development a signal that their current and potential contribution to the organisation is valued.

However, there are, of course, other influencing factors, including whether there’s the opportunity for people to put newly-acquired skills into practice, whether they consider the company a good place to work where their personal values are aligned with the organisation, and if there is the opportunity for them to achieve their aspirations in their current organisation.

We asked both HR and non-HR leaders what their most important considerations were when retaining existing talent.

High performance was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most common consideration, cited by around three quarters of both groups of leaders.

Attitude and behavioural/cultural fit was seen as important by three-fifths of leaders, but only around half of both HR and non-HR leaders said potential for future high performance was an important consideration when retaining existing talent.

It’s interesting to compare these results against responses to the question asking about important considerations when recruiting new talent.

Skills or competence came out top, followed by attitude and behaviour/culture fit. More leaders said attitude and behaviour/culture fit was important when recruiting new people than for retention decisions, with 76% of HR leaders and 65% of non-HR leaders rating it as an important consideration for new hires.

Drawing on the survey findings, here are three key areas to consider in developing your talent management approach:

  • Your talent management approach needs to be aligned with your long-term business strategy and goals to support their achievement. For the first time in running this survey, innovation was in the top five list of current organisation priorities. Both HR and non-HR leaders cited talent-related activities as important to achieve it. Namely, both groups thought HR’s focus should be on attracting people with the skills you need, up-skilling employees and leadership development/capability.
  • Consider reaching out to a wider talent pool. The survey found that 48% of the HR leaders surveyed are proactively reaching out to young people (16-24 year olds), 27% to individuals with disabilities (physical or mental) and 25% are proactively reaching out to parents returning to work.
  • Think also about the future skills the HR team will require. For example, the survey report includes specific sections on technology and HR analytics, each of which poses new opportunities for HR. However new knowledge and capabilities are required to make the most of these opportunities, and therefore the demand for skills in this area is likely to grow.

One Response

  1. frankly…broadly in the same
    frankly…broadly in the same place as last survey and other similar surveys. All which would suggest an interesting dislocation of needs, budgets and execution. More importantly if this “situation” was seen as a genuine issue the suggested “remedies” and more would be happening.

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Jill Miller

Research Adviser

Read more from Jill Miller

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