In 2005, I was appointed as a Talent Manager for a progressive multi-national FMCG in Australia. Sixteen years on and in January 2021, I had the privilege to facilitate a comprehensive 5-day Talent Management workshop for a HR team with one of CIPD’s client.  And then recently, I found myself in an interesting conversation with a senior HR leader of a logistics company where we discussed the difference between talent management and HR management.

This got me into a reflective mode and in this article, I wish to share my thoughts on the changes that are taking place in talent management and what remains the same as a fundamental principle of talent management, even as talent management appears to have the same life-cycle of HR management.

Definition of talent management

A good place to start, is to define talent management which will help us differentiate it from HR management. In CIPD, they have developed a working definition  for both ‘talent’ and ‘talent management’:

While talent refers to individuals who can make a significant difference to an organisational performance by reaching their highest levels of potential, talent management is a process of systematic attraction, identification, development, engagement, retention, and deployment of these individuals. 

By these definitions, it seems clear that while HR management considers all employees, talent management focuses on a select pool of employees. You may be familiar with the term “hipo” or high potentials. And as a Talent Manager, while I would have loved to offer development programs to all employees, realistically that ask has its limitation given that we all work within limited budget and in my case, a small team to manage talent as well.

Within these constraints, companies do need to focus on a pool of ‘hipos’ as a critical consideration in talent management and succession planning. And the focus on ‘hipos’ should never be confused with the more recent emphasis on Diversity and Inclusion (DNI).

Talent management exists because we function in an ever-changing world – the work, the workforce and the workplace

It will be naïve to say that the world is changing now. It has been changing ever since mankind invented fire and the wheel. According to Klaus Schwab, we have entered into the Fourth Industrial Revolution which is enabled by extraordinary technology advances.

More importantly the merging of the physical, digital, and biological worlds and the convergence of all the technologies we hear about including artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), quantum computing and the proliferation of the digital world - is rapidly changing the work, the workforce and the workplace. Change is no longer a constant but an exponential. Because of this we see business disruptions sprouting everywhere; Uber, Airbnb, Netflix, and the likes are all too familiar examples of companies that have disrupted not just businesses but the entire industry. 

Recently, I saw a LinkedIn ad for a Head of People, Digital Bank by Grab. Who would have predicted that Grab would form a consortium with Singtel to setup a full digital bank in less than 9 years of their existence? No amount of talent management would have developed a high potential within Grab for the role that was advertised in LinkedIn.

Strategic Alignment of Talent Management

What remains the same, perhaps more challenging in recent years, is to keep abreast of the business changes and ensuring talent management is strategically aligned to the business. It is now more important for HR Business Partners to develop the business strategy with their business stakeholders as opposed to waiting for a business plan to be handed down to them.

In my opinion talent management will shift from just looking at individuals and to the co-existence between people and machine - machine which is making a significant difference to an organisational performance. Talent management focus is shifting from individuals to organisational capabilities and readiness. Companies are identifying and developing their employees in core capabilities, including cognitive skills, digital literacy, learning agility, emotional intelligence to manage change, to list a few.

With the exponential changes and the business disruptions that is taking place with digitalisation, it also means that succession planning has to be agile.

Companies need to invest in and embrace technology

While I sympathise with the Talent Managers of today with the exponential change and disruption to business, I also envy them because of the new technologies they can embrace. Right from talent assessment to talent development, there is a plethora of solutions and platforms out there that claim to be cheaper, science-based and proven using big data analysis for its effectiveness.

In talent acquisition or assessment one can avail themselves to software or platforms that are readily available online which provides better reliability in assessing talent. These includes AI-enabled employee screening or cognitive and personality assessments.

In talent development there are many paid and unpaid resources flooding the market. HR need not develop content, but curate their employees to the relevant learning interventions. In a CIPD factsheet  on learning and development evolving practices they discuss 10 shifts that are enabling companies to offer learning opportunities across their workforce. Learning opportunities are offered online, in bite sizes and just in time. Employees can learn from their mobile while commuting.

Leadership development is no longer just for the hipos. Anyone who has the motivation and discipline can now embark on a self-paced development.

With the increased development opportunities, the success lies with HR being able to track and monitor their talent. Technologies such as a Learning Management System (LMS) and online Talent Management system are critical. For those who believe they cannot afford an online system, think again, you cannot afford to face the future on a spreadsheet. Do companies question the need to buy Microsoft Office?

The future of Talent Manager

The future Talent Manager need to be agile and relentless in ensuring talent management is strategically aligned to the business. They need to embrace change and adopt technology and go beyond the individuals to develop organisational capabilities. While the current high potentials may be an investment in the short run, the future is unpredictable to bet on a few.

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