What is talent management?
Talent management is ... the management of talent.
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If only it were that simple.
While 'talent management' is now in the vernacular we still struggle to agree on a universal definition, particularly when we attempt to untangle its meaning from 'human resource management'. But regardless of how you choose to define talent management, one thing we can all agree on is that talent management is an exclusive endeavour. An endeavour that develops programs for the select few. For the 'stars' deemed to be showing high potential and warranting a tailored development and promotional pathway.
Or put another way, it excludes people.
A friend of mine in the legal industry told me recently that he had got 'the tap on the shoulder'. Apparently this means that he is next in line for promotion. When I asked him why he had been tapped on the shoulder he struggled to articulate the reasons. 'It's just the way its done and I'm ready', he said. The thing is, he is ready and he is more than capable but he also looks and sounds the same as the people who deemed him worthy of distinction. He fits, he doesn't flex. He reinforces homogeneity at the leadership level and brings very little difference to the table.
And therein lies my scepticism about how organisations define, and identify their 'stars'.
It is not unusual for these decisions to lean towards homogeneity. You only need to dive into team pages on company websites to see how ‘like attracts like’. But these tendencies represent barriers; barriers to all of us as talent managers and diversity champions.
Talent management is, by its very nature, exclusionary and diversity is, by its very nature, inclusionary. At a conceptual level this often finds them treated as a separate set of ideas with divergent objectives. But diversity itself doesn’t live in a vacuum.
As the business case for diversity receives more attention and is signified as a key ingredient to long-term business success, the ‘war for talent’ is quickly becoming the ‘war for diverse talent'. And this means, in our increasingly global world, diversity can no longer be a peripheral 'nice to have' initiative. A shift towards a more inclusive talent management process would require a transformational change in cultural mindset, evidenced in every day experiences. To effect such change our initiatives need to:
Shift the focus from the identification of 'talented individuals' to the identification and design of 'pivotal positions'
Make it the responsibility of all; not simply another HR driven activity
Look beyond gender to capture fringe dwellers in a wide range of underrepresented groups
Reconsider the relationship between 'current performance' and 'high potential' - focus on both current and future capability requirements
Consider barriers along the pipeline, not just at its beginning
Adopt a decision science that drives transparency and prevents bias (unconscious or otherwise) from creeping into the decision-making process.
Talent management is not simply a re-naming of HR management, nor is it a replacement for HR practice. It is a reconsideration of the way in which we approach the enablement of talent and a shift from viewing people as 'one of many resources' to pivotal resources that are critical to sustainable strategic success.
And as our world gets smaller, these pivotal resources will be increasingly diverse.
Originally published: 2016
Image: Rhendi Rukmana on Unsplash