The most important people process is Talent Management

Every CEO and Leader worth their salt knows that people are the foundation of their success and the success of their business. To that end, there is no more important people process than Talent Management – the process by which we build talent and capability for the future. So, drowning in all that support, why is Talent Management the bane of every leader’s existence?

We think the reason might be that while, for a long time, we’ve heard about the welcome death of the traditional Performance Management process, there is a very real possibility that most Talent Management processes are even lamer, but live on, torturing their participants in ways poor Performance Management could only have dreamed.

What Is Talent Management?

What Talent Management is and what it should be are vastly different beasts.

Too often, Talent Management is a set of mesmerising definitions that form into a complicated ‘grid’ that plots every employee into tiny boxes, and a very long conversation around who wins and who loses, which supports what everyone already knew before they walked in.

What Talent Management should be is a way to capture the capability and potential of an organisation (as succinctly and clearly as possible), and then prioritise actions that will ensure both grow at the aggregate (organisational) and individual level.

What Goes Wrong?

A lot!

We’ve picked the Top 5!

  1. The purpose of Talent Management gets lost in the process

Instead of clarity on required capability versus the current capability, and how best to bridge the gap, the process of Talent Management becomes overwhelming. It is box-filling, data-manipulating, and definition-refining (our favourite was the nuances of ‘specialised’ versus ‘specialist’), despite either being a killer for any leadership aspiration. It is then filed into an HRIT system from which the data will never be retrieved by any line leader who could do something with it.

      2. Facts are Lost

Opinions are based on random elevator rides and perceptions from the Christmas party.  Views are held on extroversion versus introversion, and such thick layers of affinity bias, that the merits of most individuals become completely opaque. Often, you literally cannot find any reference to real achievements or actual development.

Note: Riding four floors in an elevator does not give you deep insight into a person or their career.   

       3. Accountability is unclear or non-existent

Everyone participates enthusiastically in the conversation, but the outcomes belong to no one. Instead, it becomes an administrative record for the deep dark depths of the HR system…until next year.

       4. HR becomes Chess Master

Fourthly, with the process poorly cobbled together, and time running out from the lengthy debates, HR leaps into an odd ‘Chess Master’ role. This is the not the HR person who designed a great process, or knows the business strategy brilliantly well or knows how to develop talent with limited investment. Instead, this is the HR person that from birth has been in a possession of a self-proclaimed superpower of knowing ‘good’ from ‘bad’, and ‘picking winners’ every time.

Inside the room, HR strikes fear into every leader. They know too well, from stories in the walls, that this HR Chess Master is also Chess Master of the board on which their own careers sit.

     5. Time is Lost

Despite the hours of pre-work and the thoughtful time-bound agenda, hours of ‘calibration’ run overtime. A second short meeting is set for a week later, to finish that last support function that missed out today, but everyone in the room knows only half the team will make it to that second meeting. As the meeting closes, people are heard whispering to each other….

“Weren’t we going to talk about capability as well?”

“Were we going to look at what we needed for that new strategy?”

“Are we able to do that acquisition?”

“I still have that great role vacancy. Can we do a trade?” (Lovingly known as the powerful Talent Management replacement strategy of ‘horse-trading’)

“Do you understand the difference between specialised and specialist?”

The Role of Bad HR

Bad HR allows Talent Management to look like this.

Really bad HR thinks this is effective Talent Management.

What Could We Do

From experience, we love good Talent Management. It’s heartbreaking to see it with such a bad reputation. It game-changing for any organisation that gets it right.

We believe there are five things to get right.

  1. Purpose: Talent (Potential) and Capability perfectly balanced.

The two sides to Talent Management are equally critical and completely interdependent. Talent and potential is a combination of ability, curiosity, EQ, resilience and motivation. Capability is the summary of the (sometimes new) skillsets you need for the future.

If you have two hours to talk Talent Management, it should be one hour on Talent and one on Capability.

  1. Simple process supporting purpose.

Whether you’re ‘plotting’ Talent (potential and demonstrated capability calibrated on facts), or mapping capability development, the process needs to be as simple as possible. No jargon (or ‘lexicon’ :D). Nice and clear. People can join the conversation with confidence. Every part of the process is there for a reason. Anything, (and any box) without a reason has been removed.

  1. Do Not Harm.

Every person has potential. And they often surprise you. Don’t be their limitation. Support growth and development, but don’t underestimate that people come back from terrible roles, from poor performance, from mismatches to roles, from illness, from caring responsibilities, from whatever life has thrown at them. Let them be. They are not the focus of this process or conversation. Catch them next year.

  1. Individual and Collective Development perfectly balanced.

EVERY good people process balances individuals and the organisation.

You’re maximising individual potential, building strengths and careers, and on the other side, you’re lifting the whole organisation, building skills every person needs. Balancing the ‘placing bets’ on individuals, with ‘lifting the whole cohort’, is the best possible play for any organisation, and every leader.

  1. Accountability crisp and clear.

Accountability to develop every person on the team to be the best they can be, absolutely belongs to their leader. This is actionable and clear. Measurement comes from looking at every person, and at the team as a whole.

Accountability for Talent Management process belongs to HR. At the aggregate, within a year, this is also measurable and clear.

Can Good HR rescue Talent Management?


  • Know the business – what matters today and tomorrow.
  • Know people – know what matters to individuals.
  • Design great process – removing everything that adds no value.
  • Stay impartial – hold everyone accountable to a purpose.
  • Stay involved – Talent Management is every day, not every year.

Recommendations on follow-ups

We recommend you start with The Talent Masters – Why Smart Leaders Put People Before Numbers, by Bill Conaty and Ram Charan (2010)