The Missing Link – Talent Management for tomorrow


Being a sports fan, I often watch with interest the level of intensity of debates in who the team hires. I believe in the sporting industry, we call it “transfer”, or “trades”.

As HR practitioners, most of us are strong believer that it is the “Talents” that drive a company forward. However, I believe no other industries take this as seriously as the sporting industry.

We can easily find examples in any one of those rich European football clubs where transfer fees goes into tens of millions of pounds (Sterling). When Cristiano Ronaldo moved from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2009, 80 million pound was paid in transfer fees. That is a lot of money! I sure know what I could do with that for a staffing budget!

Whilst many would not link the transfer system in the sporting industry to how we run staffing in a business organization, there is still a number of parallel comparisons we can draw and perhaps learn from.

No, I’m not suggesting that we should pay exorbitant transfer fees, or sell one of our talents to our competitors! Come to think about it, maybe that’s how staffing can become a profit center! Hmmm, what a thought!

Hiring in any industry is both a risky and potentially costly business. Often when the hire goes wrong, the downstream implications is disastrous. Moreover, “proven” talents come with impressive price tags. Did you know that Christiano was signed by Manchester United from Sporting Lisbon for just 12.24 million pounds? This is truly an impressive return on investments!

However, there are many horror stories in the sporting arena where expensive talents fail to integrate and deliver on the promise for performance. Thus cost may not always guarantee performance.

A shrew recruiter (or manager) is able to pick out the diamonds in the rough. This can be a competitive edge in recruitment over the competitors.

A basic staffing model is relatively easy to deploy as recruiters and hiring manager will try to look out for the best candidate in the market for their staffing requirements.

It is easy to identify performing talents. In sports, the stats are tracked meticulously by various media. In the business world, there are KPIs which we look for. For example, when interviewing a seasoned sales person, we look at the size his sales numbers and year to year growth. A naive recruiter can probably tell you, “This guy should be good. Just look at the size of his paycheck!”.

Thus, if everyone has one of those standard vanilla staffing department in place, staffing will have to work harder, smarter to differentiate and create the competitive edge.

On another hand, recognizing and working with an unfinished product is something else. It takes an experience recruiter (or manager) to access a different set of criteria, and hire for the potential.

Let’s now look at the youth program in the sporting industry. This, in my opinion is a world-class University/ Collage recruitment model.

The amount of investments in time, infrastructure and resources that being put into identifying potential talents before they join the workforce is amazing. In the US, talent scouts from the major sporting leagues such as the NFL and NBA spends an enormous amount of time and effort trying to get access to “hidden” resources on the next batches of sporting graduates.

We can argue that unlike the real business world, in sports, the young athletes are doing what they were supposed to be doing when they grow up. A basketball player plays basketball when he’s in collage, than enters the draft, joins a NBA team. A football player plays football, than draft, than joins a NFL team. Thus, the assessment and selection criteria are simple – if they play well in collage, naturally they should do well when they graduate.

Isn’t it about time that we put that kind scouting framework in our corporate environment?

Today’s “Staffing” operates in a relatively a silo, transactional manner. At an operational level, this is essential as it ties back to an organization’s “ramp” or “capacity” plan. The business volume will proportionally drive the recruitment numbers.

“Staffing” will need to evolve into a more holistic “Talent Management” model. – I know what you’re thinking of. “Talent Management” is not new!

Look at all those sexy “Talent Management” programs out there. They are either too “Training and Development” centric, “University/ Collage Relations” centric, “Succession” centric, “Recruitment” Centric, or even in one instance – “Organizational Development” centric.

In my humble opinion (IMHO – *Wink*), I felt that “Talent Management” should be simple. We over-complicate things.

Common in every company is a 3 stage (Buy-Make-Sell) model. Talent is acquired, developed and …?

Exactly my point!

A lot of focus had been placed in the first 2 stages. There are a thousand and one best practices out there on how to acquire and develop talent. However, what’s missing is the ability to track and manage talents out and back to the organization.

Let’s just say that we’ve got our front end hiring and development strategy right. We hired the talents with the right potential, trained and developed them well. Rotated them around the organization a little and that kept them happy for most part of their career.

What happens next? We will inevitably come to a stage where good (not the best) talents are due for promotion, but are face with stiff internal competition. Logic dictates that we can’t promote them all (unless if the company that you’re working for is grown at an exponential rate!). We will lose good people along the way. What’s more, we’ll lose them to our competitors (especially the smaller ones) who would gladly give them that position they so wanted.

Here’s the missing piece of the puzzle.

Have any manager ever tried incorporating external opportunities into an employee’s annual review? We talk about career and developmental plan all the time. Sometime it’s come to a stage where it becomes a “lip service” where “if someone works hard enough, he/she will get there… eventually”.

Think about the impact it would create if an actual development plan consisting of internal-external-internal progress is put in place for an employee.

This way, the employee not only sees the value of work he/ she is producing and how it correlates to increasing his/ her future value. The employee would also feel that the company has a genuine intent to develop and groom him/ her. To the point where the employee knows what he/ she has to do (or the knowledge/ skills to acquire) when leaving and rejoining the company.

I know this is a controversial step, but we have to admit that employees will not stay with us forever. The earlier we face that reality, and put together a (no BS, no nonsense) plan which is a win-win for company and employees, the sooner we can tighten our talent management strategy.

What this gives us is access to strong alumni who will continue to maintain close ties with the company for mutual benefits.

The approach is different, and in my opinion, this is the missing link to making the any talent strategy click.

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1 thought on “The Missing Link – Talent Management for tomorrow

  1. It is an interesting idea and thoughts have been articulately put forward. As a policy analyst I believe you have strong arguments since the proposal takes into account benefit from perspective of all the stakeholders.

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