Simon Cowell recognised the lucrative benefits of nurturing and encouraging talent when he launched “Britain’s got talent”. Talent… is the only sustainable competitive advantage a company can have in any economic climate. Human capital affects three core business imperatives: customer satisfaction, profitability and innovations. Successful talent management strategies deliver the benefits of lower production costs and increased productivity. Finding and retaining the right people to meet tougher business goals is more important than ever. People, in particular the new generation employees, today, aspire to different things and are not always incentivised by financial rewards. Staff are becoming increasingly experience-oriented, and will readily change jobs. The war for talent never ends. New ways are needed to ensure employees’ needs are addressed, while not losing focus on business goals.

Talent management is a comprehensive set of processes designed to manage people. Talent management is important, as it relates to the types of competencies-performance the organisation needs in a down economy. The purpose of this article is to highlight the business practices an organisation should focus on to attract and retain the new generation of employees.

Why is talent management important?
According to Bill Leisy, Ernest & Young LLP’s performance and reward practice in the US, the top global risks in workforce management are: talent management, succession planning, pay and performance alignment and skills development. Talent management must address the obstacles’ management face, such as short-term mindset, minimal collaboration and talent sharing between business units and ineffective line management.

To overcome these obstacles, management must recognise that the talent strategies should focus not only on top performers, but on all staff. They should address and be specific to the needs of all staff, genders, et cetera. A particular demographic challenge comes from Generation Y (people born after 1980) – whose outlook has been shaped by the internet, information overload and overzealous parents. They demand more flexibility, more meaningful jobs, more freedom and a better worklife balance.

How can you achieve success?
The textbooks tell us that there are business practices that achieve success and ensure continuous operations of business. They are inevitably linked to IT solutions, remuneration and performance bonuses, and long-term Human Resource (HR) plans. But, in reality, implementing these strategies is resource intensive and in most cases do not deliver results because they are mainly driven by HR. There is a number of easy-to-implement initiatives that are targeted directly at employees that have proved to yield results. It should be noted that talent management should focus on a pool of people and not on an individual:
• Key competencies: A process needs to be implemented that identifies all key competencies required for all core job functions and employees. This does not have to be done with a complex system. It can be created by simply compiling a competency register using standard Microsoft applications. HR management must sit down with business unit leaders and review current and future business strategies to identify critical skills and competencies, and come to an agreement why these skills are important, thereby connecting business strategies to competencies. HR management should also acquire a deeper understanding of business knowledge and, in doing so, HR should assert its influence over business strategies and provide credible and proactive counsel and support to business unit management.
• Communication: Effective communication is important. More often than not, communication from management with employees is one way. Management must set the necessary time aside on a regular basis to communicate with staff at a deeper and more personal level, by being more transparent about, for example, the company’s figures and how the company is performing. This allows employees to appreciate the conditions under which they are operating and feel more involved with changes and understand how they, as employees, can make a difference and give input.
• Skills transfer and development: All companies should have a skills development programme. This can be done by means of a formal training programme, which can be costly. Alternatively, if a particular employee has a skill that others in the company would benefit from learning, then it would be more cost effective to allocate time for this employee to teach other staff members on a workshop format. American Express has a ‘lunch and learn’ hour where employees use their lunch breaks to talk to other staff members through a particular skill. This also increases the skills base; if someone leaves, then there is someone that can take over the position.
• Brainstorming: Encourage employees to be creative. Create time for them to think outside the box and implement ways to which all new ideas can be submitted and be given fair consideration. This process should be open to all areas or business units. Accepted initiatives should be rewarded.
• Mentoring: Pair each staff member with someone more senior and set time for regular meetings to discuss relevant issues, problems and progression. Mentoring provides a platform for personal development and learning of new skills, whether they are technical or simply to improve confidence.
• Succession planning: Many HR programmes suffer from ‘short-termism’, focusing on hiring and firing staff for short-term enrichment and short-term profit targets. This diverts attention away from long-term career planning and skills development, which could reduce the skills base. A long-term career and training plan should be created for all job functions. Career planning should also not only be targeted to the ‘top performers’ or ‘A-grade employees’. An organisation cannot afford to neglect the contributions of ‘B-grade employees’. These employees, capable, steady performers, make up the majority of the workforce and keep a company moving forward. Moreover, top talent is often more effective when supported by an effective internal network of employees.

An effective talent management programme can help with empowering employees, making them feel that they have input and value, increasing the exposure an employee has to the various fassets of running the business. It also helps to ensure the effective redeployment of necessary skills and support staff to when and where needed. It also addresses the experience-oriented nature of Generation Y employees.

A good talent management process will ensure that the right people are in the right job when and where the business needs them. A good talent management process will only be successful if the organisation realises that a system is only effective if it links to the organisation’s long-term goals with staff buy-in and effective communication, where staff feel valued and are informed and empowered.

Author unknown. 2009/ Addressing HR risk. Workforce management. 19-Jan-09. Vol 88(1):p.8

Guthridge, M.; Komm, A. & Lawson, E. 2008. Making talent a strategic priority. The McKinsey Quarterly. McKinsey & Company. Vol 1:pp.49-59.

Hemmings, O. 2008. Put talent in the spotlight. ttg. 12-Dec-08. pp.30-31.

Webster, L. 2009. Nothing to change. T+D. Feb-09. pp.57-60.

Riaan Rudman CA(SA), BBusSc (Hons), PGDA, MBusSc, is a lecturer in the Department of Accounting: Individual Learning and Assistance programme at the University of Stellenbosch.