What the heck is Talent Management, anyway?

9 10 2012

The only thing that HASN’T happened to the term Talent Management yet is a starring role in the Dilbert strip (I just double-checked). Otherwise it has the full set of “buzzword markers” – overuse in Powerpoint, conference titles and consultancy web-sites plus a burgeoning software industry, with very little coherent in the way of agreed content (wonder what that software does?).

Wikipedia has this: “Talent management refers to the anticipation of required human capital the organization needs at the time then setting a plan to meet those needs”.

That is fine as far as it goes – but I disagree with the unspoken premise, namely that Strategy comes first, and then we work out what Talent we will need and plan to put it in place.

Here’s my take, in its most condensed form.

1) The old management saying holds true: “You cannot MANAGE that which you do not MEASURE”. Talent Management without objective Talent Measurement is impressionistic at best and delusional at worst.
2) Talent Management must include all aspects of acquisition and management of Talent; the position of some that Talent Management doesn’t include Recruitment (for example) only demonstrates the general lack of effective means of measuring talent (other than by observing performance).
3) With appropriate tools for Talent Measurement in place, Talent Measurement is all about mapping the Capacity of the Organisation to execute its Organisational Mission. (And NOT its Strategy). Strategy comes after Capacity. Strategy should be developed in the light of Capacity – and the job of the CEO is to ensure that the Organisation has the Capacity to execute its Mission. Strategy at any point in time must be tied to the Capacity that is in place.

Here’s why that final point is so important. Most Strategy is made without reference to Capacity, which means that Strategy can only succeed if the missing Capacity is rapidly acquired. Unfortunately, it takes time to build Capacity – hiring is hard enough, but Capacity is the right people in the right places working together in the right way. Good luck to you if you think that can happen over a long weekend.

So in the real world, most Strategy fails – bits of it deliver some results, but rarely the results that were envisaged. In the meantime, some person tasked with Talent Management is working their socks off trying to identify and then acquire the Talent required. By the time they are halfway there, the CEO has finished their 3 year tenure and left with their golden handshake, Strategy is up for grabs again and so the whole senseless cycle begins again.

Talent and Capacity Building is a long-term commitment; Strategy changes too often for Talent and Capacity to be subordinated to Strategy. Mission is for ever (more or less; if you change your Mission as often as your socks you have sorely misunderstood what it is about). Build Capacity to execute Mission and Strategy will then find its place as a non-random, Mission-aligned and realistic, executable response to current Environment and Opportunity.

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