Alan Bourne: How to ensure your talent management strategy is future-proofed for business success

The link between talent management and business success has been proved time and again. Academic research, business case studies, and hard-hitting examples such as hospitals with a better talent management strategy getting better patient outcomes including fewer patient deaths all prove the point. However, the biggest issue facing anyone designing a talent management strategy for business success today, is how much organisations are changing and have to change in order to succeed.

The changing organisation

It’s often stated that change is business as usual, and that an organisation needs to be agile in its environment in order to survive and thrive. The challenge is that environmental change, mainly due to technology, is exponential, but organisational change is logarithmic. Business manoeuvrability and leadership flexibility become much more important than scale, leading customers rather than following them, and moving in a fast and agile way ahead of competition.

Our human response to accelerating change and our capacity, not just to manage that change but to benefit from it, must be anchored in the rapid digital transformation we are all experiencing. This capacity is agility.

To achieve organisational agility, we must put people at the heart of organisation design, aiming for structures where no one group is privileged and where power is distributed in egalitarian and evidence-based ways. This is achieved by optimising four key elements of organisational agility – leadership (leading and managing complex change), culture (building connection, clarity and visible commitment), business (structural, physical and operational flexibility) and career (agile talent and performance systems).

The result is an organisation that is less like a programmable machine and more like a living organism – a complex, adaptive, open system that is highly porous to people, data and ideas. While leaders still have a critical role to play in agile organisations, that role is not to exert control over the workforce but rather to inspire workers and teams with a shared purpose and empower individual members to manage themselves.

The changing workforce

The World Economic Forum has indicated that by 2025, more than 30 per cent of existing jobs will disappear. The people we are hiring now will be dealing with what happens in the future, and as the pace of change steps up it’s hard to place bets on what specific jobs and roles might be needed. For example, one of our clients, a leading financial institution, has a call centre that 12 months ago, had at least a third of calls that could be easily solved by customers using information available online. With improved technology, that’s now down to 10 per cent. The call centre job has become more complex because there is less demand for simple information – those that call in have more emotional, multifaceted enquiries.

Hiring for business success

To implement a successful talent acquisition programme, candidates need to be matched to the moving target that is the organisation’s future talent needs. We do that in three key ways: first, organisations need to recruit people who are able to work in an agile way. This applies to how they interact with and lead others as well as to their style of thinking and problem solving, and their ability to thrive in an environment of constant change.

Second, we know that, whatever happens in the future, diversity will remain a decisive factor in a team’s ability to develop effective solutions. This diversity includes demographics as well as cognitive differences in how people approach challenges and see the world.

A third requirement for future success is that everyone, at both a team and an organisational level, is unified by a common purpose. It is only through this alignment of purpose that people in the organisation will have shared motivations and values, and will be able to come together to achieve key goals.

Retaining key talent

Historically, the HR process has been siloed, from attracting talent, through line management, and promotion, different people in different departments deal with employees at different stages of their interaction with an organisation. In order to retain and manage talent strategically, this process needs to be joined up. There is a lot to learn from how we treat our customers and what we consider a successful “customer journey” – we need to create a rewarding “employee journey”, talent management that is smooth, enjoyable and consistent with the organisation’s values.

It’s also possible to use data to ensure you recruit and retain the right people. By understanding your workforce in terms of if and how they are motivated as well how to get the best out of people, it’s possible to create and change the composition of teams so that they become better than the sum of their parts.

By measuring and tracking people’s strengths and potential, not only can you place them correctly, but you can also help them to fill in their gaps and strengthen their ability to grow and change. If the future model of employability requires constant change, then in order to retain your talent, you need to deliver on ensuring they learn this.

One of our clients built a data tool for predicting flight risk for employees and by giving that to line managers, nearly halved their attrition rate. We are working with them to use this tool to predict what makes a high performer stay in their organisation, and are building that into the assessment process for recruiting.

Talent management and organisational strategy

Getting the right talent in place from the front line all the way through to leadership has a clear long-term impact on business success, and organisational agility is essential to enable organisations to prosper in today’s fast-paced, digital world. The connection between the two is ensuring that a talent management strategy is put in place that links inseparably with an agile business strategy. We do this by ensuring it is future-focused, outcome-driven (aligned to business goals) and data rich, and once defined, begins at recruitment and follows the employee journey through to line management, productivity and retention.





Alan is CEO and founder of Sova Assessment, and a chartered occupational psychologist and holds a PhD in Organisational Psychology focused on understanding how progressive HR practices impact on business results. Alan started his career in assessment with SHL and then worked in-house with Royal Mail Group. In 2006, he co-founded Talent Q, a psychometric assessment business. He managed the delivery of services in over 25 countries and subsequently led product development, culminating in the business being acquired by the Hay Group (now Kornferry) in 2014. Alan serves on the Board of the Association for Business Psychology, leading their work on Industry Standards.