The October 2009 Towers Perrin report, "Managing Talent in Tough Times: A Tipping Point for Talent Management?" makes for very interesting reading. For starters the first exhibit shows the main strategic actions planned over the next 18 months. The list makes for interesting reading and identifies the major strategies as being:
- Significant expense reduction (74%)
- Small-scale targeted reduction in workforce (64%)
- Expansion into new product/service lines (57%)
- Expansion into new geographic markets (53%)
- Significant change in organisational structure (45%)
- Medium or small-scale merger or acquisition (39%)
- Major shift in business strategy 21%
- Significant outsourcing/offshoring of operations (16%)
- Large scale merger or acquisition (14%)
- Large scale work-force reduction (12%)
Of course every one of these impacts on employees and depends on their committed support for success. Yet there is nothing in these strategic actions to suggest that this is being addressed, and that despite the fact that employee engagement is recognised to be one of the major management challenges you currently face.
And if talent management is being held up as the answer, then it certainly looks like it is one that is doomed to failure - at least in its current guise. Why? Well for starters there seems to be no clearly agreed definition of who or what talent actually is. This is explicitly stated in a paragraph entitled "Who is Talent" that states, "As the workplace becomes more diverse and the workforce more mobile, the definition of talent is broadening well beyond the traditional focus on top management."
In fact the survey identifies the following employee segments as talent:
- Senior Leadership (66%)
- Those with leadership potential at mid-level (62%)
- Higher performers (58%)
- Key contributors/technical experts (49%)
- Roles critical to delivering the business strategy (46%)
- Those with skills in short supply and high demand (42%)
- The entire workforce (36%)
- Those with leadership potential at entry level (33%)
Particularly interesting is the fact that 36% of the respondents consider talent to be "the entire workforce." This demands an entirely different management approach to the more narrow definitions. The latter effectively divides the workforce into two distinct classes: those who are talented and those who are not. This will inevitably breed an innate apartheid that will undermine all efforts to improve employee engagement and subtly sabotage performance.
This has to be recognised AND immediate strategic action taken to embed it into the organisational culture. That is the only way to address the employee engagement issue and ensure sustainability and strategic success.