When I told a new acquaintance that my job includes Talent Management, she seemed unusually excited by this.  “Really?!  How amazing!  Which famous people do you work with?”  No, not that kind of talent management.  But it got me thinking, what kind is it exactly?  The phrases “talent management” and “war for talent” have been bounded around by HR practitioners and business leaders since the late 1990s.  Back then it was about leadership talent; now no one’s sure.  Is it about leaders, subject matter experts or the whole workforce?  Is it about high potentials or high performers – and what’s the difference anyway?  Is it about attracting, developing, deploying or retaining talent… now or in the future?  And what talents do ‘talent’ need to have?  The CIPD’s 2006 Learning & Development Survey revealed that only 20% of respondents had a formal definition of talent management and in their 2011 Learning and Development Survey uncovered that of the 61% of organisations that undertake talent management activities; only 50% consider these to be effective, with a general lack of consistency in defining talent and talent management.

Whilst recently building a resource plan for a global transformation programme which required a new and specific set of scarce skills to ensure it delivered the right quality at the right time, the client was very clear about one thing – “we want top talent working on this”.   Add to this the complexity of keeping ‘business as usual’ running and suddenly, the need for a resource plan became a need for an end-to-end talent management strategy. In this example the client helped to define what ‘talent’ meant for them by describing the skills needed.  The challenge was then to find these people, mobilise them at the right time within the programme, and then ensure they had the motivation and tools they needed to deliver the programme objectives.

Getting talent management right means the right people (define the need for talent), in the right place (attract, select and retain talent), delivering the right performance (through challenge and motivation): Capgemini has defined this as R3 :

There are three key levers to achieve R3 and unlock the right performance in a mature and sustainable way:

1. Identify where to invest through building an understanding of the people and teams needed to deliver the future business strategy. Capgemini’s Strategic People Risk Management approach enables a clear line of sight between organisational goals and the skills needed to deliver these, thus managing risks when investing.

2. Support and sustain the investment. This can be achieved through managing capability, capacity and engagement during the period of change and then supporting this in the new world, our Workforce Rebalancing and Talent Tools solutions can be used to accelerate this.

3. Realise and demonstrate the benefits. Through our Workforce Analytics and Benefits Management solutions, the costs and benefits of investing in people initiatives can be tracked and measured, providing tangible measures and outcomes for the organisation.

So, can we answer the exam question now – what is talent? Yes and no.  It would seem that the definition of talent is unique to an organisation as it is based on their needs at a point in time, for example it could equally relate to technical or leadership skills or an individual or entire workforce. However, essentially talent management is about creating and maintaining an optimal supply of people to meet the current and future people needs of the business: by creating a plan to get the right people, in the right place, at the right time and knowing how and when to invest in retention, in order to unlock performance and truly optimise the talent supply chain.  Easy huh?

Samantha Carr & Alun Soper