Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Talent Management: Issues of Focus and Fit

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Talent Management: Issues of Focus and Fit

Article excerpt

Talent management has been high on the agenda of HR professionals in the United Kingdom for the past few years. This high level of interest is reflected in a number of recent case study-based research reports that describe a broad range of organizational practices and highlight some of the tensions and dilemmas that arise as employers try to come to grips with the idea of talent management. Some of the most useful summaries have come from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (ClPD) (1,2) Ashridge (3,4) Roffey Park (5) and Incomes Data Services (IDS). (6) Between them, these studies give a fairly comprehensive overview of how large organizations in the UK are facing the talent management challenge.

This article draws on published research and also on the considerable practical experience of the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) in supporting organizations in implementing their own talent management strategies. Much of the work IES work has done has been with public sector organizations, particularly with national government departments and agencies and local government authorities of varying size and sophistication.

Talent Management: Upsides and Downsides

The idea of talent management is attractive for several reasons. Managers and HR professionals feel they should be doing more about developing their organization's workforce for the future, and talent management is assumed to be just about this. The term can also encompass career development, which has been difficult to position in organizations for a while, since individuals have been left to sort out their own careers. (7) Talent management is about positive things--doing things for your best people, investing in developing them, building on potential and, therefore, helping people make the best use of their strengths and improve on their weaknesses. The term talent management can also has the potential to apply both to meeting the needs of the organization and of the individual, which is in tune with the current sense of what HR professional should be trying to do.

The phrase talent management also sounds a bit important, rather strategic, and even exciting. As one HR director commented at an IES conference on this subject, "It plays well as a term in the boardroom."

However, there is no clear, shared definition of talent management. CIPD defines talent management as "the systematic attraction, identification, development, engagement/retention, and deployment of those individuals with high potential who are of particular value to an organization." (8) This definition explicitly includes the term potential, but it also includes the much more general term particular value, which can mean just about anything.

Attempts to define talent management tend to get confused on two fronts. First, the parts of the workforce to which the term talent might apply can range from a small number of potential senior leaders to the whole workforce. Second, the HR profession has extended the core ideas of attracting and developing talent into every -ing imaginable--retaining, motivating, rewarding, and so on. So at one extreme, talent management can be taken to encompass the whole of human resources management for the whole of the workforce, which is not very helpful when trying to narrow down what one means when one talks about talent management. Why call it "talent management" when what is being done is simply normal, proper workforce management and development of all the organization's people?

This confusion means that the term talent management does not always play so well outside the boardroom. We have found that mentioning talent management in many organizations makes people rather nervous. They start to wonder, "What do we mean by 'talent?' Talent for what? If I am talent, what will 'managing' me mean? What if I am not talent? And if I am a manager, will I need to tell some people that they are not as talented as they thought they were? …

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