We all know the clichés – ‘people are your greatest asset’ and ‘people provide your competitive advantage’. But the reality is that now, more than ever, employing people with the right skills, attitudes and behaviours makes a huge difference to business success. Talent management enables organisations to attract and retain the right people to deliver superior performance.

What is talent? Haven’t we all got it? The simple answer is yes. We all have strengths – those things that we are good at and which energise us, but the things you are good at are not necessarily those that the organisation you work for needs in business critical roles. So talent management is about identifying what attributes bring about success in your business and using that information as a basis to build future capability.

First you need to attract and recruit talented people, then you need to develop them, keep them motivated and reward them appropriately. HR policies and procedures must support these requirements and training and guidance given to implement them effectively, because talent management is not a one off quick fix, it is an ongoing process and the definition of talent may change over time due to the business climate.

Organisational Culture

Talent management has to fit with the organisational culture. What does your organisation pay attention to? There are explicit and tacit signs of this. The explicit signs might be the organisational values displayed in your premises, set out in employee literature and referred to in your performance management systems. The implicit signs could be how people are recognised and rewarded (which may or may not fit with what is written in the employee handbook!)

Organisational culture is ‘the way things are done around here’ – and in the most successful organisations there is alignment between what is said and done. And action speaks louder than words, so regardless of what is written in the company newsletter or the employee handbook, people know that what they see happening is what counts. Each organisation needs to construct its own definition of talent and design the processes to develop and manage it as needs and priorities change.

Some organisations adopt a ‘whole workforce’ approach to talent management, while others develop a more exclusive focus defining talent according to need.

Regardless of which approach organisations adopt, fairness and consistency must be applied in all talent management processes. Diversity considerations must also be built-into talent management processes to ensure that you are able to draw from the widest pools of talent possible.

Transparency is important to manage expectations, involve and inform people in the talent management system. This also influences the extent to which information about talent people is shared across the organisation, although it is inevitably more popular with those who are part of the talent pool than those who are not.

Here are some of the critical components of a talent management system:


The hardest – and the most critical stage. Get this right and you have a new asset for your organisation; get it wrong and you have a liability. How well does your organisation identify what job you want done and what skills and attributes someone needs to possess to be successful in that job? What tools and techniques can and do you use to assess the candidates? The statistics demonstrate that interviews alone are a poor predictor of potential. In a recent survey by job board Monster 28% of employer respondents confessed they had gone to interviews unprepared. This is a shocking statistic when recruitment is not only costly, but also getting that decision wrong can have severe consequences for the team and the business.


How to develop and support high performing employees is a critical component of a talent management strategy. Many organisations use tools like 360 degree feedback to identify development needs, particularly for managers.
Using this method a person can seek feedback about their performance against a range of specific behaviours from their boss, colleagues and direct reports against which their own assessment can be compared. The results identify strengths and areas for development. The strengths can be used to plan new areas of activity or responsibility or perhaps the next career move. There is a school of thought, which I subscribe to, that if people can work in a role that plays to their strengths, they are much more likely to enjoy what they do and therefore to be successful. There is lots of evidence that development which enables people to become even better in their areas of strength is much more successful provides a return on investment compared to focussing on remedial actions to improve areas which need development.

Succession Planning

The most talented people find it easiest to exploit opportunities and move on. So planning for and building the future leaders in your organisation is essential. Succession planning can be broadly defined as identifying future potential leaders to fill key positions. But how do you identify those people and what is in place to develop their skills and abilities to face the business challenges of the future. How are decisions made about the next role that a person can move to? These are some of the issues that need to be considered in managing your talent pool and planning future career options. Organisations take different approaches to this, weighing up the risks of losing their talent against readiness to take on larger and more business critical roles. Coaching and mentoring can play an important role in developing appropriate behaviours in your future leaders.

Employee Engagement

Look around you and notice whether your colleagues are engaged or not. You will see that the more involved and engaged people are in their work, the more job satisfaction they experience and the more likely they are to be motivated to stay with the organisation. Seeking ways to involve people in what they are doing, for example by asking their views, implementing their ideas, telling them what outcome you want them to achieve and then allowing them to make their own decisions about how they will achieve it are all ways of engaging employees.

Performance Management

Performance management is the means by which the performance and potential of talented people is measured and so is an important building block. Having in place a performance management process that both adds value to business performance and creates a developmental, satisfying and rewarding place to work is a challenge for many organisations. This process needs to work effectively at an individual and team level, and also feed into the corporate talent management system.

Involving the right people

Careful consideration needs to be paid to involving the right stakeholders in the talent management strategy. HR practitioners play an important role in providing support and guidance in the design and development of approaches to talent management which will fit the needs of the organisation.

Visible senior-level support is a must and having a talent panel that oversees the whole system ensures that the performance management is an effective part of the talent management process and joined up to the wider organisational picture. It also provides a useful means of ensuring the involvement of directors and senior managers from across the organisation. Additionally, line manager support is important at every stage of the process. Line managers have responsibility for managing performance, identifying and developing talent in their own areas but also need to be encouraged to see talent as a corporate resource.

Whether by default or design every organisation has a system for managing its talented individuals. Adopting an explicit approach to talent management enables the organisation to fulfil the key priorities, goals and capabilities of the organisation – a must for long term business survival

Hilary Jeanes is Director of PurpleLine Consulting Limited, a consultancy which helps organisations realise the potential of their people.

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