Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Identifying the Right Course for Talent Management

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Identifying the Right Course for Talent Management

Article excerpt

Talent management has always seemed to me to be a tricky subject. It is at risk of becoming mere hyperbole, as in the War for Talent, (1) or of becoming the fad of the conference circuit because the term lacks a clear definition. Proposed definitions are, at worst, a melange of different concepts strung together without a clear statement of what is meant by talent and how we might manage it. Talent management's very success as a rallying call to managers to give attention to the identification of the development needs of employees, though, means that we should not discard the concept.

Like employee engagement, which irritates some academics because it lacks a rigorous theoretical underpinning, talent management seems to play well in the boardrooms of the world. Who could be against engaging employees or managing talent? The active-sounding words and the explicit references to engagement and talent fit with HR mangers' notions of getting the best from people in a meritocratic environment. While the definition of employee engagement has become much clearer over time (even if its measurement is abused by some consultants), talent management has yet to achieve such clarity. Peter Cappelli, a keynote speaker at the 2008 IPMA-HR International Training Conference, has defined talent management as "simply a matter of anticipating the need for human talent and then setting out a plan to meet it." (2) This description has the great benefits of simplicity and being easy to understand. The difficulty remains, though, that the term talent is not defined and the planning method is left open. Martha Crumpacker and Jill Crumpacker quote three definitions of talent management, ranging from "developing, and deploying employees who are critical to the company's success" to the "development of all workers" in their article. So, in the definition of talent, is it a case of "you pays your money and you takes your choice"?

This special issue of Public Personnel Management gives us a chance to examine this question and others relating to talent management, both from an international perspective and from a number of different methodological and content standpoints. We hope that readers will find that the concept of talent management emerges with more practical utility by the end of the journal. Valerie Garrow and Wendy Hirsh's article gets the collection off to a good start by raising the fundamental issues of what talent management is about and the ways in which it can be delivered. Garrow and Hirsh challenge organizations to ask themselves two vital questions: (1) What is talent management's focus? and (2) How does talent management fit into the organization's context? Answering these questions requires talent management advocates to say whether, in their eyes, talent is an inclusive term that covers the whole workforce, one that is restricted to, say, candidates for fast-track development to senior positions, or one that simply describes those who are already in senior positions in the organization. For example, Ruwayne Kock and Mark Burke answer the questions in their contribution to this issue by defining talent management as a set of policies and practices designed to attract, retain and engage "key and leadership talent."

It is obvious that the selection of who is included under any definition of talent profoundly affects the how--the activities--of a talent management program. An organization's definition of talent will also determine the what of management programs. If talent is conceived as being those who are either holding senior management positions or who have the potential to hold such positions, then an organization will need to decide what criteria it wants to use to decide who has the capacity for growth. (The identification of high-potential employees in top positions is generally easier, but an organization will still have to decide which grades of managers are eligible for the talent management program. …

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