Don't Lose Sight of Your Talent Management Strategy

Scott Esposito

In the recruiting business, we face many challenges related to sourcing top talent. Among them are chasing elusive candidates, assessing culture fit and dealing with disengaged hiring managers. There is, however, a more concerning issue lurking within the walls of many large corporations -- the surprising absence of clearly defined strategies that drive process execution.

Spanning multiple industries, I have encountered a number of conditions that seem to be characteristic of companies lacking a strong linkage between strategy and process:

  • Position descriptions that do not match the articulated needs and goals
  • Launching a search project many months after a vacancy
  • Not recognizing single-point failures until they occur
  • Adherence to strict compensation parameters
  • Sourcing candidates exclusively for the current role
  • Lack of diversity in the management ranks
  • Selecting recruiting methods based on lowest cost

In the aggregate, these are symptoms that talent strategies are not well-defined, not understood, not incorporated into process design, or not reflected in performance goals. Moreover, as business conditions and priorities change, the pressure to deliver bottom line results places strategy in the back seat— or worse, leads to a departure from creating meaningful strategies in support of the company’s vision and mission.

Ultimately, when strategies are absent or disregarded, the processes supporting the strategies become "the strategies" themselves and the focus switches from "what you are doing" but "how well you are doing it". Strategies are critically important; they are the overarching mandates that act as a beacon to guide and influence the right behaviors and decisions consistent with business needs. Without them, success is measured by cycle times and cost.

If you asked the head of staffing how his/her function supports the business, you might hear initiatives like improving time to hire, reducing the cost per hire or meeting diversity targets. Don’t get me wrong, these are important metrics but they do little to identify how talent acquisition fulfills business strategy. Another acid test to determine if talent strategies exist is to ask a senior level manager to describe them. If you encounter a blank stare or hear about the current year’s headcount budget changes, talent strategies are not a conscious influence in managing the business.
So, what are the common denominators in organizations that seem to get it right when it comes to effective talent strategies and processes? Listed below are four themes I have encountered with the greatest frequency:

Cultural Norms
– regardless of industry or organization size, companies that drive effective talent management strategies incorporate the "people aspects" of business into their values, beliefs and operating policies; they have a deep knowledge of the labor markets in which they operate; they establish profiles that define success in their organizations and hold leaders at all levels accountable for developing talent.

– talent processes are linked as an interdependent system; staffing, succession planning, leadership development and performance management all work together to ensure the readiness of high-quality leadership. Long-term alignment of strategy and process ensures that there are few if any surprises when talent is needed to support the business.

Future Orientation
– hiring decision are made strategically based on the ability to serve in the current role as well as future roles. Critical questions are asked such as, how many succession plans will this candidate populate?; what core competencies qualify this person for other leadership roles in the organization?; what are the candidate’s near-term and long-term development needs and how will they be met?

– the company promotes an inclusive and flexible work environment to fully harness the performance that only a diverse work force can provide; these companies adapt to meet shifting social and demographic trends. They have evolved beyond meeting diversity goals to focus on engagement, retention and 100 percent participation in meeting customer commitments.

Here are just a few critical questions that may be asked as part of a more comprehensive audit.

  • Do talent strategies exist, and if they do, do they reflect where the business is headed?
  • Are talent processes customized to support strategies and are they connected as a system?
  • Is talent management a recognized priority; do actions and words move in the same direction?
  • Are managers equipped to assess and recruit top talent?
  • Is the overall effectiveness of talent management determined by business performance or process metrics?

With the daily pressures to produce results and run efficient processes, it’s easy to lose sight of the strategies behind what we do. This is why it’s imperative to take a critical look at one of the organization’s most fundamental activities, the acquisition and development of talent. Complacency is not an option -- the stakes are too high in today’s business environment. With continued globalization and the development of new technologies, the competition for top talent will only accelerate in the future.