Don't trust HR to manage your talent


When it comes to talent management, three quarters of firms obediently listen to HR and put all their time and effort into grooming their top performers. But if they are going to have any hope of coping with the twin challenges of an ageing workforce and a new generation of workers with different priorities, they are going to have to change tack - and fast.

A study by consultancy Deloitte has concluded that corporate talent management strategies, particularly when they are being led by HR, are so inflexible, unimaginative and narrowly focused that can end up being completely counter-productive.

The ageing of the workforce combined with changing employee expectations means the global talent pool is expected to shrink by 13 per cent over the next 40 years, said Deloitte.

What this means is that talent management strategies will need to become much more sophisticated and move beyond simple recruitment and retention.

Its survey of 58 of the world's leading employers found that more than three quarters focused their talent strategies solely on high-potential individuals, and predominantly those in senior leadership positions.

Within a similar percentage, the management and implementation of the talent management programme was owned and led by HR rather than the wider business.

Yet it was within the quarter where the programme was run by the wider business that talent processes were generally more successful, especially when visibly supported by senior leadership, argued Deloitte.

The consultancy argued that a wider approach that identified critical business segments and their talent needs, rather than simply focusing narrowly on the development of future leadership, was by far the more effective approach.

Just a quarter of the organisations polled also recognised that access and exposure to leadership was a key retention tool for talent.

And fewer than two thirds focused on connecting their people with the local community and important social issues through corporate social responsibility programmes, despite the fact that there has been a wealth of research suggesting this is one the things that really engages the Generation Y of up-and-coming workers.

Eight out of 10 of the organisations polled relied on traditional approaches to rewarding their people based on annual performance.

The influx of Generation Y workers would require the creation of much more customised talent strategies, with the use of new technologies and social network a key part of the equation, argued Deloitte.

New talent management models would also be required for business units that increasingly relied on outsourced functions, HR, finance and IT, it added.

Anne-Marie Malley, a partner in Deloitte's human capital consulting practice who and author of the research said: "In spite of current economic uncertainty and recent job cuts, 2008 is the year when there will be more jobs than there are people. Demand for the right people is outstripping supply.

"Talent management strategies will need to be deployed more broadly and extend way beyond individuals in leadership positions," she added.

"Our study found that there is mixed levels of uptake of the more advanced talent management strategies that will become a necessity if you want to continue to attract, engage and retain the best people," she continued.

"Our research highlights the extent to which talent management is now moving centre stage in organisational strategy and how businesses need to move away from more traditional HR centric approaches as the talent crisis grows," she said.

As demand for talent rapidly outstripped supply, organisations would have to become more dexterous and creative in how they managed talent.

Business leaders, too, would need to look beyond the traditional view of succession planning and identify people at all levels that were critical to achieving goals.

"Talent management will build on current approaches to flexible working, tailored career development plans, internal mobility schemes and deployment of key skills sets to emerging markets. Generation Y is keeping HR directors on their toes," Malley concluded.


Older Comments

HR departments in many organizations seem to see themselves as a competing power base in the organizations they supposedly 'service' and in staff issues often become an employee advocate rather than rational platform for talent development issues to be implemented. To my way of thinking there are two things that need to happen to break the HR staid unimaginative approach to talent management. Firstly career and talent development has to be made a key measurable for line managers and they must see it as part of their day to day operational activities. Secondly HR departments need to be convinced that they are merely a support function for line management and operations staff and they should be forced to see line operators as their customers and treat them as such. Sure they necessarily inform on legal and technical issues of staff matters and their duty is to source inputs into the development processes however the decision making power still should effectively belong to the line/operational managers. In other words HR can recommend however they cannot implement. Line managers should be accountable for the development of competence and if they fail in this responsibility it should reflect in their periodic performance appraisals. It's a similar problem to the 'financial controller issue' they to need to be informed that they are not the decision makers merely the information source for those making decisions on what can be spent or needs to be spent. I remember fondly those meetings with HR, Finance and Operations! HR... 'its the latest idea', Finance... 'its too expensive and not in the budget', Operations... 'can I get back to work now the competitors are killing us and the customers are waiting'.

Ric (

Richard Townsend Beijing

If i have been told once, i have been told a thousand times, stay away from HR if you want to do anything creative or innovative. Hmmm... That can't be right! Sure enough, after speaking to the local HRMA I discovered that judgment precedes curiousity. It was easier to judge all the parties and claim them all as guilty than to find out what is really going on beneath the surface, which more often than not, is really systemic. A bit of curiousity and self-awareness would go a long way.

Dawna Vancouver, B.C.