Managing Talent

Over the past 20 years, American corporations (and most corporations worldwide) have embraced a variety of initiatives for improving efficiency, increasing profit, and ensuring quality.

These initiatives have ranged from business process re-engineering to Six-Sigma quality and have been responsible for the productivity gains world economies have enjoyed, as well as for the lower prices and better quality of most products we use.

These initiatives have changed our expectations. We expect everything we buy to be flawless, work immediately with little to no need for an instruction booklet, and last for a long time without the need for repair. We also expect products to be priced very low relative to how they were priced for our parents.

Items such as televisions, cars and computers are incredibly cheap compared to when they first appeared on the market, and prices continue to decline.

All of these changes have come about because of the relentless focus corporations have had on a handful of focused projects based on experimentation and objective measurement.

It is now HR’s turn to be the focus for initiatives and research to help improve the availability of needed talent and the overall quality of talent. A recent survey by the Corporate Executive Board reported that three-quarters of senior human resources managers said attracting and retaining talent was their number one priority. More than 62% are worried about company-wide talent shortages. Other surveys echo this over and over again, but we all know this. We live it everyday.

What we need is to move forward with concrete plans to make changes and improvements in what we do. Within my columns, I have frequently listed our failures as recruiters. It is always easy to criticize, but it is much, much harder to find ways to do something valuable.

Here are a few ways that we should start thinking and acting about talent. These mirror the methods used by manufacturing, finance, and other corporate functions that have undergone transformations over the past decades:

First, become a talent manager, not a recruiter. I am not advocating that you change the title on your business card. What I am advocating is a shift in your thinking. You do not fill requisitions, you do not source candidates, and you do not screen and assess. What you do is solve talent problems and make it easier for your organization to achieve its business goals. That may seem like a minor distinction but it carries a depth of meaning. It says that you are strategic and know the business issues and goals of your organization. You can push back on hiring managers who seem to be asking for talent that is not right for the direction the organization is headed. It also says that you have knowledge of the talent market and can speak with authority about the availability of certain kinds of talent with numbers and facts.

Having the right frame of mind is the most important aspect of change. It will not be easy to begin thinking like a talent manager, but as long as that is your goal and you periodically assess whether you are moving in the right direction, you will succeed.

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Second, insist on rigor in job descriptions and hiring managers’ requirements. You need to be able to define every position in terms of competencies and skills that have been verified as necessary to accomplish the tasks of that position. Ask hiring managers to define their open positions by using a standard competency list such as the O-Net list of competencies available from the U.S. Department of Labor or by developing your own list.

Over time, you keep track of how each competency is related to performance and recommend changes and improvements. Although difficult and time-consuming, several organizations are hiring ?data-centered? people with degrees in statistics or business to begin correlating skills and competencies with performance. The focus of HR will be on getting more quantitative data and using that data to make better decisions about talent.

For example, some organizations are using modeling techniques to determine whether it is more efficient to hire a replacement for a position or to train someone internally. The decision is made on data, not on the opinions of HR or managers. Some are calculating the impact one person has on profits based on a skills profile versus another person with a different profile. Some are looking at the attributes of successful performers and tying their findings back into the recruitment assessment process. Is this a perfect system? Not by a long shot at this point.

As many readers have pointed out, these analyses and competencies are often too general or too simple to be useful. However, it is more important to have an experimental mindset and begin to use and improve them. To wait until someone produces a better system will put you far behind the learning curve.

Finally, adopt and start using talent-management technology. As I wrote last week and have many times before, technology ultimately frees you and informs you. It takes away administrative chores and does the routine better than you ever did.

More important, it gives you the information you need to make better decisions. In fact, you can defend yourself with the confidence that you are headed in the right direction.

Buying and implementing a comprehensive HRMS tool is essential; coupling that with a talent-management system will make it even more useful. An HR or recruiting function without an HRMS and talent-management system is like a walk in the dark with a small candle.

The next 10 years will be marked by the increasing use of quantitative tools and methods in HR and recruiting. Many of these will be ?imported? from other disciplines that have already been shaken to the core, such as manufacturing and finance. This period will be marked with process improvements, measurement, quantification of all HR processes, implementation of Six-Sigma quality standards, and by a rigor of thinking. This period will challenge our assumptions and beliefs in a fashion that HR has not yet experienced.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


6 Comments on “Managing Talent

  1. ‘It is now HR’s turn to be the focus for initiatives and research to help improve the availability of needed talent and the overall quality of talent.’

    I read this to mean that talent is another word for competent employee. Talent is defined in the book, see page 71, ‘First, Break All the Rules, what the world’s greatest managers do differently’, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman of the Gallup Organization, as ‘a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied … The emphasis here is on the word ‘recurring.’ Great managers say ‘Your talents are the behaviors you find yourself doing often.”

    Hiring for talent is the key to hiring successful employees. Most employers don’t measure talent so they can’t hire for talent even if they do hire the best and the brightest.

  2. If a tree falls in the woods and you are not near it, does it make a noise?
    What you propose here is like preaching to the choir.
    62% of HR managers view attracting and recruiting talent as their #1 priority. What about the other 38%?
    I would be interested in what is #1 on the CEOs list and on down the organization at each level.
    Other than saying Talent is Pri1, what daily actions do they practice that really reflect that?
    Talk is cheap, how strong and bold are the ACTIONS!
    This is NOT an HR issue it is an enterprise wide issue, but I guess someone has to herd those cats and take the fall.

  3. I think this article reinforces the idea that recruitment/Talent Spotters should be part of a strategic business unit as opposed to part of functional/administrative HR teams. We, as recruiters need to keep this in mind that we are strategic assets and not just automatons filling role after role with now meaning or passion.

    Good article to read after looking at your request board!


  4. I would add one other item to the list of things recruiters need to do: understand your company’s business. Not just what it does, but how things are done, why decisions are made, what the business strategy is, etc. Talk to the decision-makers about the business. If you don’t have a seat at the table, then talk to people in the hallways. Show them you’re interested in the company, not just your function within it.

    Then, actively find ways that your function can support the business strategy. If managers aren’t thinking ahead to what kind of talent they need for the future, then you should fill that gap.

    Be creative when determining what positions get filled. Most managers will automatically default to filling a vacant position with a similar replacement. It is our job to assess whether that is right for the business, and suggest alternatives if necessary. Does the position need to be redesigned to fit future strategy? Should the position be filled at all, or can the company do without it by restructuring the duties? Do you really need to hire from outside or could you train someone internally?

    It’s not just about the talent we hire, but our assessments of what kind of talent is right for the business, and whether it’s necessary at all.

    This kind of big picture thinking gets noticed and appreciated by upper management. It will also be noticed by our candidates, and it speaks volumes about your company if an HR person can talk about business strategy, financial information, and what kinds of marketing, etc is going on in other departments.

    We are not just recruiters, we are an essential part of our businesses and in positions that can greatly influence our companys’ success.


    Recruitment Process Outsorurcing companies that are creating innovative processes to locate, interview and drive prospective candidates to their opportunities are going to win out over time if HR is unable to innovate and change. To those who look for simplified technological solutions like these or faster access to candidates (via a type faster sorting of viable candidates) the race will go once again to the quick and nimble, not the behemouth that cannot adapt its hiring practices and models to the next generation of workers.

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