What is Talent Management? (Part 2)

On Monday I noted that most definitions of Talent Management focus on its constituent activities. This is rather like defining a car by describing what you do with the steering wheel, mirror and pedals. It gives you a lot of detail, but misses the bigger picture: a car is a vehicle. It gets you to your destination.

So, focusing on bigger picture of Talent Management, I defined it as:

Making capabilities match commitments

Talent Management is about getting the organisation to its destination – today, and tomorrow. A lot lies behind these four words….

Tom O’Brien noted that there is a focus on action in the word Making. He’s right. Talent Management is not something that will happen by itself. It needs coherent, focused effort in three areas:

  1. Understand what your people can do
  2. Deploy them better today
  3. Ensure they can do more tomorrow

Again, the verbs at the head of each of these processes demand action.

Making TM Happen
Under each of these processes come those activities that lead most definitions of Talent Management. For example:

  1. Understand what your people can do
    • Assessment
    • Meeting Compliance Requirements
  2.  Deploy them better today
    • Resource Planning and Deployment
    • Performance Management
    • Outsourcing/Contractor Management
  3. Ensure they can do more tomorrow
    • Recruitment
    • Performance Management
    • Learning and Development
    • Succession and Career Planning

– of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list.

A quick aside: this definition could potentially apply to the entire workforce, and it should. Yet Talent Management is often used to describe the different, but precise art of identifying and fostering an organisation’s future leadership. This is a legitimate discipline, but it is no longer how the term is generally used. I have chosen to be descriptive rather than proscriptive in my definition.

Does ‘Talent’ = ‘Marketing BS’?
Is talent, then, just a pleasant header for a collection of HR activities that result in high performance?

No. Talent Management is not all these activities taking place separately. It is all these activities taking place together, as a coherent whole. And in that, the idea of talent is important as something that is carried from one process to another.

Strictly speaking, a talent is something that some is born with – natural ability. However, that is not again how the term is currently used in this context. Here, it refers to the combination of skills, knowledge and attitude that determines their potential value, both to an employer and to themselves, in the employment marketplace.

And here’s the crucial question: given that management relies on measurement, can you measure talent?

The answer is that you can only measure what you can see. You measure the demonstration of a person’s knowledge; you observe what their behaviours reflect of their attitude; you see how their skills are applied, against a model of a skills framework.

The result: a profile of that person’s skills, knowledge and attitude. In fact, most organisations can benefit by starting with a simple skills profile – they can extend it to knowledge and attitude later.

I’m not stating anything new here. The psychometric tools and competency models of ITGLominger, SHL, and Hudson have proven their value over time.

The trick – as I have stated elsewhere – is to make this information available to all these HR activities, so that each is more efficient, and together they are more efficient.


6 responses to “What is Talent Management? (Part 2)

  1. Donald:

    I guess I’m having a hard time with the “commitment” part of your definition. I’m not suggesting it’s wrong in any way – just that I don’t get it. To me (while I never spelled it out this clearly in my post), talent management is about making the capabilities match the vision of the workforce design. So you’d want a certain level of specific skills and competencies, are certain percentage of mid level professionals, and a specific target for the amount of engaged employees. The management of talent actively molds the workforce into this vision that you hope to attain. Perhaps that is commitment, but I just didn’t make the link.

    (and sorry for the late reply)


  2. Dubs

    Thanks for the comment. I think we agree, but are using different words.

    For me commitments is another way of saying current and future organisational plans. In other words, I am trying to make explicit the link between employees on the one hand and on the other hand their employers’ claims of what they can do now and plan to do in the future.

    Your phrase talent management is about making the capabilities match the vision of the workforce design captures this exactly.

    In saying that talent management is about making capabilities match commitments I was trying to be concise, alliterative and memorable. Perhaps it was all at the expense of clarity!


    For anyone else reading this thread, you should check out Dubs’ posting Defining Talent Management at http://systematichr.com/?p=716

  3. Paul Lambert


    Wouldn’t disagree with your definition though it’s no small challenge making working out what the right capability it is and getting the right (internal and external) people.

    What interests me more than the processes is creating environments where talent flourishes … Google is most recent classic environment but many small startup businesses create exciting environments.

    It’s usually down to an organisation with a great purpose, leaders who can articulate it and a culture that is exciting and energetic because people can shape it.

    We can overdo the process bit!

    Paul Lambert

  4. Paul

    Well said. It’s easy for those like me who come from a process/software background to forget exactly what you say: that culture and leadership are crucial. I think we’ve all worked in places where one or both of those have been lacking.

    There have been some great postings on poisonous culture and leadership recently – most notably Bob Sutton’s ‘No Asshole Rule’, which has really struck a chord with readers.

    Check out http://bobsutton.typepad.com/ for more.


  5. hi
    thanks for your information about talent .
    but i a have any question.
    1. what is diffrent between diffinition of talent and competency?
    2. is talent manegement strategy or system or any thing?
    3.what is history of talent management?
    4. what is your wiewpoint about excellence model of talent management?

  6. Donald,
    I would really like to know how to measure the success or progress of every talent process with parameters like quality, delivery, cost

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