Questions of Talent

What are the five questions about talent management CEOs want their HR leaders to answer? Leading HR consultant Josh Bersin offers a rundown.

Friday, March 2, 2007
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Talent management represents by far the most exciting area for HR opportunities, says Josh Bersin, founder and president of consulting firm Bersin & Associates in Oakland, Calif. It is an issue that will not simply enable HR leaders to be business partners but to actually move them to become a part of business strategy, he says.

Based on a new study on talent-management strategies being completed by his firm, Bersin says HR executives can expect their CEOs to ask them the following five talent-related questions:

How will we staff our overseas locations? A global economy knows no boundaries, but companies may find themselves hemmed in regardless by a shortage of middle managers, says Bersin.

"Almost every country except India has a talent shortage of competent mid-level managers, and India may soon join that club," he says.

This has become painfully obvious to many companies that expand their presence into other countries but can't find enough mid-level managers to run those enterprises.

HR will be expected to come up with ways to find and train people -- both from within a particular country and from within the company itself -- who can fit the bill.

Where will our next generation of leaders come from? Most organizations, says Bersin, have a "hollowed-out leadership pipeline." "There are plenty of senior leaders and plenty of people starting out, but there's a big gap in the middle-management ranks," he says, due in large part to downsizing and demographics.

Unfortunately, filling the gap isn't so easy. He says: "You can't just hire people to fill these mid-management positions; they have to know your company."

CEOs will look to HR to create leadership-development programs that train younger employees to take on mid-management responsibilities early on in their careers.

How can we create a performance-driven culture? "In every industry, companies are measuring themselves against their competitors," says Bersin. "They're concerned about falling behind, and they see a performance-driven culture as the answer."

But how to create one?

"They can't simply fire everyone and start over," he says.

Instead, HR should be prepared to create programs that move their organizations toward reaching this goal. These can include building performance-related measures into the way people are paid, promoted and evaluated, he says.

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How will we attract and retain Generations X and Y? "Younger employees don't behave the same way as baby boomers; they don't necessarily have the same goals," says Bersin. "They're more interested in spending time with their friends, they're more outspoken about the environment and doing the right thing. They're coming into the workforce with a different set of expectations and you can't motivate them the same way."

HR must learn to help their organizations appeal to the younger generations, whether it's repositioning the corporate brand, adopting more flexible work policies or taking on more altruistic causes -- or all three.

How will we find enough skilled technical talent? Organizations are facing shortages in areas ranging from petroleum engineers to nurses, says Bersin, and finding talented workers isn't going to get any easier.

Offering the highest pay isn't necessarily the best answer, he says. Instead, providing challenging assignments and the chance to do meaningful work will differentiate your company from the pack.

Another solution is to develop talent from within, he says, by bulking up your training programs and moving people in and out of different sectors, giving them "flex assignments" to let them grow and acquire new skills. It will also entail teaching managers not to hoard their best talent but to share it organization-wide, he says.

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