How do we assess and improve the quality of our talent efforts?

Recent criticisms of talent programs and accusations of excessive compensation and overstaffing have led some human resource leaders to question the real value of their talent management efforts. HR professionals who are architects of talent management and line managers who are owners need to ensure that talented employees deliver value in good times and protect the company in bad times. As we start to see signs of economic recovery, this is a good opportunity for HR leaders responsible for talent management to assess and improve the quality of their talent efforts. 

When we talk about talent we are talking about the systematic processes that secure the general individual competencies, and organizational capabilities that create sustainable value for stakeholders . Talent development initiatives help to ensure external stakeholder expectations are met, as well as those inside the firm. The following questions and insights help talent managers review and renew their developmental efforts and lead to greater understanding of the external expectations.

Do I know what the unique organization capabilities are that we require to execute business strategy and win in the market place? Counter-intuitively, talent management starts with a thorough understanding of the external realities impacting the business and should deliver the capabilities required by the organization to compete and win given those realities. Copying and pasting best practices from other firms could be a risky business if the firms from which you copy are building capabilities that are different from those you are trying to create. The key deliverables of a talent management program are the capabilities required to succeed in the market place. When an organization identifies the capabilities that it requires and talent development activities are aligned to help build them, value is created. Getting explicit about desired capabilities also connects talent development activities to the outside customer. If what is done on the inside with talent fails to connect to the outside in a way that increases cash flow, it may be that our efforts are an expensive waste of time.

Do I have a talent value proposition? It’s not uncommon to come across an organization that invests heavily in talent but hasn’t really figured out exactly what happens if the investment is successful. Value is defined by the receiver more than the giver, and with this in mind each stakeholder in the talent value proposition should reap a reward.
• Employees should be more productive because they have the competencies to do the work of today and tomorrow, and because they are more committed or engaged to do it well.
• Line managers should be more able to execute business strategies by having individuals who can turn aspirations into actions.
• Customers should be more likely to buy from the firm because employees inside know and do things that meet their needs.
• Investors should benefit because they have confidence in future earnings as the intangible value of the firm increases.

Do I regularly and effectively assess talent? Talent is developed as people improve competence, increase commitment, and find greater meaning or contribution through their efforts in the workplace. Competency frameworks must be linked to capability development if they’re going to have any impact on external stakeholders. Regular assessment provides opportunities for reflection, reinforcement, and course correction. Effective measures assess the impact of investment in talent on the outside of the firm as well as on the inside. Traditional talent measures, such as retention statistics, aren’t helpful if we’re retaining the wrong type of people who aren’t developing the capabilities we need to win in the market place. Business results are a key indicator in the measurement of our talent management efforts and can be much more important and significant than retention statistics and engagement surveys.

Do I value individual differences while maintaining unity in talent development activities? Talent managers add value when they ensure those responsible for strategy creation represent diverse backgrounds, nationalities, ways of thinking, geographies, culture, and gender. They add further value when they create the HR practices that enable such diversity to function effectively together once strategy decisions have been taken and the time for execution arrives.

Do I match people to positions? When the CEO calls for greater collaboration and innovation but the HR practices focus on seniority and tenure more than collaboration and innovation, talent management initiatives are misaligned. Firms that successfully build capabilities ensure talented employees are matched to the critical wealth-creating roles.

Do I help employees find a sense of meaning or contribution at work? In the past, productivity has been linked to two factors: competence and commitment. In his latest work, Dave Ulrich encourages the adoption of contribution as a third important factor . Talented employees are asking the following questions that summarize this shift:
• What do I want to be known for?
• Does working here align with my identity?
• What kind of relationships do I want at work?
• Do I like the people I work with?
• What work interests me the most?
• What can I do at work to learn and grow?
• Do I learn from setbacks, and if so, do I have an opportunity to learn from them here?
• What gives me a sense of delight in my work?
• What type of work environment helps me connect to others?
• Does the firm contribute meaningfully to causes that I care about?

Do I recognize the shared responsibility for talent? HR leaders should be the very best thinkers in the firm when it comes to people and the management of talent. The effective implementation of a talent strategy, however, is dependent upon cooperation between HR leaders and the line. The management of talent cannot be something that HR “does” to the business, because this will not create sustainable value.

Do I turn individual talent into great teamwork? Eleven great soccer players do not necessarily form a great soccer team. Talent managers have to do more than attract “great players.” They must build effective teamwork infrastructure to create synergy. If the whole is not greater than the sum of the parts, there is still work to be done.

These questions help HR leaders, talent managers, and line managers assess and improve their talent management efforts. When talent management initiatives are linked to external reality and business strategy they are more likely to create value. Focusing on the creation of organization capabilities helps to ensure this link. As HR leaders succeed in creating capabilities that allow firms to win in the market place, they add great value.