If you are going to manage talent you have to understand what is meant by talent, ie who the talented people you are going to manage are. In general, talented people could be described as those who have the skills and ability to do something well. But it is necessary to be more specific about which talented people will be the concern of talent management. An elitist policy would be to limit talent management to people who possess exceptional ability and are going to go far. This would lead to a strategic talent management approach as described below by Collings and Mellahi (2009).
Source review Strategic talent management defined – Collings and Mellahi (2009: 304)
Activities and processes that involve the systematic identification of key positions which differentially contribute to the organization’s sustainable competitive advantage, the development of a talent pool of high potential and high performing incumbents to fill these roles, and the development of a differentiated human resource architecture to facilitate filling these positions with competent incumbents and to ensure their continued commitment to the organization.
A less elitist definition would be that talent is what any able person has who does well in their role and has growth potential. This is broadly in line with the following view expressed by the CIPD (2007: 8): ‘Talent consists of those individuals who can make a difference to organizational performance, either through their immediate contribution or in the longer term by demonstrating the highest levels of potential’. These two approaches could be described as exclusive or inclusive.
There are different views about what talent means. Some follow the lead given by McKinsey & Company, who coined the phrase ‘the war for talent’ in 1997. A book on this subject by Michaels et al (2001) identified five imperatives that companies need to act on if they are going to win the war for managerial talent. These are:
- Creating a winning employee value proposition that will make your company uniquely attractive to talent.
- Moving beyond recruiting hype to build a long-term recruiting strategy.
- Using job experience, coaching and mentoring to cultivate the potential in managers.
- Strengthening your talent pool by investing in A players, developing B players and acting decisively on C players.
- Central to this approach is a pervasive mind set – a deep conviction shared by leaders throughout the company that competitive advantage comes from having better talent at all levels.
The McKinsey prescription has often been misinterpreted to mean that talent management is only about obtaining, identifying and nurturing high flyers, ignoring the point they made that competitive advantage comes from having better talent at all levels.
Jeffrey Pfeffer has the following doubts about the war for talent concept, which he thinks is the wrong metaphor for organizational success.
Source review Problems with the notion of ‘the war for talent’ – Pfeffer (2001: 252)
Fighting the war for talent itself can cause problems. Companies that adopt a talent war mind-set often wind up venerating outsiders and downplaying the talent already in the company. They frequently set up competitive zero-sum dynamics that make internal learning and knowledge transfer difficult, activate the self-fulfilling prophesy in the wrong direction (those labelled as less able become less able), and create an attitude of arrogance instead of an attitude of wisdom. For all these reasons, fighting the war for talent may be hazardous to an organization’s health and detrimental to doing the things that will make it successful.
HR people also have different views. On the one hand they say that everyone has talent and it is not just about the favoured few, and on the other hand that you need to focus on the best. Some people believe that you must maximize the performance of your workforce as a whole if you are going to maximize the performance of the organization. Thorne and Pellant (2007: 9) wrote that: ‘No organization should focus all its attention on development of only part of its human capital. What is important is recognizing the needs of different individuals within its community.’ Others think that it is
not helpful to confuse talent management with overall employee development – both are important but talent management is best kept clear and focused on those who are judged to have talent, bearing in mind what the organization needs. The general consensus seems to be that while talent management may focus on obtaining, identifying and developing people with high potential, this should not be at the expense of the development needs of people generally.
Organizations will tend to take a pragmatic view when formulating their talent management strategy. The CIPD (2007: 8) established from their research that: ‘On the one hand there was an exclusive approach, in which talent is viewed on the basis of those destined for the top positions. On the other hand there was an inclusive approach, in which talent is defined as all the employees who work for the organization. The reality is that most organizations had a hybrid approach to talent, in which both exclusivity and inclusivity are accommodated and indeed driven by the changing needs of the workforce’ (and, they could have added, the organization).