Eight Strategic Talent Levers

Talent managers recognize the value they must deliver to be considered strategic partners to their business leaders. However, a number of obstacles stand in their way.

Among these barriers are the reactive nature and understaffing that occur in these roles, the difficulty of influencing the broader leadership team to fully support strategic talent management initiatives and the siloed approach taken in many talent management solutions.

In our book Optimizing Talent: What Every Leader and Manager Needs to Know to Sustain the Ultimate Workforce, we surveyed more than 500 of the Fortune 1000 companies to learn what actions really matter when developing a strategic talent system that creates talent-rich organizations and can outperform the competition. What we discovered may surprise you in some places and confirm what you have suspected in others.

We consistently found the two most critical aspects to develop a winning talent formula are taking a holistic, systems approach and integrating and aligning various talent management levers.

Without this approach, talent efforts tended to be tactical and episodic rather than strategic and sustainable. In these cases, talent managers found it was difficult to deliver on the promise to ensure a strong talent pipeline at all levels of the organization.

In our research, we asked talent leaders to describe their efforts to create a talent system. We learned that talent leaders who reported better business outcomes related to talent efforts were much more likely to have taken a holistic and well-integrated approach to strategic talent management. Specifically, successes almost always had the following levers working in concert:

• Culture: The organization has a culture that supports talent development and talent sharing.

• Strategic alignment: Talent management strategies and initiatives are aligned to the broader strategic plans and business objectives.

• Learning and development: The company’s learning and development tools and processes effectively support post-assessment and post-feedback talent development and growth.

• Leadership: Most senior leaders visibly and actively engage in, and are supportive of, the organization’s talent management activities.

• Talent assessment: The company has objective, standardized mechanisms to assess the most important skills and behaviors of incumbent leaders, managers and external candidates.

• Human resource capabilities: The HR function is viewed as a valued partner relative to talent acquisition, assessment, development, coaching and deployment.

• Talent data analytics: The company has data management tools and the capability to analyze the impact of talent management initiatives and efforts.

• Performance management: Per-formance management processes effectively measure and provide useful feedback on the right behaviors and skills in the workforce.

These levers are listed in rank order of their importance to business results. Performance management, while important, came in last. Interestingly, when we asked talent professionals where they spend most of their time, they identified performance management as the most time-consuming activity while noting they invest the least amount of time on cultural issues and initiatives.

Our research further underscored that if you improved the culture of a company to support people development by one point, you would have a 10 percent gain in your business results. If you improved your performance management system by three points, you would get no improvement in business outcomes. Talent professionals who have broken away from time-draining activities surrounding performance management have found ways to create greater value. They have achieved this by investing in more strategic activities such as reinforcing a learning culture, building talent strategy and engaging leadership around talent initiatives.

Next time you tackle a talent management initiative, consider the following questions: Is the initiative aligned to the business strategy? Does it fit within a holistic talent strategy? And is the initiative well-integrated around the eight key talent management levers?

Paul H. Eccher is the co-founder and principal of The Vaya Group, a talent management consultancy, and co-author of Optimizing Talent: What Every Leader and Manager Needs to Know to Sustain the Ultimate Workforce. Linda D. Sharkey is a human resources strategist, a founding member of the Marshall Goldsmith Group, an executive coaching organization, and co-author of Optimizing Talent. They can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.