Who’s responsible for talent management?

By liamarus, 13 December, 2013

by Ingrid Ashwin

Before I even contemplate who’s responsible for talent management, I think it’s best to clarify the "what and why", "What is talent management" and "why do we need talent management?"

What is talent management?

In recent years, I’ve asked my clients how they define “talent management” and am yet to receive a common or clear definition. In fact, at times they are almost contrary. While I’ve no doubt that all of these definitions are correct, it’s almost impossible to determine or enforce who’s accountable for this aspect without clearly explaining the concept. 

So, how do companies define talent?

  • Some regard this as existing talented competent individuals in their organisation - the superstars.
  • Others regard it as the future talented, bright, high-potential individuals – the future bright sparks.
  • Some regard it as the level of functional competence of people within their organisation.
  • A few see it as the level of engagement of their clever people.
  • Several believe it is about leadership.

So who better to ask than the # 1 thought leader on HR, Professor Dave Ulrich? 

I pressed him for his clarity, “Is talent management just the superstars or the future bright sparks? Is it only about functional competence? Is it about individuals?” I had a pretty good idea of what his answer to the latter question would be as he is resolute in his writing about this: It isn’t about the individuals:

  • “Organisations,” he reminds us, “require the ability of talented individuals to work collectively to deliver value.”

Aside from his resolute opinion on collective team talent, the question still begged an answer. This was his response:

  • “With my formal training as an organisation taxonomist, I turn complexity into simplicity. Often, after companies stipulate that talent matters, they get lost in the myriad of promises, programmes and processes, and lose sight of the basics. At the risk of grossly oversimplifying, let me suggest that this is deceptively simple:

My formula is: Talent = Competence + Commitment + Contribution:
-    Competent employees have the ability to do today’s and tomorrows’ tasks. 

-    Commitment is about them giving their discretionary energy to the organisation’s success and contribution is when they feel that they’re contributing and finding abundance.”

So for the purpose of this article, we’ll apply this enlightening definition to develop a sound argument around who’s responsible for talent management.

Why is talent management so important?

There are a number of reasons as to why there seems to be a shortage of the talent that is needed to grow our economy, particularly in South Africa. These include, for example:

  • Supply and demand issues,
  • Industrial action,
  • Poor use of labour,
  • Poor leadership,
  • The brain drain, and
  • Inadequate secondary and tertiary education systems delivering a short talent pipeline for the business economy.

As Dave Ulrich says, “We know it matters. Some go to war for it. Professional teams draft for it. Actors audition to show they have it. Some are innately endowed with it and others strive diligently to earn it.” 

Who is responsible for talent management?

Now we have clarified the “what and why”, we can look at who is responsible for talent management. Is this a line or HR responsibility?

In a final exam for MBA students, Dave Ulrich asks the multiple choice question: Who has primary accountability for HR (talent, leadership and culture) issues within an organisation? The possible answers are:

A.    Line manager

B.    HR manager
C.    It is shared between line and HR
D.    The consultant
E.    I don’t care, I am going into finance

Most answer C. And, Dave marks it as wrong because he believes the primary accountability for HR issues, which include talent, lies at the door of the line manager. 

He goes further to say that the HR professional is only the architect, the one who:

  • Creates the blueprints of what can be done, and
  • Offers advice and brings insights.

The architect in its purest sense doesn’t build the building. But a master builder needs a brilliant architect.

So arguably, the buck stops with the line manager. If this is right, and you agree, I ask myself: “Why, in a typical talent management conference or training course, are the line managers conspicuous by their absence?” If you share this belief and you are resolute in making your line managers the owner of talent management, consider this:

  • Have you given them the competence * commitment * contribution to have the ability, willingness and sense of purpose to develop talented people to do today’s and tomorrow’s good work?

 This article first appeared on HR Pulse.



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