Sarah Harvey: How key is a talent management strategy in business today?

It’s often said that people are an organisations greatest asset. It is also said that talent management is about getting the right people, with the right skills, in the right job, at the right time. But how many businesses actually manage to achieve this through their talent management strategies?

Many definitions have been suggested to describe ‘talent management’. The majority concentrate on attracting and retaining so-called “high flyers” or key skills which may be in short supply. More inclusive talent management strategies may encompass the complete range of competencies required in a given business and how these are best utilised. Despite the variances, in broad terms when talking about talent management we are usually describing:

The range of HR interventions needed to identify, attract, engage, develop, retain and effectively deploy talent.

How organisations approach such activities and develop their talent management strategy differs according to their specific resourcing requirements, the availability or otherwise of the skills and competencies they need, as well as wider economic and political considerations.

Regardless of your preferred interpretation, there seems little doubt that positive and tangible results can be achieved by approaching talent management strategically. Tangible success (including positive impact on the bottom line) is achievable only where a cohesive strategy is deployed, where there is clear commitment from the top and an investment of the resources needed to implement talent management strategies effectively.

In practice, strategically planning for your people resources to be in place to deliver both short and long term organisational objectives is challenging. Many strategies have failed to keep pace with today’s fast-moving reality which has led to plans being shelved or being implemented piece-meal. The focus on short-term, low cost, minimally resourced interventions has resulted in only the more immediate priorities being delivered. Whilst this may provide some short-term gains and quick wins, organisations are potentially storing up significant skills shortages in the longer-term.

In theory HR professionals are well placed within the business to bring together all the required talent management activities under a single strategy. In reality, HR can often adopt a mechanical “toolkit” approach. Over-reliance on the ‘9 box grid’, complicated succession plans rarely delivering useful outcomes, endless talent review meetings which managers are reluctant to engage with, and too much emphasis on data collection. It is all too heavy on process, too imposing on busy managers and lacking in clarity about the actions that will result.

That said, strategically planning for your future talent requirements as well as the present day, must get back on the agenda. This is happening in places, but its’ not nearly as widespread as it needs to be if organisations are to have the capability in place to thrive in the future and ensure they can attract and develop the talent they need to deal with unknown future challenges. But HR must also demonstrate the value of any talent management strategies and avoid unsustainable and costly ‘fads’. Few organisations are able to accurately quantify the impact of their talent strategies and link the outcomes to the bottom line. HR analytics and e-tools offer the promise of compelling metrics but capturing meaningful data is only a starting point, and must go beyond a box-ticking exercise.

Greater potential insight and more leadership engagement will come from asking the questions that are important to the business and demonstrating a clear link between people and profits, services and customer satisfaction. As well as collating quantitative data, qualitative data gleaned from savvy conversations throughout the organisation should reveal how and why talent management is important. Questions such as:

  • What do we want from our talent management strategy?
  • Which jobs, people and skills need to be included?
  • Where does this fit with our values, culture and wider people management approach?
  • How do we integrate our talent management strategy into everything else we do?
  • Whose responsibility is it and do they have both the capability and capacity?
  • How closely does our talent strategy link into the business strategy?
  • How will we know our talent strategies are worthwhile?


In reality, many talent management strategies focus the majority of their efforts on identifying and attracting talent. But we shouldn’t forget our existing employees who must surely have potential to be identified, strengthened and continually developed. In most organisations there exists a wealth of knowledge and skills, often under-utilised or undiscovered. Part of a good talent management strategy should involve mapping these skills so that organisations can make better use of the rich resources they already have available. Skills mapping allows task-specific teams to be quickly created and deployed across organisational boundaries, reducing costs of additional hires as well as increasing the cross-pollination of knowledge and skills throughout the business.

Pre-2008 and the global financial crisis, “growing your own’ talent was becoming more widespread, with organisations embracing the thinking that developing existing staff was both a necessary and desirable way to meet future workforce challenges. Relying too heavily on the wider marketplace to provide future talent was broadly acknowledged to be unsustainable. The impact of the financial crisis, followed by the uncertainty caused by the Brexit process, has put paid to much of this forward thinking, as businesses focused instead on their survival in the here and now.

Now is the time to turn efforts into talent retention once more

Whilst attracting great talent is still important, we need to turn more of our attention to managing, developing and engaging the entire workforce to ensure we keep the right people, with the right skills, in the right job, at the right time.

Managing the talent that already exists internally is now more key to business success than ever before. Within most organisations people are still moved around based on perceived need and short-term convenience rather than best-fit. Some of the best talent goes unrecognized, remains dormant, or leaves to be nurtured elsewhere. Instead, a well thought-out talent management strategy could make the best use of the skills you already have at your disposal if only you knew they were there.





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Sarah Harvey is an experienced leadership and workplace coach, culture and values consultant, management trainer, team facilitator and workplace mediator. She has over 20 years leadership experience having held a number of senior HR operational and strategic roles before becoming an independent consultant and coach in 2003.

Sarah believes that effective conversations are the key to our personal and business success. She created the Savvy Conversations® concept in 2014 to help people and businesses get better results and maintain more positive relationships one savvy conversation at a time. She works both one-to-one and with teams, on site or remotely, to conquer a range of communication challenges and to ensure that no matter what the challenge, organisations are having the right conversations, in the right way, at the right time.

Sarah is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD, Fellow of the ILM and Student Member of the British Psychological Society.