In the business world, talent management (TM) has been hailed as a pivotal practice that enables firms to compete, reduce costs, and boost performance and profits.  It often is cited among the top 10 priorities of senior leaders and frequently features among the top concerns keeping the organization from achieving their goals (CEB, 2016).  This is a curious situation considering growing investments to advance human capital.  The persisting challenges indicate that talent management, as currently practiced, has done little to drive business outcomes, employee well-being, or meet organizational goals.  This lack of success may in part be due to an inadequate understanding of what talent management is, how it can be best used, or what constitutes good practice.

Owing to its emergence in practice rather than science, talent management is often perceived as trendy or fad-based practice rather than rigorous decisions making methodology about talent. Considering the parallels in topical focus with research-based disciplines such as management, industrial-organizational psychology, and strategic human resource management, there is significant potential to advance the practice of talent management as a decision science. This blog reviews the current status of the practice, highlighting gaps and opportunities. Based on this analysis, we present a new definition of integrated talent management. By linking the framework to existing bodies of academic research, we hope that the practice will flourish alongside the advancements in the underlying fields.

​Lewis and Heckman, upon reviewing several definitions concluded that the term Talent Management lacks a clear definition and specificity. That is, TM has been used as a sort of trigger word but is rarely given real thought and consideration.  It is mostly seen as a process (e.g., talent acquisition, learning, and development) and fails to adequately address the importance of the employee in the context of the organization’s strategic goals and priorities. Many of the definitions take a narrower perspective about when TM practice should be implemented, essentially leading to an uncoordinated effort in maximizing the human potential. Leading thinkers on this topic have offered useful guidance to evolve the conceptualization of talent management. In 2008, Capelli argued that talent management should involve anticipating and planning for human capital needs in the face of an uncertain external labor market.  Dries (2013) argued for differentiating TM from HR.  He felt that TM practices should be comprehensive in addressing the entire employee life cycle as well as balancing bottom-line performance goals with the interests of the employees. Boudreau and Ramstad (2005) describe talent management in terms of job segmentation and the disproportional impact of certain jobs to the bottom line.

It is clear that even authors who attempt to define TM differ in their focus. The various conceptualization of TM currently available are useful, but none are complete.  Talent management, in fact, needs to account for all of the above, and integrate these varied approaches.  Taking guidance from Capelli and Dries, TM should incorporate internal and external pools of talent and consider the uncertain nature of the business.  It should also link talent to the organizational strategy and goals (Lewis & Heckman, 2006).  Finally, based on Dries’ (2013) review, Talent Management must include all aspects of the employee life cycle and address employee experiences at critical junctures such as during hiring, development, transitions, and performance evaluations.  Addressing these needs necessitates a more integrated approach to talent management. It is crucial to cast talent management as a comprehensive strategy that involves multiple touch points with employees during their tenure in the organization.  The failure to take a lifecycle perspective can limit the types of outcomes TM can deliver. Our review of the current definitions points to the need for an updated conceptualization of talent management and a revised definition.

The gaps identified provide a set of guiding principles of what should be included in a more holistic definition.

  1. It must address multiple touch points with employees along the life cycle including attracting, retaining, developing and motivating the workforce.
  2. It should involve systematic identification of key positions which differentially contribute to the organization’s sustainable competitive advantage.
  3. There must be a consideration of internal and external talent pools to fill the talent pipeline.
  4. There should be a clear linkage to the business strategy with guidelines on the deliberate utilization of resources to achieve business objectives.
  5. It should include considerations to balance bottom-line performance interests of the organization with the interests of employees.
  6. It should take into consideration the uncertain nature of the business and build capacity to adjust and realign while working with the talent that exists in the organization.

These guidelines direct the need to be broad and comprehensive in the approach to addressing matters about talent.  It heralds a similar shift in focus as seen in the medical science. Historically, treatment procedures took a singular focus addressing symptoms or organ level failures. Current day practices are increasingly moving toward holistic medicine where the scope includes mind and body.

A review of the available definitions of talent management against the above guidelines points to the need for a refresh. Many definitions represent an industrial era view of input and output. Pascal defined talent management as managing the supply, demand, and flow of talent through the human capital engine.  Similarly, Wharton Professor Peter Capelli views talent management as inventory management which requires anticipating the need for human capital and establishing plans to meet the needs.  Collings and Mellahi improved on previous definitions by including a consideration of the key position but restricted their focus on the identification and development of high-potential employees. The definition offered by Silzer and Dowell is the most comprehensive till date. It states talent management is an integrated set of processes, programs, and cultural norms in an organization designed and implemented to attract, develop, deploy, and retain talent to achieve strategic objectives and meet future business needs.

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In light of the six guiding talent management principles, we offer a new definition:  Talent Management is the systematic approach to hiringmanagingdeveloping, and supporting employees, to aligning employee efforts to business needs, and to enabling employees and organizations to thrive together. 
 
In the above definition, the term ’employee’ is intended to include individuals on payroll, and contract/gig workers. The word ‘thrive’ is used to indicate a pursuit of joint interests and growth of the people and business. The four elements of hiring, managing, developing, and supporting represent purposeful touch points with employees during their tenure in the organization. Each element bears dependencies with the others which lends to the integrated nature of talent management. For example, hiring new talent must take into consideration the skills gap or development needs of the current workforce and attempt to bring in the required capabilities through new hires. Hiring efforts should also take into consideration future workforce needs and bring in talent that is future ready. Such practices can avoid situations such as laying off talent in one part of the business while attempting to hire similar talent in other parts of the business. 

References

  1. Boudreau, J. W., & Ramstad, P. M. (2005). Talentship, talent segmentation, and sustainability: A new HR decision science paradigm for a new strategy definition. Human Resource Management, 44(2), 129-136.
  2. Cappelli, P., & Keller, J. R. (2014). Talent management: Conceptual approaches and practical challenges. Annu. Rev. Organ. Psychol. Organ. Behav., 1(1), 305-331.
  3. Collings, D.G. and Mellahi, K. (2009) “Strategic Talent Management: A review and research agenda”, Human Resource Management Review, 19: 4, 304–313
  4. Dries, N. (2013). The psychology of talent management: A review and research agenda. Human Resource Management Review, 23(4), 272-285.
  5. Lewis, R. E., & Heckman, R. J. (2006). Talent management: A critical review. Human resource management review, 16(2), 139-154.
  6. Silzer, R., & Dowell, B. E. (2010). Strategic talent management matters. Strategy-driven talent management: A leadership imperative, 3-72.

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