I believe ‘talent management’ strategies have focused far too much on so called high potential and senior leaders rather than creating a talent system within organisations as a whole. This is a significant issue because, as highlighted in numerous recent studies, talent management is the leading concern for CEOs.
Despite the fact that our CEOs consider getting the best from their employees to be one of the secret ingredients for successful businesses, prevailing people management practices are falling short of what is needed in today’s knowledge-based economies. On closer inspection, practices are alarmingly detached from the business environment in which they aspire to help their employees and organisations to thrive.
My observation is that we have an irrational preoccupation with the role of the individual and the role of certain individuals at the expense of the wider workforce. The people management tools – such as performance management, reward, recognition, organisational culture, leadership role modelling and information flows – need to be configured in a far more sophisticated way in order to create a talented workforce.
Executed well, I see this creating organisations which recognise that not all employees are the same and the relationship between employer and employee tailored to each and every employee. This is a ‘must have’ rather than a ‘nice-to-have’ because the rules have changed. If employees are expected to have a greater commitment to the ambitions of the business, are able to innovative, think independently and able to interpret and respond to corporate strategy, they need to be managed and motivated differently.
For example, rituals such as the annual performance appraisal and policies such as highly geared bonus schemes survive, this is despite evidence highlighting that better ways of working exist and technology allowing far more responsive and valuable approaches to be adopted.
Most importantly, creating talented workforces means creating the right culture and an ecosystem which empowers employees to work collaboratively and allows successful leadership to take place in every part of the business.
The so called “war for talent” was (and is) a fool’s errand. Evidence (again) has shown that the ability of any individual is limited - and the war for talent is built on the myth of the individual. The average tenure of a chief executive in currently under two years, due in part to unrealistic expectations regarding the impact that an individual can make to the success of the wider enterprise. The impact that a high performing individual can have on the success of an organisation compared to a high performing workforce is so insignificant as to be almost irrelevant.
The war on talent is also based on fostering competition between employees. This is divisive, and evidence (yet again) has shown that it is not the best solution to creating a sustainably successful organisation today – common sense alone suggests that intense competition is unlikely to drive collaborative working. As might be clear from my numerous references to ‘evidence’, I believe HR functions often do not make evidence-based policies and decisions – quite simply, if they did they would not do half the things that they do.
A consequence of choosing, or failing, to underpin strategy with evidence is that HR functions become vulnerable to pandering to the preferences and preconceptions of the c-suite – which may not be what is right for the business now or in the future. This can lead to outdated and disproved people management approaches existing long past their sell-by date.
I do see a waking-up to the need to reinvent people management to reinvigorate the workplace and make better use of evidence-based strategies, but there is significant inertia to be overcome in order to create efficient talent ecosystems.
Robert Bolton is global lead in KPMG’s HR Centre of Excellence