Organisations can talk about talent management until they are blue in the face, but fewer than a third of American companies are actually any good at it.
Managers love to boast about how well they are managing the talent within their organisation, but unless they agree what it means in terms of their day-to-day management – who they hire and how they treat high-performers – it's just a meaningless piece of HR jargon.
What's more, the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) argues, those organisations that take the trouble to work out what talent management really means for them will often end up with a better bottom line.
A survey by the Institute of more than 500 managers found that in most American companies, talent management was both poorly-defined and poorly-executed.
Under a third (30 percent) rated their organisations as good at it, while a mere five per cent claimed to be excellent at managing talent.
Just a quarter said their organisation had agreed on a definition of talent management, and fewer than four out of 10 said the phrase was used to a high or more-than-moderate degree.
But where it was being used effectively, talent management brought with it clear performance benefits, the survey suggested.
Companies that defined the phrase and used it more frequently were not only much more likely be good at managing talent but were significantly more likely to be high market performers.
Whereas only about a third rated their ability to manage talent as good or excellent, nearly half of the best market performers in the survey did so.
"It's no surprise to me that talent management pays performance dividends when it's done right," said Jay Jamrog, senior vice-president of research at the institute.
"As the war for talent heats up, more companies will be looking at integrated talent management as their secret weapon to succeed and ultimately outperform," he added.
"But it has to be more than just a buzzword – it has to become part of the culture of the organisation, and the responsibility has to be borne by groups outside of the HR department," he continued.
Companies that identified themselves as good talent managers were also more likely to integrate talent management with other human capital processes and were more likely to think all managers (not just HR professionals) were responsible for the execution of talent management.
Integrating talent management into the culture required communicating what it meant and why it was important, stressed Jamrog.
"Understanding what the most important components of talent management are can go a long way toward helping organizations integrate the concept into their cultures and other human capital processes," he said.
"Clearly, it's a lot easier to manage something well if you know what you're trying to manage," Jamrog added.