A More Holistic Approach to Talent

Experts weigh in on recent research that suggests it's time for businesses to get out of their comfort zone and look at the broader picture when it comes to talent management.

Monday, February 24, 2014
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A recent survey by international consultancy KPMG finds only a third of respondents saying they believe their business unit leaders are "incentivized to share talent across organizations for the benefit of the business and the talent."

The survey of more than 1,200 HR, talent, learning and business executives -- based across 54 developed and developing countries -- is part of a report titled "Time for a More Holistic Approach to Talent Risk," which also finds only about 40 percent of respondents say they spend two or more days per year with their senior leadership teams formally reviewing talent, while more than 20 percent state their organization lacks a formal talent-review process.

The KPMG report also found that only 53 percent of organizations with fewer than 3,000 employees felt their leadership took an active role in the coaching process, compared with 70 percent of respondents working at organizations with more than 10,000 employees. It was found that managers failed to include a lack of workforce diversity within their foremost perceived risks relating to how well they were managing their organization's people.

And as organizations seek to re-start their hiring engines after the recession, they often take a very view of talent development that is typically driven by perceived best practices, says Mark Spears, KPMG's global head of people and change, and such an approach may not be the most effective.

"We are not saying they are wrong," he says, "but they may not be linked to the needs of the organization."

KPMG UK's Robert Bolton, who conducted research for the report, adds, "We see talent professionals looking at what organizations do and copying it. There is too much copying. We are now seeing a war for talent. Talent managers need to be holistic and to look for ways to make the organization unique."

One of the main challenges to organizations, says Spears, is that learning and development are not well connected to the reward foundation and therefore are too fragmented.

"[And] succession planning and mobility planning are fundamentally disconnected," he says. "My sense is that there is a lot of specializing early and there should be a more holistic approach. There is not enough use of data-product evidence on what works and what does not work. Most organizations are not spending much on talent and take a narrow view."

Spears says that narrow view is impeding managers as well.

"Globally, managers are seeing half the picture," he says. "Organizations are being driven to implement short-term point solutions, ignoring the need to configure their talent management efforts in a broader, more sustainable way which aligns more closely with their organization's strategic needs."

Going forward, talent managers must isolate and address a much broader array of talent risks, he says.

"They need to take into account a critical need to connect their people to each other and to leadership, to forecast and manage costs and to move away from an approach to compliance that sees line managers simply ticking the box on performance reviews -- or failing to conduct them at all."

Colleen O'Neill, an Atlanta-based senior partner in Mercer's talent practice, says she believes too many companies fail to understand what they are looking for in new hires and are too narrowly focused on filling a set of requirements. 

"Companies need to think broader," she says. "They should not be holding anything back in searching for people. I would say most high-performing companies are seeking a diverse workforce," said O'Neill.

Research conducted by Mercer found that 60 percent of organizations are spending more on talent, but only 24 percent rate this investment as highly effective. Apparently, talent is important to success in the global economy but, as organizations increase their investment in human capital, many of them question whether it is paying off.

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"Sometimes companies get into a pattern of looking for people from certain schools or certain backgrounds," says O'Neill. "This means that companies are limiting themselves and they may not have a clear understanding of what they want. They need to reach out to a wider pool. It is hard and it takes an evidence-based approach."

Rick Guzzo, a Washington-based partner with Mercer and co-founder of Mercer's Workforce Sciences Institute, says he believes companies often espouse the growing of talent from within the organization as a value, but find that it is hard to manage the development of talent internally. Among his suggestions for ways to grow talent from within: formal training programs, short-term courses designed to help people acquire a particular competency, and offering people a chance to learn from experience.

Guzzo cautions companies not to use of incentives as a means of encouraging managers to move people within an organization, because it could enable managers to move employees around for the wrong reasons.

"Using incentives would license managers to send poor performers to other areas of the organization," he says. "An incentive program might backfire." 

It is paramount for companies to make sure they have the right facts about what works and what does not work when developing talent and leaders in the organization, says Ravin Jesuthasan.

The Chicago-based global practice leader for talent management at Towers Watson says a common problem is that too many organizations have a one-size-fits-all approach to recruitment and management.

But growing talent within the organization is very important, he says, and so is using a broad approach in searching for talent.

"Having a diverse talent pool is important," he says. "Most people in an organization may say turn right, but there may be one person who will say turn left. Companies need that person who is willing to say turn left."

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