The Biz Box: Business

Why talent management programs fail to deliver

Written by Justus van Hoegee on . Posted in Business

A lot is said and written about talent management and the programs that companies set up within their talent development strategy. But what do these programs actually deliver in practice? It’s important to ask yourself what exactly it is that you want to achieve in making use of your company's best young human resources. It’s likely that an extensive program is not the best way of achieving the desired results. What is important is to know what your people need for their ongoing development, and that the information is then properly recorded and managed. That may in itself be enough.

Everyone inspired, everyone motivated
Everyone business knows that achieving revenue and profitability targets is fully dependent on having the right people able to deliver what’s expected. Inspiring managers bring across the key strategic messages in a way that makes them relevant and compelling for everyone: the what, the why and the when. The well-motivated and rewarded employees then ensure the plans are carried out as intended and the goals are reached with the minimum of stress. Yep that’s right – welcome to Utopia.

We all know that not all managers are equally inspiring. And while most employees are motivated, there are also boundaries where their commitment to achieving the business’ goals ends. A minority of exceptional (potential) managers and employees really make the difference. If you know to polish these diamonds correctly, you can have them optimally focused on your businesses and committed beyond everything else to getting the results you’ve planned for.

Many HR and other senior managers claim that they’re fully focused on identifying and nurturing these talented individuals for the future health of the company. They do this through TMP’s (Talent Management Programs) and in some cases by using specific TM solutions, assisting them in trying to give their diamonds maximum sparkle. The question though is as follows: is this really the best way to ensure commitment from your highest potentials? Research suggests that TMP’s often fail to create the desired focus and long term commitment from talented employees that businesses so crave.

Why do TMPs fail?
A TMP creates a lot of work – for both senior management and HR. Executing a TMP is a long term commitment, where you’re continually involved in a process of determining exactly which skills are the most important for a high potential's future roles. Which employees are identified as the ‘talents’? What do they need? How do you ‘develop’ these people? What resources do you need for that? How do you evaluate the process? And so on. Most companies start with good intentions, but generally fail to keep to the initial plan over the longer term.

At the same time, talent management is also not something that employees necessarily expect from their employer. Long employment periods at one employer is rapidly coming something from the past. Current and future employees will use a range of employers to develop a range of skills and build up valuable experience. Creating the desired palette by staying in one place is becoming increasingly difficult. The world has changed. Businesses are now seen more as a platform for employees, which results in less ambition to create long term, binding relationships.

The professional world has become too complex a place for people to find a TMP as compelling as they perhaps once did. Businesses can realistically only have a reasonably accurate picture of how the short term future looks. They will have some idea of the challenges over the mid and longer terms, but the idea of developing their talents to match perfectly to the future business situation is unrealistic. There are, to put it simply, too many variables in play – changes in the global economy, the political landscape and technological possibilities to name but three. Setting a long term plan in stone is not an effective use of time.

What should you do then?
How do you then go about making optimal use of your best people then? The key is to ensure you know what it is that your employees want and need when it comes to developing themselves. Record this thoroughly and do your best to make resources available to ensure these people are able to achieve their goals. Give them the attention and recognition that they need via HRM and/or management. Challenge them with each proposition that they come to you with. Going in search of the boundaries in that process will often stimulate creativity and alternative yet appealing solutions.

Talented people will enjoy being challenged and stretched in this kind of way, especially if it will help them to create a stronger CV. They'll potentially be more productive, and deliver more value by working on key projects. If they also stay with your company longer as a result, that’s an attractive bonus. What you need to accept is that even with this approach, you won’t keep them always and forever on your payroll. The search for new challenges is an inherent part of the makeup of the best people. Sometimes the only way to find a big enough challenge is to seek out a total change of scenery. If they choose to leave, allow it to happen in a positive way with understanding. It’s a smart approach for several reasons, not least the potential for them to become a future customer or supplier. They may even decide they want to come back, further enriched, once they’ve experienced something different. Either way, the key question is this: is an extended TMP necessary to manage the process?