Talent Management 2014: Sharp Contrast Between Urgency and Readiness

Insights, recommendations, and advice on four critical trends regarding how high-performance organizations (HPOs) are reimagining and re-cutting their talent strategies.

Today’s market forces require very different ways of acquiring, developing, managing, and engaging talent at every level. High-performance talent management must be about breakthrough approaches to ensure tomorrow’s performance excellence.

Brandon Hall Group’s State of Talent Management 2014 research identifies a sharp contrast between the ultra-urgency of today’s human capital issues and organizations’ capability and readiness to respond. In this study, to be released in its entirety in June, we share empirically based insights, recommendations, and advice on four critical trends regarding how high-performance organizations (HPOs) are reimagining and re-cutting their talent strategies:

  • Acquiring, developing, and engaging talent
  • Operating talent management as a business function
  • Investing in talent management
  • Leveraging talent technology

Within these four trends are six critical talent concerns, based on at least 20 percentof respondents citing them among their top three most critical concerns:

2014 Six Global Talent Concerns by Priority

Highly Critical



Sustaining Employee Engagement


Managing Learning & Development


Recruiting Scarce Skills in Leaders and Employees

Developing High-Potential Leaders


Retaining Premier Talent

Creating Career-Pathing Opportunities

Source: Brandon Hall Group, 2014

Oriented around these six critical talent concerns are the Top 10 findings of the research, based on a survey of 262 global responses from business and talent/HR leaders. This was augmented by individual interviews and focus groups with executives. The top 10 findings are:

1. Engagement and leadership development (especially for high-potential leaders) are the most pressing talent concerns across the globe.

Across all global survey respondents, organizations identified two talent concerns as highly critical: sustaining employee engagement (30 percent) and developing high-potential leaders (27 percent).

At the most foundational level, many struggle with defining engagement (e.g., employee satisfaction, employee loyalty, etc.). Add to that the mix of a diverse workforce that brings equally diverse expectations of what prompts an employee to do more than just “show up” every day.

The second most pressing talent concern is leadership development. In HPOs, leadership development occurs in all geographies and in all functions. Top-flight organizations quickly are replacing traditional leadership programs with innovative leadership “labs” where leader learners network and collaborate, often via social platforms and mobile devices, around real business opportunities.

2. Learning and Development makes a move to user-generated content via social platforms and mobile devices.

While L&D was identified as a critical talent issue, in talking one-to-one with more than 25 executives and other global business leaders, they felt their organizations were much more ready to tackle L&D challenges than they were other critical areas.

Mobile, social, and the cloud have transformed the way we learn, and HPOs are responding with a migration from traditional learning management systems and learning content management systems to learning portals with content authoring tools.

Portals enable user-generated content at the moment of need in just the right dose—a video clip, a pdf file, an assessment, or a full-blown curriculum. Further, portal functionality connects learners in a collaborative discussion via chat rooms, instant messaging tools, and the like. Our research shows collaborative dialogue and networking is a powerful and impactful way to retain learning and apply retained concepts and learnings to real work for measurable performance improvement.

3. Dismal talent retention requires a strategic approach plus tailored alignment to each workforce generation.

With 64 percent of global organizations having no talent retention strategy, it comes without surprise that retention ranks as a critical talent concern for many.

The most effective retention strategies are tailored by workforce generation. For example, Baby Boomers are most incented by additional compensation and bonuses; Millennials ask for promotional and job advancement opportunities, as well as additional compensation. Employees from all generations are asking for more flexible work arrangements. And most importantly, survey respondents cited four critical talent retention strategies effective across all generations:

  • Support from manager (51 percent)
  • A learning culture (47 percent)
  • Critical skill development (47 percent)
  • Career-pathing and mobility (40 percent)

4. Availability of highly skilled workers remains constrained in critical talent segments and in roles requiring niche skills.

Despite continued high unemployment rates most everywhere, employers complain they are unable to source talent qualified for critical roles or scarce skills roles. The most critical shortages were reported in Sales, Operations IT, Strategy and Innovation, and Executive Leadership.

Hiring managers suggest that only 73 percent of the people they hire have the skills to do the jobs they were hired for. High-performance organizations are taking actions to bring talent supply and demand into better balance:

  • Institutionalize workforce planning
  • Understand scarce skills
  • Leverage consistent criteria for talent mobility decisions

5. Career development strategies no longer leverage the rungs of the corporate ladder.

In today’s HPOs, the traditional “climbing the corporate ladder” has all but fully collapsed. In today’s flatter, globally disbursed workplaces, work is more often virtual, team-based, and matrix. As a result, responsibility, adaptability, productivity, and performance depend, to a high degree, on a workforce with deep and diverse skills across a variety of critical functions and geographies.

Therefore, today, the lattice takes the place of the ladder. Rather than career development in a unilateral direction (up the ladder), the lattice structure enables growth and development side to side, even downward, and sometimes up. The lattice offers more work options to align with employees’ passions and fosters an inclusive, collaborative culture unconstrained by a top-down hierarchy. This significantly improves engagement and retention.

6. Ineffective talent management is a major cause of under-performing businesses.

Almost all survey respondents (94 percent) told us that their talent management program needed improvement or significant improvement, and 37 percent scored their business performance as low performing or under-performing. They attributed the dismal results to those ineffective talent management practices.

Survey respondents (24 percent) rated developing a talent management strategy as the second most important strategy to implement this year, right behind an organizational operational strategy (26 percent). They also indicated that they planned this year to increase their attention to and focus on the six critical global talent concerns.

The takeaway from this data is this: In most organizations today, the gap between perceived criticality of talent processes and reported business impact of those same processes is significant —exactly why organizations overall are investing much more focus and attention this year on improving the maturity of their talent processes.

7. Talent strategies are not in place regardless of organizational size or industry, particularly for workforce planning, succession planning, and talent acquisition.

Talent priorities vary across industries, but one thing is consistent across all: Talent strategies for every employee lifecycle have a low implementation rate. Workforce planning strategies have the lowest implementation rate globally at 38 percent. A deeper look reveals the impact of a lack of strategic planning:

  • A mere 4 percent of organizations said they have the wherewithal to quantify required headcount in more than 75 percent of “what if” scenarios.
  • Less than 1 percent of organizations indicated they have internal candidates ready to fill key positions as they become vacant.
  • Some 42 percent of organizations reported that their talent pools for critical positions had declined, or increased by less than 10 percent, over the last 12 months.

8. Engagement and retention significantly improves when managers provide regular/timely/informal feedback and are highly skilled performance coaches.

Some 64 percent of global organizations indicated their managers are fair or poor at providing regular, timely, and informal feedback on the performance of their direct reports. Worse yet, 67 percent of organizations indicated that their managers are fair or poor performance coaches. In these organizations, 35 percent of survey respondents indicated that sustaining employee engagement was a pressing concern, while just 19 percent were concerned about sustaining employment engagement when they also reported their managers were excellent performance coaches and regularly provided informal feedback.

9. Talent management budget increases are modest, but promising, and focus on talent process automation.

While the majority of survey respondents (32 percent) plan to keep this year’s talent management budgets at the same level of investment as last year, almost one-quarter of organizations (23 percent) plan to increase their talent management budgets this year over last, and only 5.2 percent plan to significantly decrease their current year budget as compared with last year’s budget. These data suggest that we should anticipate at least a small uptick in talent management spending this year, indicating that organizations are acknowledging the business value of investing in talent management processes and technology.

10. High-performance companies (HPOs) invest more resources, time, and attention in talent management than do their lower-performing peers.

Organizations that self-reported their revenues as being 10 percent to 25 percent-plus above that of their competition (36 percent) invest more budget resources in their talent management function than do their lower-performing peers.

Laci Loew is vice president of Talent Management Practice and Principal Analyst for Brandon Hall Group, a human capital management research and advisory services firm that provides insights around key performance areas, including Learning and Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development, Talent Acquisition, and Human Resources.


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