“Talent is the multiplier. The more energy and attention you invest in it, the greater the yield. The time you spend with your best is, quite simply, your most productive time.” –Marcus Buckingham, author of First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently

Talent management is an emerging approach to human resources that emphasises the long-term professional development of employees within a company. The concept, being relatively new, has no set definition. Some business leaders describe talent management as a process applicable to their entire workforce — in other words, they believe that every employee has the capability to grow within their organisation. Others focus their talent management initiatives only on employees they consider to have high potential for advancement. Most agree, however, that talent management programs should be used to ready employees to take on senior management responsibilities.

The phrase “talent management” is often interchanged with “talent analytics.” Although both concepts describe methods used to help foster workers, their specific meanings differ. “Talent management” describes the overall process of talent cultivation. “Talent analytics” refers to tracking and analysing data related to that process. (Such data might include items like the results of personality testing, performance evaluations or factors involved in an employee’s voluntary resignation.)

Three basic strategies are involved in the process of talent management, explains a study done by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Project Management Institute:

• Identifying and recruiting the right people
• Developing and retaining employees
• Capturing and transferring relevant knowledge

Using these strategies as guideposts, companies develop their own process of talent management based on their particular organisation’s needs and abilities.

Why have a talent management strategy?

Talent management is a long-term process requiring a substantial degree of time, effort, money and commitment. So why do companies choose to invest in their employees like this? Development Dimensions International reports that:

• There is a demonstrated relationship between better talent and better business performance.
• Talent is a rapidly increasing source of value creation for businesses.
• The context in which business is done is becoming more complex and dynamic, requiring better-trained employees to handle the responsibility.
• Executive boards and financial markets are expecting a higher performance standard from company leaders.
• Employees have the increasing desire to take on more meaningful work.

Furthermore, the Training Journal explains that talent management:

• Helps to keep organisations innovative
• Improves employee retention and motivation, as well as organisational effectiveness
• Reduces employee neglect, a behaviour that leads to underperformance
• Is a cost-effective way for a company to grow
• Helps add to a company’s competitive advantage in the marketplace

Companies that ultimately decide to implement talent management initiatives face the challenge of how to do so effectively.

The talent management process

Like its definition, the process of talent management is somewhat open-ended. There are no hard and fast rules, only endorsed practices. Forbes recommends that companies considering taking on a talent management initiative implement the following procedures:

1.) Use objective metrics

It is beneficial for both upper management and the employees they supervise if the parameters of a particular job are clearly understood. Such parameters might include specific responsibilities and expectations, compensation, how the advancement process works, what defines success in the position and measurements of performance. When these dimensions are clearly defined, it makes it easier for everyone involved to help push an individual toward success.

2.) Create strategic alignment

Strategic alignment is the process of bringing an organisation’s departments and staff members in line with its long-term objectives. (In relation to talent management, this could mean a company that seeks to be a leader in innovation creating ample opportunities for employees to openly collaborate and discuss new ideas.) When employees are added to the long-term equation, it creates an overall competitive advantage.

3.) Develop a talent map

Talent mapping is a process that allows employers to visually assess the characteristics of their current talent pool and compare it with the kind they anticipate needing in the future. A common tool is the “Talent Grid Conversation Tool,” a nine-square grid that helps compare an employee’s performance with his or her readiness to move into a higher position.

4.) Implement targeted training and development

Once companies understand the employee characteristics they need for future growth, they are able to build initiatives that cultivate those attributes. These might include forming mentoring programs, requiring rotational assignments within the organisation or sponsoring employees to take certain classes. Some companies take a more straightforward approach by simply offering more responsibilities to employees of note.

5.) Identify and retain key talent

Employees who are happy in their jobs are more likely to perform better. In order to encourage good work and avoid losing prize talent, companies should pay attention to factors such as work/life balance, compensation and other benefits. They should also make a point to identify and cultivate unique employee talents as much as possible.

6.) Implement career-pathing

“Career-pathing” can be considered a more comprehensive form of performance metrics. While the basic parameters of a job only consider framework elements (such as responsibilities and benchmarks of success), career pathing emphasises the cultivation of personal qualities. Companies that have developed advanced processes of talent management use career pathing to discuss employees’ personal abilities, aspirations and needs. In doing so, they help individuals find a stronger stake in the company and encourage plans for growth.

Although talent management may be a challenging process, it is ultimately worthwhile. Companies will reap the benefits of having a well-equipped workforce qualified to lead the way toward great accomplishments.

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