Talent Management: a Key to Organisational Effectiveness by Valentia Ngobese

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The way we do business and our understanding of the quickest and smartest ways to share information and deliver goods and services is constantly and rapidly changing. There is increased connectivity, competitiveness and quicker access to information, thanks to globalisation. Organisations essentially have a global market pool to entice and a larger platform from which to select their talent pool. 

Borders and limitations that previously determined how far, how big and how quick organisations could grow have been obliterated. What remains constant for organisations is the drive and determination to either be the best or be counted amongst the very best to have ever done business in a given era, industry, trend and dispensation. For this reason, so much emphasis and effort are put into sourcing and securing the best human assets or “talent” able to perform and deliver at the level the organisation expects to be known for. The quest, then, is for the best and the brightest of the clan- from graduate level, right up to the seasoned working class. 

It is safe to say that organisations have fully come to terms with how important workers are. It is said that an organisations’ market value is now calculated from intangible assets, such as, goodwill, human talent and the knowledge they have access to. It goes without saying that the key to organisational effectiveness lies mainly in having the right or best-suited individuals contributing to organisational performance. 

For over two decades, the concept “talent management” has been of tremendous interest to both HR academia and practitioners. The use of this idea and strategy suggests that organisations are seeking to not only find “the right person” for the job but are also looking into ways to best retain this found talent. Talent management no longer plays a supportive role to organisational outcomes but is now a driver of business strategy and competitive advantage. Smart organisations, therefore, will avoid gaps in skills and knowledge, manage employee attrition and plan meticulously for succession. 

What is “Talent”?

Talent is proposed by some to be the sum total of the skills, knowledge, potential and cognitive ability possessed by an individual, enabling him/her to achieve organisational success. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, talent is “an individual in the organisation with special competencies that are of strategic importance therein and the absence thereof would pose an actual situation of crisis for the organisation”. Talent has been shown to be both rare and valuable to organisations. However, the issue of who the term “talent” refers to in an organisation has stirred up literary debate, in that some authors believe that talent refers to a select few who are top performers, whilst others believe that talent speaks to every employee in the workplace. In as much as talent might be inherent to an individual, it is generally harnessed and optimised by skill, knowledge, the right environment and the application of supporting competencies. Human Resource professionals have an important role to play in not only aligning employees to the right job suited for their skillset and competencies, but in creating a conducive organisational environment that unearths their potential and retains this talent. 

Talent Management 

Talent Management, broadly-speaking, refers to the anticipation of the need for human capital and devising a plan to meet this need. Featured in this concept is the attraction, selection, development, motivation and the retaining of talent. It has taken on a rather strategic function, which calls for alignment between talent acquisition, development and deployment processes and business priorities. This is in turn, expected to translate into increased business profitability.

The structure that talent management takes is determined by the way that an organisation defines “talent”. This will influence whether talent management programs are specific to a few individuals/groups, are organisation-wide or focus on workplace functions. This may differentiate one organisation from the next, however, organisations are faced with the same challenge- facilitating talent management in a global context, involving the inflow of the newer generation. 

Approaches to Talent Management

Literature points to three perspectives of talent management. The first perspective limits talent management to the well-known HR practices and roles of external recruitment, development and retention. The second perspective looks at solely developing internal talent, whilst the third viewpoint focuses on recognising, developing and retaining the top organisational performers and ejecting those who do not meet this standard. The approach that will be most appropriate for an organisation will be largely determined by its strategy, priorities and set of goals. 

Talent Management Programs

There are numerous functions in Human Resource Management that are centered on attracting, selecting, developing, motivating, deploying and retaining talent. These include HR policies, on-boarding, remuneration and rewards strategy, performance appraisal, training and development, knowledge management and exit interviews, to name a few. There might be variety of good options to choose from, however, it is the employees’ priorities that determine their response to the talent management programs put together by Line and HR Management. For instance, current trends suggest that monetary rewards will not suffice in keeping the newer generation of talent in an organisation. These employees seek to have a person-job fit, cultural fit with the organisation and be able to grow into new roles and responsibilities. Instead of working for a single organisation for a decade or more, current employees prioritise being able to enjoy their work and organisational environment. 

Organisations have long turned to lucrative compensation, benefits and promotion opportunities to attract the best talent, encourage high performance and induce a sense of loyalty to the organisation. This approach has lost its effectiveness to some extent, as the expectations and priorities of employees have shifted. Since compensation and benefits have much to do with employer attractiveness, stable and strategic talent management programs (which include but are not limited to compensatory aspects of the employment contract) do more to induce job satisfaction, engagement and commitment to an organisation. 

Secondly, literature suggests that employees are now more committed to their career progression and pathway than to organisations. They are most likely to be attracted to and remain in organisations that offer efficient career management as part of their talent management approach. This would typically include intentional preparation for formal and informal activities that align with employees’ professional development and expectations. 

Psychological Contract and Talent Engagement

As mentioned above, talent might be natural and inherent to employees, however, it must be supported by complementary competencies, skills and motivations in order for it to function at its best. Two factors can have a great impact on how well an organisation is able to do this- talent engagement and the psychological contract. Talent engagement is important to talent management, because engaged individuals are prone to giving 100% to their work and targets. Employee engagement involves being focused on the task at hand, feeling good about one’s role and behaving in ways that demonstrate commitment to organisational goals and values. Engaged talent is prone to do more than is required of them in their job description, because they have a behavioural, cognitive and affective attachment and commitment to the success and growth of the organisation. In like fashion, the opposite is also true. Disengaged employees, regardless of how talented and capable they are, tend to decrease their effort, be absent from work frequently and display intention to leave. Therefore, organisations do not just merely want to have “untapped potential” or “disempowered and detached, yet talented” individuals. If this be the case, organisational resources are wasted, misplaced, lost and in some cases, go unrecognised. 

To encourage engagement by talent, organisations must recognise the impact of the psychological contract between an individual and the organisation. Some aspects of a function or job are explicitly stated in the contract of employment- leaving no room for any guesswork where issues of acceptable conditions, expected deliverables, compensation and consequences for non-compliance or breach are concerned. The psychological contract, on the other hand, refers to the perception of an implicit agreement of mutual expectations and responsibilities in the course of the employment period. This is the intangible driving force behind behavior, performance and commitment levels. It speaks to what both parties feel is due to them based on their contribution. Should the psychological contract be breached, even talented individuals are bound to show signs of cognitive and affective withdrawal, underperformance and attrition. Being mechanistic and robotic about one’s job and merely fulfilling the stipulations of the job description is not an uncommon practice. The issue with that is, organisations that thrive year after year are those that can invest in their employees in the spirit of integrity, knowing that for what has been sown, there will be a great harvest to reap. 

The transaction between an employee and an organisation is usually characterised by the employee’s inputs of commitment, ideas, efforts and sacrifices to meet organisational goals, in exchange for rewards, recognition, job security, status and personal development from the employer. The assumption here is that, with greater input from the employee, comes greater rewards from the employer- both the explicitly stated and implied through informal interaction with management, the HR department and colleagues. The psychological contract, for instance, could be breached if an organisation allows an employee to get additional training and development in his/her area of contribution, only to find that the next-obvious step, promotion, does not come to fruition, neither is the possibility thereof communicated or investigated. One would find that employees, even though equipped, capable and competent, will often not give 100% if they feel the organisation is not nearly as committed to their career progression as they are – and fails to provide opportunities for them to express and use their talents for the benefit of all parties involved. Employers can expect to see their talent quit, get demotivated, withdraw and underperform, following the breach of the psychological contract.

With increased education, enlightenment and learning, comes increased expectations about how things ought to work. The sharper and talented your pool is, the more they expect to derive from the employment relationship. For some, talent is inborn, whilst in some cases, talent can be honed and developed. Irrespective of the circumstances, talent needs structures, competencies and opportunities that facilitate its expression and growth. Human Resource professionals are right at the center of this-creating and maintaining the appropriate platforms, processes, opportunities and relationships that foster talent engagement and self-actualisation. For what is talent, if it is not dedicated, absorbed and invigorated by the work that it does? What is talent when it is not in alignment with the appropriate training, monitoring, motivation, career pathway, promotion, development, mentorship and rewards? 

What can HR Professionals do?

This article seeks to suggest that an integral part of talent management is not just focusing on aptitude, but also proactively managing employees’ expectations on a continuous basis. One practical way in which HR professionals can do this is by making implicit assumptions and expectations by both employee and employer as explicit, detailed and specific as possible. Both parties can state what they are willing to do for a given benefit in exchange-monetary and non-monetary. This will then become a written agreement that can be integrated with the internal talent management approach. 

Since psychological contracts are dynamic in nature, there should ideally be room to review and revisit this agreement of responsibilities and expectations for any changes that should be made. This effort on HR’s side, creates a culture of clear communication, mutual commitment to personal and organisational growth and talent retention. Some organisations have been shown to be reluctant to invest in talent, fearing that these individuals are most likely to leave anyway in pursuit of better opportunities. Would this narrative not be different if organisations could uncover what it took to keep their talented pool engaged, challenged and committed? Would the narrative not be different in cases where HR took care of not only the structures and practices of talent attraction, development, motivation, compensation but considered the psychological contract as an important aspect of talent retention and talent engagement?


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