Talent Management: Affirming Strategy and Acquiring New Tools

Alison Hill, Queen's IRC Research Associate
Human Resources

Queen’s IRC is continuing to build its human resource (HR) programming. To complement our successful Advanced HR programming, in 2011, we launched Talent Management. The catalyst for this program launch was, in part, the results of the IRC’s 2011 national survey of Canadian HR professionals. Results from this survey indicated that 73.8% of respondents viewed talent management as a critical HR challenge (Juniper & Hill, 2011). Talent management was also perceived to be one of the top immediate and long-range priorities for Canadian HR departments (Juniper & Hill). In addition, respondents indicated that talent management is a critical knowledge area for HR professionals to hone. The message was clear: HR professionals recognize the importance of understanding talent management; it will continue to be a challenge and priority for Canadian organizations and their HR professionals.

With this knowledge in mind, the IRC embarked on designing a Talent Management program that would meet the learning needs of practitioners. Diane Locke was involved in the curriculum development, helping to shape the learning objectives, and the program content. Diane has extensive experience in the area of talent management and her subject matter expertise facilitated the IRC’s Talent Management program launch (November, 2011). Following the programming, I spoke with Diane, program facilitator, and four participants to glean their thoughts on the programming.

This article highlights some of the themes that emerged in my discussions, including some of the topics that are perceived as integral to the notion of talent management, such as focusing on performance evaluation frameworks, knowledge transfer, and formal mentoring programs.

Effective talent management, according to Diane Locke, encompasses strategies and systems to improve processes for recruiting, developing, and retaining people with required competencies to meet current and future strategic objectives. To determine the right people for the right roles, it is important to break down silos and recognize the potential of employees across the organization, and this is not an easy task.

Diane recognizes that it is challenging to obtain executive support for talent management, but it is also increasingly critical that this support is developed. In addition, adjusting HR processes to effectively support talent management is difficult, but necessary. A talent management plan requires performance evaluation frameworks that are well defined, with clear measurement of outcomes. Discussions during the IRC’s November 2011 program revealed that several of the participants are not integrating competencies into performance evaluation. Moving forward, the IRC will continue to emphasize the need for creating and implementing performance evaluation frameworks in its talent management programming.

Knowledge transfer is not a new concept for organizations; however, the importance of drawing on employees’ collective tacit and explicit knowledge will continue to increase as a large percentage of managers and knowledge workers approach retirement age. Feedback from supervisors, mentoring, and coaching within organizations are becoming increasingly critical development strategies. It is important for staff members to have targeted development plans in place, but few organizations are actually promoting the importance of transparency and clear communication in their talent management planning and succession planning practices. According to Diane, organizations need to develop their talent through strategies other than just formal training. For example, emphasizing action learning, mentoring, peer mentoring, and reverse mentoring. Diane urges organizations to think outside the box when considering the development (or perhaps redevelopment) of their talent management strategies.

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) has developed and launched some particularly innovative and noteworthy formal mentoring programs. In my conversation with Bob Andrews, Manager, Retail Succession Planning, at the LCBO, he talked about how the organization is forward thinking when it comes to talent management. Recognizing that a significant number of senior employees will soon be retiring, the LCBO has established a mentoring program that allows “new employees to have a built in network where they can learn the ropes. The mentoring program allows for relationship building and trust, leading to knowledge transfer in a supportive environment.”

Like the LCBO, ATCO Power realizes the need to develop and retain high potential talent. According to Trevor Adams, Senior Manager, Talent Management, ATCO Power, ATCO has recently articulated its employee value proposition on its corporate website, choosing to clearly communicate to current and prospective employees the organization’s core beliefs and values; what the organization can offer to employees and its community involvement (refer to: https://www.atcocareers.com). Trevor spoke about how talent management is critical to business success. The tools and resources provided in the IRC’s programming provide HR professionals with concrete resources to inform their work. Trevor cited the Succession Slate as a pragmatic and useful tool that he has already reviewed and compared to the succession chart currently in place in his organization.

To close, a prevailing theme in my conversations with participants is that too often HR professionals lack validation that their talent management strategies are rigorous and well designed. The IRC’s talent management programming reaffirmed in the minds of the participants with whom I spoke that while they are doing things right when it comes to talent management, there is still room for improvement. A realization for Kevin Judge, Learning and Development Leader, MD Physician Services, was that talent management is “not rocket science and doesn’t need to be intimidating for organizations to tackle.” The relevant, practical material, time for group discussions, networking, and learning resulted in a positive learning experience for many of the participants with whom I spoke. Kevin described the IRC’s Talent Management program as “an absolutely great program. It provides a holistic view of the concept of talent management, accurately and effectively integrating all components.” Doug Miron, Senior OD and Learning Consultant, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, referred to the programming as “good value for money; an excellent addition to the Queen’s IRC learning suite.”

On behalf of the IRC, I would like to acknowledge and thank Diane, and the Talent Management program participants who spoke with me about their IRC experience: Trevor Adams, Bob Andrews, Doug Miron, and Kevin Judge. Your thoughtful insights are greatly appreciated.

For more information on the topic of talent management, we suggest that you peruse Diane Locke’s 2011 article, Talent Management, Beyond the Buzzwords.

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