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Jamie Lawrence


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Five reasons companies fail at talent management


This article was written by Lucinda Carney, founder of Actus performance management software and MD of Advance Change Ltd organisational development consultancy.

Ok, I admit it, I disagree with talent management – or certainly the way it is currently bandied about as if there is some mysterious secret that only the chosen few have the answer to. It appears to be one of those HR buzzwords like engagement that has made it through to the boardroom to such an extent that the board may instruct their HR team to put in place a ‘talent management strategy’ without anyone necessarily understanding what this entails.

The problem is that they then sit back believing that that this will alleviate all their people-based challenges and they can get back to the real business of chasing the numbers. This complacency provides a risk and I believe that all businesses should be aware of the following common pitfalls that cause organisations to fail at talent management.

1. Most companies don’t know what ‘talent’ looks like

So ask yourself – what is talent in your business? Could you simply define and measure who has it in your workforce and recruit for it? Have you got defined job roles and behaviours that clearly outline what low, average and high performance in that role looks like? Is every manager in your business capable of identifying who has talent in line with your criteria using objective data, as opposed to gut feel and intuition. If you were to define the talent pool would it be clear cut with everyone in agreement? If you answered yes to more than two questions, then we salute you!

2. Talent is often situational

Consider the principle that Montessori schools are based on; that we all have talents, it is just about identifying them and enabling us to use and develop them. As Curt Coffman outlines in his book “Follow this Path” successful organisations put people in the right roles that fit with their natural strengths.

Here’s the thing, talent should look different based on the job role in question – your best computer geek is highly unlikely to also be your best sales person. Doesn’t that mean that we should focus less on finding individuals to label as talent and more on identifying and nurturing the strengths or talent in the individual and utilising them effectively?

3. The term is elitist and runs the risk of de-motivating the majority

So you have identified your pool of ‘talent’ and perhaps you have got a fabulous strategy in place giving them priority projects, development opportunities and fast tracking them through the organisation. The evidence for these programmes working may be the number of people in the pool who feature on succession plans or have a two or more promotions within a given period. We forget to note that these results are self-fulfilling, label someone talent, give them additional opportunity to shine and increased visibility with the decision makers, of course they are at the top of the list when the new jobs arise.

But what about the 80 percent or 90 percent who are not labelled as talent? Having a talent pool, unless it is extremely transparent or, objective and is seen to correlate directly with performance risks de-motivating the majority. If you want to take that risk, you want to be very sure that you have got the right people in the pool as the chances are that those who believe they are unrecognised talent won’t hang around for long. Those who don’t care but stay aren’t so good either!

4. Talent doesn’t automatically correlate with performance unless well managed

This is the crux for me, so your HR team have done a great job of recruiting some top talent, perhaps you have paid over the odds for someone with skills that are really in demand who was a top performer at their previous company. Then you bring them in and they don’t live up to expectations, which is not such an uncommon occurrence. Why is this? Everyone needs to be well managed and those identified as talent have even higher expectations around this.

People need to have clarity of business expectations through clear role profiles and objectives. They need regular feedback on performance through 121s and quality dialogue at appraisal and they need to feel engaged and valued through the relationship they have with their line manager and their style of interaction. If your business doesn’t have a culture of best practice performance management, recruiting for talent is like filling a leaky bucket. Focus on engendering a high performance culture supported by consistently excellent people management activity in your business before you spend money on talent schemes.

5. Talent management makes organisations lazy

A high performance culture is everyone’s responsibility, because the term talent management is so nebulous it is easy to put it firmly in the HR camp. The board put it in HR’s strategic objectives and leave it there. Managers consider it to be HR’s responsibility to recruit, measure and develop talent, so relax as this is the ‘important people stuff’ that everyone is talking about and that is someone else’s responsibility. They can just get on with the day job and forget about people or talent management for now. Those who are not labelled talent console themselves with the fact that they only work to live anyway and can’t see the point in trying to go the extra mile as no one values their contribution. They decide to focus on working 37.5 hours a week and not a minute more.

But what about the chosen ones, the talented few, can they make up for this apathy with their superior performance? Well you would like to think so wouldn’t you, but more likely that they pat themselves on the back and become complacent with their brilliance. In fact, they may even consider testing out the job market because, after all… they have been labelled talent you know, so they must be good!

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

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