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The Way I See It… Talent Management – Just Another Fad?


Talent management is the latest buzz word in the HR field but is it just another empty fad? Michael Moran chief executive of Fairplace Consulting plc cuts the jargon and examines the issues.

Deciphering HR language and concepts can be a minefield. We’ve all been bombarded with terms including business partners, business process re-engineering, continuous improvement and total quality that can be confusing and made so by consultants using the language as a means to sell you their services.

The term talent management, however, is not a new phrase. It has been around for some time, coined originally by management consultancy McKinsey back in 1997 in its now infamous war for talent article.

Chief Executives have also been purporting to talent management for some time, proud to announce “our most important asset is our people” before going on to reveal plans for restructuring, outsourcing or redundancies.

We acknowledge that people are our most important asset, but at the same time they are also a cost which can be easily reduced. Staff, however, also bring revenues and sustainable competitive advantage while knowledge workers retain the organisation’s intellectual capital.

The war for talent is about identifying, attracting and retaining talent therefore.

McKinsey advocates five things that can be done:

1. Foster a talent management mindset: at all levels within the organisation. This may not be easily achieved in a small organisation but is possible. Creating a pool of talent is crucial for business success whatever the size of the company. Getting the CEO on board with this concept is essential. J P Morgan are highly regarded for their initiatives in talent management, it is therefore no coincidence that Bill Harrison, their CEO has put talent management on every MD’s objective.

2. Create an Employee Value Proposition: that brings scarce talent through the doors and keeps them there. Talented people pick the organisation that they want to work for. Furthermore talent attracts talent. Do not underestimate the role of HR in marketing the company.

On joining the organisation, David Fairhurst, Head of Resourcing at Tesco was impressed by the manner in which the organisation handled customer complaints. Tesco customers will have noticed the customer information desk is the first port of call as you enter a store.

Hence any customer complaint is handled at the point of entry, and all staff are under strict instructions to ensure customer satisfaction levels are maintained. Fairhurst also noticed that job applicants were sent to a side entrance with the request to press a buzzer and await a response. Clearly staff recruitment was not viewed as the same priority as a customer complaint. Fairhurst’s task was clear he needed to align staff recruitment with customer satisfaction levels.

3. Recruit continuously: HR must constantly look for fresh talent, regardless of available vacancies.

4. Grow great leaders: the essence of successful talent management is the implementation of a process that enables talented people to grow. Businesses need to stretch talent. We learn most when we are taken out of our comfort zones. Organisations that nurture talent ensure that job sculpting techniques are applied. Job sculpting aligns the individual’s interests and organisational opportunities.

5. Differentiate and affirm: this is the difficult one. Companies too often give in to the temptation to treat staff in the same way, this can be a big mistake. Talent is intolerant of mediocrity. In his book Top Grading, Bradford Smart makes the case for subdividing the workforce into 'As': star performers, 'Bs' potential to become 'As' and 'Cs' to be moved out.


So what can you do to nurture talent management?

  • 1. Make a database of employee competencies that enables you to match individuals with vacancies

  • 2. Identify your As, Bs and Cs

  • 3. Find out what the three most important issues to staff are (I suspect their personal development will figure highly!) and respond accordingly

  • 4. Use secondments to ensure career stretch

  • 5. Develop some metrics around talent management, for example the percentage of jobs filled by internal applicants, or the percentage of staff leaving for developmental reasons. Promulgate to your CEO.

  • 6. Develop an employee value proposition and ensure it is understood internally and externally. Remembering the EVP is what the staff say it is!


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