Talent management: Just another buzzword?

Some HR professionals question value of term: Survey
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/05/2011

Talent management: Just another buzzword?

Opinions aplenty on talent management (Analysis)


Talent management: Just another buzzword?

Some HR professionals question value of term: Survey

By Amanda Silliker

When Heather Claridge wanted to enhance the business development capabilities of the project directors at Omnicron in Vancouver, she referred to her four-quadrant HR system: attract, align, develop and progress.

To attract, she looked for business development capability when recruiting. To align, she included this new expectation within the current role description. To develop, she designed a strategy to build the core skills. And to progress, she evaluated individuals against this additional criterion.

But this HR system is just that — an HR system, not to be confused with talent management, she said.

“We don’t use the term ‘talent management’ because it’s too general — it doesn’t describe what needs to be done and the expected outcomes,” said Claridge, who is vice-president of HR at the 200-employee organization. “I describe it in more specific, outcome-oriented aspects of an HR system for the whole employee life cycle.”

HR professionals seem divided on the relevance of the term “talent management,” according to the latest Pulse Survey. Nearly 30 per cent of respondents agreed with Claridge talent management is just another buzzword, according to the survey of 460 Canadian HR Reporter readers and members of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).

This is largely because the term is too broad, with many different interpretations across the profession, and it is too vague for the operational side of the business, said Claridge.

“Recruitment, retention, development — these areas are critical and they are precisely the value-adding features that HR should be talking at a strategic level, but calling it ‘talent management’ per se is not taking the issue a great deal further,” said Les Ross, director of global HR at Packers Plus Energy Services in Calgary.

But 30.3 per cent of respondents said talent management is an important and transformative conceptual framework for HR, while 40.8 per cent said it falls somewhere in between.

“From the moment I decide to hire someone right through to the retirement of that individual — how I get them in, develop them, train them, encourage them to grow, ease them into retirement and get them ready to take on something else — that’s all talent management,” said Susan Haywood, president of Human Resource Blueprints in Ottawa.

Despite the divide on the use of the term, 61.2 per cent of respondents said talent management has at least somewhat impacted how they practise HR.

“There is a challenge in finding people in a decreasing pool of available expertise and retaining the resources our competitors would love to tempt away from us,” said Ross. “It’s about how we deal with the people, the culture, discussions about career progression and development — but it’s much bigger, wider than HR terms purely.”

Slightly more than one-in-five survey respondents (21.4 per cent) said the term talent management doesn’t have any currency in their organization. However, 58.5 per cent said it does. This is because any problem an organization is facing has a talent management aspect, said Haywood.

“Think of HR as the people mechanics; talent management is your routine maintenance and your plan to keep people running at an optimum level so, any time you have a problem, the solution needs to be rooted in talent management to make sure it’s the best for today and tomorrow,” she said.

Talent management processes are at least somewhat integrated in 54.3 per cent of respondents’ organizations. Thirty-three per cent said there are linkages but the processes are mostly independent, while 12 per cent said their processes are still very “siloed.”

The non-integrated approach is part of the “traditional, non-corporate environment” at Ross’ organization.

“We’re not huge on policy or a huge amount of infrastructure,” he said. “We develop processes that we invite people to buy into but we will work with people who have a cogent argument if they want to do something differently.”

Only 15.6 per cent of survey respondents use an integrated talent management software solution at their organization. Slightly more than one-half (51.1 per cent) said they have separate platforms for each function and 26.3 per cent said they still use Excel.

“We can capture information around performance ratings, training and development, succession planning in a more face-to-face, collaborative way; I don’t rely on software to do that,” said Claridge.

And while 17.4 per cent of respondents said their organization has a comprehensive competency framework that acts as the hub of the talent management system, 42.2 per cent said they partially use a framework like this and 40.4 per cent said they do not.

Building a competency framework is something every organization should strive for because the talent management system will be much more successful if it is built on the organization’s core values, said Haywood.

“For example, if an organization’s core value was work ethic and it built the talent management program around that, then that becomes the foundation of policies and procedures and everything the program works to deliver is focused on the same ideals as the organization.”


Opinions aplenty on talent management (Analysis)

A helpful buzzword or just another name for ‘what we’ve been doing all along’?

By Claude Balthazard

Opinion as to whether “talent management” is just another buzzword or a new fundamental framework for HR is very symmetrical — 28.8 per cent of respondents to the recent Pulse Survey said they think talent management is just another buzzword, 30.3 per cent said it’s a new fundamental framework for HR and 40.8 per cent straddled the fence by indicating it is somewhere in between.

There were some interesting comments, especially from the in-between group. Some said talent management is a buzzword but in a good way — it’s a catchphrase non-HR managers can relate to. Indeed, some felt this “packaging” or “repackaging” of HR does more good than harm if only because the term “talent management” seems to put the HR function on more of a business footing using business language. Some respondents said the idea of talent management has forced them to rethink what it is they do.

A number noted talent management, like many other terms in HR, means different things to different people. For many, talent management is nothing new — “But this is just what we have been doing all along” or “There really isn’t anything new here.” Others see talent management as a matter of emphasis, with more emphasis on recruitment, training and development and succession planning and less emphasis on occupational health and safety and labour relations. Others said the core of talent management is not about individual processes but the integration of these processes.

It is not surprising, then, to find a broad distribution of responses on just about any question pertaining to talent management. For instance, 22.3 per cent said talent management has a considerable impact on the way they practise HR, whereas a similar number (21 per cent) said it has no impact. More than one-quarter (26.5 per cent) said the term “talent management” has strong currency in their organization while 21.4 per cent said the term has no currency whatsoever.

So what does talent management mean in practice? The survey touched upon two enablers of talent management: systems integration — usually through the use of technology — and the use of a competency framework as a common platform for talent management processes.

In terms of how various processes such as workforce planning, recruitment, performance management, training and development and compensation are in their organizations, the distribution of responses was symmetrical, with 36.5 per cent indicating their talent management processes are somewhat integrated and 33 per cent indicating their talent management processes have some linkages but are mostly independent.

In terms of using technology to integrate these processes, only 15.6 per cent indicated all their core processes run off a common platform, 51.1 per cent said their core processes run off separate platforms and 26.3 per cent said they still use Excel for most of what they do. Too many organizations purchase software hoping it will make the integration happen, according to one respondent, but the foundation for the integration is the culture and behaviours of the organization and they are, too often, not supportive of this kind of integration.

In terms of using a competency framework as a common platform for talent management processes, only 17.4 per cent indicated they have a comprehensive competency framework that acts as the hub of their talent management system. Almost one-half (42.2 per cent) indicated they have a competency framework that acts as a partial hub of their talent management system and 40.4 per cent said they do not have a comprehensive competency framework. Although the business case for developing a comprehensive competency framework is there, many organizations balk at making the investment to define and integrate core competencies, according to one respondent.

As to whether talent management should become the core organizing principle for HR education, there was again a mixed response, with 49.2 per cent agreeing with the idea. Indeed, a number of respondents went to some lengths to explain that although talent management is an important aspect of what they do as HR professionals, it is not all they do. While it may be a significant organizing principle, it may not be the core principle.

Claude Balthazard is vice-president of regulatory affairs and registrar at the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) in Toronto. He can be reached at cbalthazard@hrpa.ca.

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