Companies today face formidable talent challenges. The ability to sustain a steady supply of critical talent is a challenge facing all organizations — worldwide. Among the issues impacting the “next generation” workforce are impending skill shortages, an increasingly cross-generational and diverse workforce, the need for knowledge transfer from retiring baby boomers, and significant leadership gaps. Intense cost pressure from both traditional and emerging competitors, new markets, and more demanding customers are additional elements that give a new sense of urgency to the concept of talent management. At a time when organizations need to optimize their workforces, most agree that talent management is of strategic importance. To evaluate the extent to which companies act on that belief, Hewitt Associates and the Human Capital Institute undertook a comprehensive study seeking to assess the state of talent management practices in companies today.
About the Study
The research provides results from both a quantitative survey and qualitative interviews. The survey was designed to gauge the maturity level of a comprehensive set of talent practices; that is, the extent to which an organization’s practices are sophisticated, progressive, practical and well executed. This enabled us to identify strength and challenges in talent management and key areas of focus for the future. Nearly 700 senior-level talent leaders (both HR and non-HR) participated in the study. Through supplemental in-depth interviews, we captured innovative practices at select companies with more developed talent management practices. This combination of quantitative survey data and qualitative interview results helped shape a better understanding of the complex issues surrounding talent management today.
The growing recognition that the quality talent is a sustainable competitive advantage, coupled with a realistic view of the complexity and scope of changes in the global workforce, has led to a renewed focus and urgency around talent management. Based on nearly 700 responses, human resources (HR) and business leaders overwhelmingly identified “attracting and retaining skilled and professional workers” as the workforce challenge most impacting their organizational strategy. ”Developing manager capability,” ”retaining high performers,”“developing succession pool depth,” and “addressing shortages of management or leadership talent” closely followed.
Based on the results of this research, our collective experience, and prior research findings, we believe that organizations are indeed improving their talent management capabilities. The skills, performance, engagement, adaptability, and continuity of an organization’s workforce are indisputably a core competitive advantage and prerequisite for sustained financial success. Increasingly, organization leaders, starting with top officers, understand the business payback of focusing on getting these things right. As a result, the advances being made in talent management can be attributed to the following:
Senior Leaders Recognize Superior Talent as a Business Advantage: Senior leaders do “get it.” In nine out of ten organizations, they believe superior talent provides a vital competitive advantage. They increasingly recognize the critical linkage between effective talent management and business success.
Focus on Talent Management: The pressure to attract and retain key talent has led organizations to expend increased energy and resources on talent-related initiatives over the past half-decade. Significant progress has been made on a variety of talent management fronts — from getting foundational programs in place to creating and deploying new programs, such as high potential development, leadership development, and succession planning. However, most of the progress has been made in the executive ranks, with less focus beyond the highest management levels.
Leadership Involvement: The need for more leadership involvement in talent management is driven by the criticality of talent strategy development, articulation, and execution. Some business leaders are starting to play an increasingly visible and active role in talent management, understanding that their practices must be aligned with these talent strategies in order to have a direct impact on workforce engagement and performance.
Opportunities for Improvement
Although organizations have made significant progress raising awareness and attention to talent management and implementing foundational programs, these efforts have not led to well- executed talent management programs that are aligned with business priorities. Organizations still lag in their ability to integrate talent management programs and evaluate the return on their talent investments. The reasons are many, including:
Human Capital is Not Sufficiently Aligned With Business Strategy: While senior leaders clearly recognize the importance of human capital, a number of companies struggle to connect their people practices with their business imperatives. Only 17% of respondents say their workforce strategy is consistently aligned with their business strategy across the organization, while even fewer (7%) report consistently utilizing a specific quantitative framework in which investments in talent management are aligned with business results.
Lack of Accountability and Capability for Talent Development: While most organizations hold their executives and managers accountable for achieving business results, they are not being held accountable for talent development. Few organizations consistently hold managers (7%) or senior executives (10%) accountable for developing their direct reports. Furthermore, most managers lack the basic capability to develop talent effectively. Just 5% of organizations say their managers have the skills to grow people in their jobs or to provide the constructive feedback that supports and encourages employee development consistently across the organization.
Inconsistent Execution and Integration of Talent Programs: The majority of companies report having fundamental processes for talent management in place, such as basic workforce planning, development programs for high potential employees, and succession planning. However, few consistently execute these programs across the entire organization. While slightly more than two-thirds (69%) of companies say they conduct workforce planning across all divisions and business units, fewer than one-fifth (15%) do so consistently. Furthermore, only 21% of companies consistently integrate talent practices across the organization (e.g., rewards are tied to performance; performance is tied to development).
Limited Use of Meaningful Talent Analytics: Data and analysis have long played a role in driving business decisions; yet when it comes to talent analytics, most organizations have a long way to go. Mired in tracking traditional workforce measures, such as headcount, turnover, and cost-based metrics, few have graduated to tracking the metrics that matter. Fewer than 10% of responding companies measure the effectiveness of talent management programs, track the quality of talent, or use specific quantitative frameworks to align human capital investments with their business strategy.
Select Companies are Leading the Way
There are exceptions, of course. Despite the monumental challenges facing organizations, a few select companies have made significant strides in managing talent. What sets them apart is their dedication and commitment to talent management and the creative, comprehensive approach they take to developing their people in the following ways:
Depth and Consistency of Practices: Talent management is given top priority at these companies — and it shows. Specific programs, such as talent reviews and succession planning, are institutionalized throughout the organization, ensuring they are implemented and integrated consistently across businesses, geographies, and employee segments. Managers are taught how to develop employees, and talent programs are pushed deeper into the organization to reach a broader group of employees.
Higher Commitment and Accountability for Talent Development: Abandoning the belief that talent management is solely HR’s domain, these organizations consider it a shared business and HR responsibility requiring active engagement, commitment, and accountability from leaders and managers. From the CEO down, these business leaders not only emphasize the importance of talent management, but are also actively engaged in the processes. Additionally, they hold themselves responsible and accountable in tangible ways for developing the next generation of talent across the entire organization — not just at the leadership level.
Progressive and Innovative Practices: Never satisfied with the status quo, these organizations are consistently investing in new ways to manage talent. Approaches vary widely, but examples include progressive approaches to workforce planning, innovative employer branding strategies, and more comprehensive efforts related to onboarding and development of high potential employees. Some leading organizations are using sophisticated predictive analytics to help drive strategic human capital decisions and ensure that those decisions are aligned with the business strategy.
While most organizations still struggle to manage their talent effectively, select employers are leading the way. They serve as role models to those who are struggling to build core talent management capability by holding leaders and managers accountable for talent initiatives, driving greater consistency in talent programs globally, and continually seeking new and progressive ways to manage talent. The increased adoption of these approaches to talent management point to an evolutionary trend toward better practices overall. This report identifies the talent challenges that exist today, summarizes key findings from the research, and draws examples of innovative talent practices from select companies. Recommendations based on the research provide a foundation upon which companies can build and strengthen their talent management capability to meet the business challenges of the future.