A business’ future plans provide the greatest indication of what talent is needed to deliver success. Many organisations focus on developing the next generation of leaders, however, cultivating a diverse pool of talent for the next leaders to lead is just as vital to future business success. Unfortunately, this complex strand of organisational development presents a number of potential pitfalls which can ultimately lead to talent management shortcomings and ultimately failure.
Pitfall #1 – Talent activities alone do not constitute strategy
A coherent talent management strategy aimed at identifying, shepherding and nurturing a company’s individuals at all levels, benefits each employee and is clearly good for the organisation. Aligning talent management with the business strategies sets a course for individuals to achieve their potential and identifies their possible future fit within the business. Clearly, it is the business’ future plans that provide the clearest indication of the talents that will be needed and which therefore need to be developed or brought onboard where they are absent. This complex process must enable people at every level to present and develop their potential.
Organisations that act only to identify potential for succession planning are incorrect in believing that this constitutes strategic talent management, when it is just a single component of the process. Over-arching strategy is essential, as pursuing talent management in a vacuum is a wasteful exercise that can only deliver success by chance.
Pitfall #2 – Failing to develop the talent pool
It is a depressingly widespread problem that many organisations focus nearly all their efforts on developing the next generation of leaders. While any organisation requires leaders in order to continue to thrive, it will also require a diverse pool of specific talents for the next generation to lead. To build a strong future, tomorrow’s leaders need tomorrow’s skills and abilities, not just a younger version of today’s. The long time-frame of a talent management strategy requires the vision to predict the company’s needs for the next five, 10, 15 or 20 years.
Evaluating the contribution people may make a decade or more into the future is incredibly difficult, but is vital to future business success. Just as talent operates in the context of an organisational framework, so a winning formula operates in the context of its time and circumstance.
Pitfall #3 – Not building the business case for investment in talent development
Through informed alignment of talent management strategy with business strategy, organisations can identify the capabilities that are really needed (thus providing a realistic business case for the development investment). Strengthening this business case raises another challenge: developing effective criteria for selecting the right candidates for development and thereby using available resources as effectively as possible to support the maximisation of potential.
This effective long-term thinking can override short-term pressure from shareholders, who are often reluctant to invest in talent management. Future vision also has to be applied to prevent current performance being the base for selection, as it is not a reliable indicator of an employee’s performance in a subsequent role. Line managers and supervisors have the closest and most accurate view of current performance; however, this isolated perspective does not automatically translate into a clear view of future potential and presents a common trap that many organisations fall into.
Other subtle pitfalls stemming from organisational structure can also have an adverse affect on the success of a talent management strategy. Assessment and selection of learners’ individual characteristics, proven learning agility, openness to learning, motivation to learn and to improve their performance, pays dividends in terms of the subsequent transfer of new skills, but it is also striking that these are elements of talent development where the trainer, facilitator or coach has least influence.
In businesses there is often also a critical disconnection between training and daily, organisational life, of a scenario in which learning and training are applied indiscriminately and learners subsequently receive little support, and little context, in applying the learning that they have acquired.
Organisations achieve and maintain success through the actions of the people, at all levels, that constitute them. As a fluid, multi-faceted process, talent management has many parallels with the change management process. In all its aspects, from attracting and retaining the best talent to engaging, developing, deploying and supporting its people, bringing a dynamic ‘change management’ view to the talent management strategy enables organisations to help individuals develop into the roles that the changing organisation will require in future.
This responsive, forward-thinking approach ensures that the organisation is equipped with talent at every level to deliver continued and enhanced business success, in the here and now as well as in the short, medium and longer term.