Practical Problems of Talent Management

As a practitioner of human resources management for several years (with the privilege of working for and with some top-notch companies and leaders in India and abroad), I have seen the concept and practice of Talent Management grow and evolve into what can be described as one of the most important and critical functions of HR and Business management today. Mckinsey and Company is clearly credited with dramatically increasing the popularity of Talent Management as a practice with their research outcomes, first published in 1997 under their popular article series “War for Talent” ( Since then many research companies and business organisations have done further research and have published their findings. In 2007, a decade after McKinsey’s pioneering research, Economist Intelligence Unit in association with Corporate Network published their survey report establishing that, “Talent Shortage and lack of qualified staff remains the biggest worry for most CEOs and business leaders of Global and Local corporations across the world. All these surveys and findings have established that shortage of talent is likely to be the biggest derailer of growth and economic prosperity.

Now for years, most companies, and their leaders are focusing on attracting, managing and developing their talent and stay ahead of the challenge. As the practice of Talent Management continues to gain importance, alongside increases its complexity and other practical challenges, which are leaving most leaders and their companies grappling with a question,”how to attract, manage and develop talent effectively for achieving their organisations objectives/goals and grow their companies”?. Based on my personal and professional experience and exchange of ideas with some other prominent leaders of the corporate world, I present some practical problems of talent management and some thoughts on enhancing its effectiveness.

What is your philosophy and strategy of Talent Management? this question to my mind is the biggest problem or challenge for most. Many tend to confuse talent management with leadership development. If the philosophy of the company is to focus on only top 100 or 300 or 500 leaders and build processes and practice around attracting, developing, engaging and managing these leaders then what about those individual contributors, middle/lower level leaders and early in career professionals who have a high impact on the company’s business results and its future. Talent management in my opinion should encompass and focus on all critical and important positions and people in the organisation.  Becker, Huselid, & Beatty, In The Differentiated Workforce, the authors expand on their previous books – The HR Scorecard and The Workforce Scorecard – and recommend that you manage your workforce like a portfolio – with disproportionate investments in the jobs that create the most wealth. their work has highlighted the need for any company to first have a clear and an business aligned – “Workforce Strategy”, Then should come your HR Strategy which should be aimed at executing your workforce strategy. Many organisation have taken the approach of defining all employees of their organisation as Talent and have developed their processes and practices accordingly. Defining the philosophy, clear objectives and scope of Talent Management strategy in any organisation is key and hence getting that right is so important. Not easy at all and hence it remains a practical problem and a challenge.

Are your processes, technology, tools and practices of Talent management simple? this is another big problem or challenge. Having simple and efficient HR processes which are enabled by a robust enterprise wide technology backbone is a dream of any CHRO and his/her organisation. There are many benefits and advantages to having the right enterprise wide HR processes and technology but there are many challenges to it. Richard D Johnson and Hal G Gueutal in their article, “Technology for Competitive Advantage”, published by SHRM Foundation Executive Briefing have presented potential challenges that could have legal, ethical and financial implications for the firm if not managed correctly. Many of us have faced these challenges and continue to face them. The biggest practical challenge we face is that employees and managers find the technology very cumbersome and the dovetailing with other process isn’t that robust, especially when you don’t have a good enterprise wide HRIS with best in breed bolt-ons. Hence having a simple and robust talent management process and technology is very important. Having HR processes which are competency based and strongly linked with each other and are user friendly is a must. Tools and practices depend a lot on the process and technology and vice versa. Its easier said than done and hence remains a practical problem and a challenge.

Is your top management committed to Talent Management?
EIU & Corporate Network survey report on talent shortage has clearly highlighted how lack of top management’s commitment and seriousness towards building talent is an area of improvement. Many and most talent management strategies and initiatives need a sustained (over medium to long term) investment and commitment. Be it culture/employer brand building initiative’s for attracting and engaging talent or be it investing in learning journeys of talented employees – all this requires investments and commitment. When companies and leaders are busy managing and delivering results on a quarter to quarter basis with the sole objective of pleasing the street, more often than not the investment and commitment in talent management takes a back seat and especially in a recessionary or weak economic environment leaders tend to become more short term and cost focused and look at talent management as a cost rather than investment. Michale Dell wanting to turn his company private was recently quoted as saying that he wants to re-build Dell and in doing so he wants to stay off the short term pressure from the street and its analyst – as he wishes to make some long term decisions which may not pay instantly in short term – this says it all! Isn’t it? Investing in building talent and culture is a long term thing and ensuring that the top management stays committed is a practical problem and challenge. However there are some companies and leaders who have shown their un-wavering commitment and seriousness and hence have remained perpetual and prosperous – hope we all learn from them as they are the true role models of Talent Management.

The above are my personal opinions and a hypothesis, which, I test every day with my own experience and with experiences and wisdom of my other HR colleagues. Please do share your thoughts and comments as I am eager to learn from you.

* This blog was also published on on 23rd February, 2013

3 thoughts on “Practical Problems of Talent Management

  1. A very interesting read, I’ve found that there are a couple of problems with talent management:
    1. Role design: Before we even start to think about people capability I think a big part of the problem is around role design. In going large scale and doing division of labour at some point we’ve forgotten. It is fun to build a complete bike, it isn’t the same feeling when you’re turning a nut repeatedly on 1000 bikes. There are enough roles out there in every type of industry that use a human as a substitute for machine because its cheaper. This leads to one of the most unstated issues at workplace…boredom!
    2. Capability: This point has been stated over and over again and yet there is not enough industry-academia linkage to develop education in a way that churns ppl out who can “apply”. The other ails of our academia is making people focus too much on pass, fail and rankings rather than on here is stuff you can learn, now show us what you can do with that knowledge. Active curiosity should be the key if not the sole aim of education
    3. At the work-place: At some point the boom hit India and everyone wanted to grow, fast promotions, fast money. It has led to quite a disparity between capability, role and earnings. The concept of guru-shishya at the workplace has taken quite a hit because of that. Ofcourse there are exceptions to this but to a large scale other than the big leaders in the firm, do most employees see a guru in their manager, doesn’t sound like it these days; so now the manager as a mentor a guru is a concept that HR is now trying to bring back into the workplace!

  2. the article is very insightful and discussing exactly about the real challenges. However, for all the corporate professionals and other aspiring professionals, training plays an important part in their life. The training helps you to hone your skills and become more effective as a Trainer. No matter whether it is Talent Management or any other corporate firm, every professional is facing challenges in terms of their self development and growth!!

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