Is Talent Management Still a Thing?

Talent ManagementTalent Management has been talked about since the phrase was coined from McKinsey & Company research in 1997 and subsequently reported in the book, The War for Talent, in 2001. In the real world, or at least in my real world, it meant a strategic approach to the employee experience – with consideration for every workplace activity from talent acquisition & hiring, to on-boarding, compensation, personal & professional development, diversity, performance assessments, growth, succession, staffing, retention, engagement, training, and eventually exits and alumni relationships. I have always predicated the concept of talent management on the belief that the job of a leader is to help make other people more successful. While systems, processes, and tools play a significant part in talent management, it only works if it is the job of everyone in an organization and modeled by the behaviors of the leaders.

I ask, is it still a thing, when maybe the question is, was it ever a real thing and can it ever be a thing when big corporations are focused on revenues and workers have become part of strategic and not-so-strategic cost-cutting efforts. Has corporate employment become more about what companies can get from employees rather than how businesses can make employees more successful, so their contributions benefit both the company and the people who make those contributions? After all, regardless of whether politics (at least in the U.S.) might gift a corporation with human status, it only exists in the efforts of the workforce. The rest is just paperwork.

Early on in the history of talent management, some HR people (and I was one of them) thought it should incorporate every aspect of the employee experience, as noted in the first paragraph above. As time went on, various surveys of talent management departments in corporations began showing a shrinkage of components in the field. Compensation, and even the activities around talent acquisition and staffing fell away, leaving for the most part, succession planning, professional development, performance assessment, and management of high-potential populations. These days, it seems that many talent management strategies are focused on acquiring the best new hires, while putting little or no real effort into employee engagement and retention.

According to Bersin by Deloitte, based on their current website structure, Talent Management involves career management, competency management, diversity & inclusion, performance management, succession management, talent strategy, and workforce planning. While these categories may nicely incorporate most of the talent management components I listed earlier, they appear to leave acquisition, compensation, retention, and other variables outside of the boundaries of talent management in overall business strategy. However, other categories in the practices listed at Bersin do show there is still plenty of research and consulting activity in these areas.

A global search through for the phrase, “talent management,” finds 478 books, 376 academic journal articles, 1,478 magazine articles, and 6,414 newspaper mentions since 2010. So, while Talent Management is definitely still a thing in print, I still wonder how much it benefits every employee every day. That is something that can only be known by each employee, each leader, and through the collective experience of organization members. Maybe the reality is that while Talent Management is clearly an industry, the impact of Talent Management is still simply another component to the employee experience and that only truly matters at the individual level. The benefit of a robust and integrated Talent Management strategy, based on a perusal of the Questia results, is in greater revenues for the company, more effective leadership and higher levels of job satisfaction for the employees, which manifests in better retention levels of high value employees and easier exits of employees who don’t fit the culture and talent needs, just to name a few.

Now the question morphs again; this time to, “Is Talent Management a thing in my organization and if not, why not?”


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