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The Talent Management (TM) Profession: Making a Material Difference

Authored by: Roger Pearman & Robert Eichinger

We all know that top management, and CEOs in particular, state that the topic of bench strength for key positions keeps them up at night. Lack of strength on the bench is a constant talent management concern on many annual talent surveys (the quality of current leadership is a close second). It’s often mentioned that people are our most important asset. Getting the right people on the bus and getting the right person in the driver’s seat is a prerequisite to having an organization flourish.

This means that Talent Management (TM) has the opportunity to make a material contribution to organizational success. While all are people disciplines and have best practices, TM has the most science. In some organizations, TM reports to the top of the house instead of to the CHRO.

Talent Management is recognized as being a very solid science. There is a lot of research being done across the discipline. There are agreed upon research-derived and experience-tested best practices. There are academic majors in the discipline and endless articles and books from acknowledged gurus in the field. There is a supporting Society (HRPS – inside SHRM) and conferences. Talent Management knows a lot about its responsibility for identifying, acquiring, and developing people, teams and organizations.

The field/discipline/function of Talent Management is in good shape. Gurus are plentiful. Respected, research-based vendors who support organizational work are reasonably abundant. There are academics who specialize in Talent Management. The media gives its topics (like leadership and teams) a lot of space. The need is there. The profession has the content, and yet execution is lagging behind the science.

Performing Through Material Support

A Talent Management professional with a degree in the discipline, and who has had the right career-building roles and jobs, still has to perform. Performing requires influencing skills and attitudes. Many professionals know the content. They know the best practices. They have to offer material support (advise as to the best things to do) and deliver field research-derived, experience-tested best practices aligned with the needs of the organization. They need to have a seat at the operational and strategy tables, not be downstream and called upon only at implementation time. They must perform to earn that seat by making a material difference.

Legal should be the place to go for everything legal. Logistics should be the place to go for everything about effective and efficient supply chain management and distribution. IT should be the place to go for everything digital. Finance should be the place to go for financial advice, counsel and leverage. And Talent Management should be the place to go for everything people, teams and organizations.

The 8 Talent Management Sub-Domains

The specific domains Talent Management needs to lead are:

  1. Sourcing, recruiting, attracting, evaluating, hiring, and onboarding talent. Getting the right people on the big bus. That would include having a heavy hand in managing the intern program as a filter for future talent. TM needs to be very active in screening candidates and knows a lot about interviewing, assessing talent, delivering focused (as opposed to casual) interviewing and getting new hires off on the right foot.
  2. Retention. Once on board, keeping the best is a science. TM knows who tends to leave and why. It knows how to engage talent so that they stay and choose to build a career with the organization, especially in the midst of a resignation wave being experienced by all organizations. It needs to actively fight to hold on to talent needed now and especially in the future.
  3. Teaming. Almost everyone works in a single or multiple teams. Building and managing effective teams is well researched and documented. TM needs to be the place to go for everything teams.
  4. Remote Teaming. Because of Covid, there is a relatively new challenge in remote management and hybrid work. Research is being done, best practices are emerging, and TM needs to be in the thick of it.
  5. Training. There is substantial science behind how people learn. TM needs to design and deliver all training.
  6. Development. TM tends to use solid science and best practices, especially when producing strong managers and leaders, and when building a strong talent bench (a main concern of CEOs). This domain is highly dependent upon TM convincing the line managers what to do. The line is mainly responsible for getting stuff done today and performing financially now. Development, on the other hand, is about getting ready for tomorrow. The paradox is that line management has to do things today that do not contribute to profits today.
    There is substantial resistance to leadership development initiatives. Assignmentology is one of the knowledge and best practice areas we know is necessary. For people on their way to the top, every job needs to be developmental. TM has to fight for the 70/20/10 development formula, because it remains the single best pathway for successful development and next level readiness.
  7. Coaching.  A facet of numbers 5 and 6 above, coaching is also a well-studied initiative. Coaching can deliver material improvement, one person at a time, yet it is costly and a time-consuming waste if it is not done right. Coaching must be delivered by the right people and in the right way
  8. A Common Language of People. Talent Management is constantly in a talent review mode. It should be the place to go to for assessment and evaluation initiatives such as Performance Management, the Annual Talent Review and Succession Planning. Important for all quality people management is establishing a common language to facilitate clear and articulate dialog about people. There are ~20 known and scientifically supported common languages for roles, competencies, practices and behaviors. They each have their own model(s) and library. As tempting as it is to build one’s own model and library, Talent Management needs to select the best “ready now” option that fits their organization and needs, and make it the common language of “people description” and management to provide solution speed, scale, predictable positive impact and organizational self-sufficiency.

All of this, plus more, is the content of Talent Management. The functional and strategic use of Talent Management is based on this choice: internal expertise, vendors or a blend. The following is ideal: A 9-person department with an expert in each of these eight sub-disciplines, led by a TM professional that can influence the top of the house into doing the right thing for the future of the enterprise.

There are respected vendors in each of these eight sub-disciplines and there are a handful vendors who do it all. There are also vendors who provide research-derived and experience-tested tools to help make any or all of the eight sub-disciplines better.

We know the need. We have the content. We have the tools.

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