Winning the global war for talent

by 22 Jan 2008

TO WIN the battle for talent, organisations must transform the management of their workforces from a supporting function to a competitive capability, according to the authors of a new book.

Written by Accenture executives Robert Thomas, Peter Cheese and Elizabeth Craig, The Talent Powered Organization: Strategies for Globalization, Talent Management and High Performance is a comprehensive review of the trends that are elevating talent management to the top of the corporate agenda.

Thomas, executive director of the Accenture Institute for High Performance, said that companies vary a great deal when it comes to using talent management as a competitive advantage.

“Some still look at talent management as a cost-control activity, that is, ‘How can we reduce the cost of hiring?’Some are beginning to prioritise the types of talent they most need and are specialising in hiring mission-critical talent,” he said.

Thomas referred to those that are the most advanced as talent-powered organisations. “They view talent management as one of the core functions of the enterprise and an essential contributor to future organisational performance and growth.”

In any given industry, he estimated that the percentage of talent-powered organisations as roughly equivalent to the percentage of high performance businesses (between 5 per cent and 15 per cent of all firms).

However, Thomas said a growing number of companies get the importance of talent management. “They recognise the importance of effective, holistic talent management and they know enough about the nature of the business the company is in that they are effective at translating strategic business objectives to talent strategy. That’s an essential skill on the path to becoming a talent-powered organisation.”

The book states that human capital strategy must be an intrinsic part of any business strategy, but it requires the discipline of a long-distance runner.

In addition, learning and skills development is now one of the most important capabilities for talent-powered organisations, according to the book, but it is essential to focus performance improvement efforts on those employees that add most directly to the organisation’s bottom line.

Leading organisations are better leveraging learning investments by developing competency where it is most critical, for example, by organising staff into job families with their own profession-specific learning teams.

In order to move talent management from a workforce management process to organisational competitive advantage, Thomas said organisational leaders must provide the vision and passion around talent and its strategic importance to the organisation and its future, and put this at the top of their personal agenda, taking direct responsibility for developing leaders within the organisation, particularly at senior levels.

Furthermore, leaders must demand robust information and insightful measurement of talent that defines how value is being added, where investments need to be made, and where there are gaps and problem areas.

There are a number of steps HR professionals can take to secure the support of executives and line managers in this process, according to Thomas: “By demonstrating a simple and clear connection between the achievement of business objectives and the effective management of talent. That’s easier than it sounds, of course,” he said.

HR can make a lot of progress by making sure it understands how the organisation creates value for its stakeholders, what talents/capabilities are essential for achieving the organisation’s critical business objectives, and how aligned existing skills are with the skills needed to achieve current and future business objectives, according to Thomas.

The future of work

Global abundance but local scarcity of talent

Fewer young workers and more older workers

Rising demand for new skills with growing deficits in basic skills

More diverse workforces and more distributed workforces

New work arrangements and career expectations

Source: Robert Thomas, executive director, Accenture Institute for High Performance


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