Talent Pool or Talent Puddle: Where's the Talent in Talent Management?
Talent management practitioners are better positioned than ever to positively impact their organizations. Can they respond to this opportunity? Will TM be the savior of HR or is it just new wine in old bottles -- another re-labeling of HR that yields no postive results?
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Talent Pool or Talent Puddle: Where's the Talent in Talent Management?
Where’s the Talent
in Talent Management?
by Marc Effron and Miriam Ort
The new corporate focus on talent issues could
dramatically increase the impact and influence of Talent
Management. Are we letting that opportunity slip
through our hands?
These should be heady times for those in firms you’ll hear an amazingly similar refrain,
Talent Management. CEOs fueled by Good to “There are very few people in this field to begin
Great dreams are increasing their investment in with and nearly none that we consider world-class
building leaders. Companies fighting increased talent.” Or stated another way by the head of the
competition from China and India are recognizing HR search practice at one of the big three firms,
that great talent is their only competitive “There are really only 8 people in this field who
advantage. Individual leaders are realizing that are any good.” Imagine that comment being made
continually growing their capabilities is the only about Finance, Marketing or any other function!
sure path to success. With talent issues like these
dominating the agendas of nearly every Another metric is the lack of “talent factories”
organization, Talent Management (TM) for talent management. With the notable
practitioners should be the new corporate “rock exception of organizations like Bank of America,
stars.” Pepsi and GE, there are almost no companies
known for their ability to produce great
Instead, this enhanced focus on talent building professionals in this field. Alumni from
has produced an ironic result. After years spent organizations like these are planting the seeds in
begging to be put in the game, many players in their new firms, but growing great TM talent takes
TM are underperforming on the field. Their time. Although few would acknowledge it, the
promises to build leaders more quickly and sheer lack of success building great TM practices
effectively, if only given the chance, are showing in most companies, as judged anecdotally by the
little effect. Their practices still reflect the same stories, presentations and complaints of TM
bloated, impractical approaches that have long practitioners themselves, shows that even TM
caused line managers’ eyes to roll. Companies admits it’s not getting the job done. Now that
expecting their TM professionals to deliver heat is being applied to the TM talent pool, it’s
superior results are discovering the sad, quickly evaporating into a talent puddle.
surprising truth -- there’s not enough talent in
talent management. The Opportunity of a Lifetime
One of the most troubling aspects of this TM
Talent Pool or Talent Puddle? talent shortage is that we’re currently blessed with
A compelling metric of this talent shortage a once in a lifetime opportunity. Executives are
comes from those closest to the market. If you looking to HR and TM to deliver the leaders they
speak with leaders in the largest executive search need. If we achieve this goal, we offer the hope of
Talent Pool or Talent Puddle?
redeeming HR’s increasingly tattered reputation true business partner whose contribution to the
by producing something that executives truly business is clearly visible on the balance sheet.
value – more great leaders. While line managers
might not embrace HR staples like compensation First, let’s be transparent about our challenges.
matrices and interview training, they’ll put a bear We emerged from the soft side of a soft
hug around anything that helps them create a profession. Most of us in TM come from training,
high performing team. If we do our job well, TM organization development, leadership develop-
can single-handedly change HR’s seat at the table ment and other fields not traditionally known for
from a high-chair to an arm chair. having a hard business “edge.” Few of us have had
accountability for a balance sheet or been
Success will also establish us as the driver of responsible to make a payroll. We haven’t always
the talent engine within our companies. We will been as knowledgeable about business in general
shift our reputation from being the provider of as we should have been. We don’t always feel a
assessments and tools to being the trusted advisor burning passion for the commercial realities of
on the most important talent decisions. Most our organizations.
importantly, we will accomplish what most of us
seek from this profession – a We haven’t integrated
meaningful, positive impact HR processes in a way that
“Our risk is as large as our
on business results. truly maximizes their
potential to build talent.
opportunity. Failure to deliver
Our risk is as large as our Our solutions have been
will be seen by our
opportunity. Failure to de- criticized as too
liver will be seen by our complicated and too
organizations as yet another
organizations as yet another academic. We’ve often
sign that HR doesn’t work. insisted that those
sign that HR doesn’t work.”
TM will be dismissed as solutions, even if rejected
another HR fad, another by our customers, were still
failed quick fix brought to you by those folks who the “right” ones. Overall, we haven’t consistently
just don’t seem to get the business. With the proven to our organizations that we add the value
debate about HR’s long-term value as a function we know is possible.
still raging, this would signal victory for those who
feel that blowing up HR is the best solution. It’s a healthy list of challenges and overcoming
them requires making some fundamental and
Making it Work difficult changes in who we are and what we do. If
Here’s the good news – it ain’t over yet. While our hopes for talent management as a profession,
we do have a shovel in our hands, the hole’s not and for ourselves as practitioners, are to succeed,
very deep yet. We still have a chance to achieve we must:
the true potential of this field if we make some • Elevate Practitioner Quality: We must
substantial changes, quickly. The solutions improve our capabilities and business
suggested below aren’t intended to be simple, fast orientation, injecting an operations mentality
or popular with the TM and HR community. into our Talent Management practices. We
They’re intended to position us for long-term must fall in love with business. We must teach
success as the preeminent group within HR – the others to do the same.
Talent Pool or Talent Puddle?
• Simplify our Work: We must radically strategy models.
simplify and simultaneously add value to the More MBAs: It’s possible to learn
work we do. This means challenging every business fundamentals in many ways, but
convention about how talent processes should the MBA still provides the most broad-
be designed and, in many cases, starting from based knowledge of how business works.
scratch. The rigorous business thinking and
• Define the Field: We must define the analytical skills that help engender love of
boundaries of what we do, staking claim to the business are also most easily gained
those areas of HR where we have the greatest through this course of study. This rigor is
potential impact. We can’t start improving the essential in evaluating the true business
quality of what we do until we agree on exactly impact of, and need for, TM processes. It
what it is. also instills a discipline and toughness that
helps in making the difficult calls and
Elevate Practitioner Quality trade-offs that ultimately create a top
The most difficult challenge we face is elevating company for leaders.
the quality and capabilities of those who do this More Line Managers: Even if we need
work. Declaring that we must elevate practitioner to pay a 50% premium to get them, we
quality isn’t intended to disparage anyone in TM. need to attract more line managers into
So let’s start by stipulating that everyone in our this field. We may only get them for a
field has good intentions, are good people and temporary assignment, but even a year or
genuinely have the best interests of the business two in this area will deliver a bracing dose
at heart. With that said, the facts still suggest that of reality into many TM practices. After
there are meaningful gaps between what many their experiences, these line managers will
Talent Management practitioners offer and what also be great ambassadors of TM within
our businesses need. We can largely close these their organizations.
gaps if we know business, love business and have
a production mindset to building leaders. Love the Business: We should be fascinated
by, and have a deep and unabiding curiosity
• Know the Business: We must understand about, business and how it works. We should
the financial, operational and strategic love how a new product is created, the selling
realities of business and our organization’s process, the journey from raw material to
business. We should be able to speak to the finished product and the constant struggle to
challenges and opportunities in our business keep the customer satisfied. It’s a highly
environment with as much fact-based intangible thing but one that can only help TM
knowledge as any other business leader at the professionals’ effectiveness. Call it passion for
table. How do we get there? business or intellectual curiosity or any other
o Basic Business Literacy: At a label that works for you, but acknowledge that
minimum, everyone in TM should have a it’s a rare quality in this field.
degree of business literacy that includes
the ability to understand company We can select for passion through a great
financial statements, the basics of how a interview process, but it’s tough to say how we
good or service is produced and an inspire this in others. One step might simply
operative knowledge of one of the classic be thoroughly exposing those entering this
Talent Pool or Talent Puddle?
field to the core business processes. On- Simplify our Work
boarding programs could go beyond a surface No less a challenge than changing ourselves is
knowledge of the business and instead require changing our approach to designing and
that time be spent learning key organization implementing TM practices. One can barely
processes. How much more successful would identify what the core objectives are in much of
a new TM practitioner be if her orientation the TM work being done today. We give our
included a week in your R & D center, a week clients complicated selection processes, com-
working on a new marketing campaign, a petency models that proscribe in nit level detail
week in your factory and a week with your exactly what managers should do and
sales force? That month-long investment performance management processes that stretch
would likely provide a more sound foundation to multiple pages.
and do more to inspire passion than anything
you do today. When these practices don’t work, it’s blamed
on lack of support from the business. We roll our
• Take A Production Mindset to Building eyes and wonder when they’ll “get it,” while our
Leaders: The TM role is managers sit in their
often seen as a craftsman offices wondering the same
“Here’s where things get
– an individual tasked thing about us. Research,
with helping each leader practice and common
tough. To start, we must
achieve their ultimate sense tell us that TM
forget most of what we know
potential. So it’s a practices are only effective
challenging thought to if they’re successfully
about creating TM processes.” implemented. So we must
many in our field that we
should treat producing focus on designing our
leaders like producing processes with successful
widgets. The reality is that TM is a production implementation by managers as a primary goal.
job. We are responsible to turn out a specific
number of leaders over a specific period of We can achieve this by making two
time with a specific set of capabilities. We are fundamental changes:
no different than a plant manager. Our
responsibility is to deliver the most powerful • Radically Simplify our Processes: If
element for the production of the goods or implementation is the key to successful
services in our company – qualified leaders. outcomes, then making processes simple is the
key to successful implementation. Most
This doesn’t mean that we don’t produce managers will gladly use any HR tool or
larger individual or societal benefits from this process that delivers more value than the
process. Creating highly skilled, self-aware, effort required to use it. If we can redesign our
talent building leaders has a multiplier effect processes to always meet this value/effort
that can meaningfully impact their families, balance, we will see a marked increase in the
their communities and society. It is important effectiveness of our services. How do we get
to realize that this is a wonderful ancillary there?
benefit – not our primary goal.
Here’s where things get tough. To start, we
Talent Pool or Talent Puddle?
must forget most of what we know about we need to approach the design and
creating TM processes. This is tough because implementation of any process by asking the
many of us have spent a lifetime acquiring fundamental question, “What is the essential
knowledge and capabilities to achieve “expert” business goal of this process?” We then need
status in our field. Besides our own to start with a blank slate and an open mind
experiences, we’ve worked hard to gain that and design the simplest possible process
expert knowledge through consultants, that uses the least amount of
academicians and peers. We attend the information necessary to achieve those
conferences, read the books and listen to the results.
speakers. We like to feel that we know the
“best practices” in our area fairly well. But We started using that exact approach at
“best practices” according to who? Where is Avon to redesign every talent process (i.e.
the foundation, where are the facts, that justify
performance management, development
how we design and implement TM practices? planning, engagement survey) we had at Avon.
We started calling this
While there is signi- approach “One Page Talent
“We need to start with a blank Management” because we
ficant research support-
ing what we do (i.e. typically found that we
slate and an open mind and
assessment and feed- could fit the essential
design the simplest possible material on just one page.
back, coaching, perfor-
mance management), We applied this approach
process that uses the least to creating new processes
there is no evidence
supporting the compli- for performance manage-
amount of information”
cated way in which we do ment, development plan-
it. Where is the evidence ning and talent reviews,
that a competency model and in developing a new
with 8 headings and 15 descriptions under leadership capability model. Our success
each helps anyone? Or that a goal setting metrics were the only ones that mattered –
process involving anything more than just managers successfully using these tools. We
listing a goal and a metric improves the were gratified that not only were Avon’s
outcome? Or that providing 360° feedback on managers using the tools, they were thanking
every possible leadership behavior actually us for creating them and making them simple
helps to change any leadership behavior? to use.
We have become so self-referential as a Add Value to Each Practice: Taking work out
field that we are now all equally smart (or of complex processes is one approach to
equally dumb) about how to do this work. We improving TM effectiveness. Adding additional
don’t challenge the fundamental assumptions value to each practice is another. As an example,
about the effectiveness of these practices. We at Avon we applied our One Page Talent
don’t ask, “Is there a radically different way to Management approach to both our new
do this that would deliver better results?” engagement survey and our new 360 assessment
process. Both of these processes tend to present
To achieve the value from TM practices, managers with overwhelming and complex
Talent Pool or Talent Puddle?
Focus On: One Page Talent Management
Implementation is the key to success and simple processes are the key to implementation. Here’s how we applied the
One Page Talent Management approach during the design of our Performance Management process
Identify the core business goal
Ensure each associate understands their goals and is fairly evaluated at year end
Identify the simplest process to achieve that
Manager tells associate their goals
Add complexity to the process only if it adds significant value
• Document goals to allow managers and associates to clearly remember them
• Add a metric for each goal to ensure fair measurement
• Include a weighting for each goal for a precise measurement of overall performance ⌧
(Why: implies false precision in the ability to evaluate achievement, removes managerial discretion, suggests
formulaic approach to rating)
• Include labels for performance definitions, i.e. Strong Performer, Met Goals ⌧
(Why: adds no value, requires additional interpretation step, gives managers “crutch” to avoid tough
information, unsupported by any practical advice page. Managers at Avon are now held account-
about what to do next. In crafting our able to increase their survey scores by a set
engagement survey report, we wanted to add percent each year – an objective hard-wired into
value for managers without adding complexity. every VP and General Manager’s performance
We thought that if we could “pre-analyze” each plan.
manager’s survey for them, providing them with
specific advice about what to do, the survey would Returning to the underlying proposition that
quickly become a useful tool. implementation is the key to success, anything we
can do that simplifies a manager’s ability to
Our “one page” solution provided managers implement makes us more effective.
with the essential information about their group’s
survey results, including exactly which actions Define the Field
they could take to improve scores next year. The Finally, we need to establish the boundaries of
latter was accomplished through a proprietary our role in organizations. Our field is emerging
algorithm that identified which questions were the without direction, without a common definition of
significant drivers of engagement for each what we do. Today, TM professionals might own
individual. Since almost every question was any combination of talent reviews, succession
written in a way that suggested the activities planning, executive education, recruiting and
required to increase it (i.e. “my manager provides coaching, with performance management,
me with frequent feedback about my employee engagement and training often in the
performance”), increasing engagement scores was mix as well. Some focus exclusively on the “top
as easy as doing exactly what was said on that 100” as defined in their organization; others have
Talent Pool or Talent Puddle?
accountability down to the supervisory level. is to address those vital few things that are
missing – business knowledge and passion, a
The sooner we identify the key practices, production mindset and a commitment to
processes and outcomes we want to own, the simplicity. If we can successfully change how we
faster we’ll be able to start instituting the do Talent Management, the effectiveness of what
improvements detailed above. A clearer defini- we do will dramatically increase.
tion will also help dispel the image of TM as
simply a re-labeling of HR, the next step after The good news is that we own this challenge
“Personnel.” This clarification can happen in and we control our future. If we set higher
many ways, from the laissez-faire (it naturally standards for ourselves and our teams, push down
emerges over time based on common practice) to our egos just a bit to consider new ideas and hold
the highly structured (a professional organization ourselves accountable for the success or failure of
like Human Resource Planning Society or Society TM practices, we will move this profession to
for Human Resource Management (SHRM) where it needs to be. And, if we can’t do that,
defines it for us). maybe what they’re saying about HR is true.
Another option is that we – the people who
Marc Effron is Vice President, Talent Management
actually do this work – use our own formal and
for Avon Products, Inc. in New York City. He is an
informal networks to agree on a rough definition
author, researcher and speaker on Human Resource
of Talent Management. Through networking tools
issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
like Linked-In™, we can establish a network of or email@example.com. A selection of his other articles
TM professionals that can work collaboratively to and presentations is available at
get this done. This network might even evolve into www.marceffron.com
a more formal organization for our field, much
Miriam Ort is Senior Manager, Talent Management
like SHRM serves HR generalists and World at
for Avon Products, Inc. in New York City. She is a
Work focuses on compensation and benefits
primary architect of the One Page Talent
Management concept and manages its
implementation. She can be reached at
The bottom line is that until we agree on what firstname.lastname@example.org
it is we do, it will be difficult to achieve significant
Some sources that inspired this article:
Taking Charge • “Aligned at the Top: How business and HR executives
view today’s most significant people challenges — and
While there’s not enough talent in talent
what they’re doing about it”, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu,
management, we have the opportunity to both 2007.
solve that issue and elevate this field to its rightful http://www.deloitte.com/dtt/cda/doc/content/us_consul
position in organizations. We know from our
experience that when what we do works, the • Human Resource Competency Study Executive Summary,
positive impact on individuals and companies The RBL Group, 2007.
exceeds any other organizational lever. We
• Marc Effron, Shelli Greenslade, and Michelle Salob,
already possess many of the capabilities we need “Growing Great Leaders: Does it Really Matter?”, Human
to succeed. We are a well-educated, well- Resource Planning Society Journal, 2005. Available at
intentioned and experienced group. Our challenge
Talent Pool or Talent Puddle?
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Talent Pool or Talent Puddle?