March 9, 2018

How to build a talent management program that works

For many CEOs, ‘talent management’ is fast becoming a number one HR priority. But what does that actually mean and how should you go about building a talent management program that works? We explore.

Ask any CEO what’s on their list of HR priorities for 2018 and chances are ‘talent management’ will place high. But what exactly does that mean? Why is it so easy to get this wrong? And how do you know if you’re getting it right?

Read on to find out…

What is talent management?

Put simply, talent management is about making sure your business has the right quality and quantity of people in place to achieve its goals. It covers the processes for hiring, developing and managing the performance of employees. It also includes succession planning.

Why do so many companies get it wrong?

Because CEOs spend their time thinking about strategic direction of the business, they often think their work is done once they’ve charted the talent management course. So, after they’ve developed the strategy they pass the detail – or what they see as the detail – off to HR and they never properly engage with it again.

For starters, many companies mistake high performance for future potential. They assume that, because an employee is doing well now, they have the skills they need to step up to the next level, and so the company fails to invest in the performance development (or management) needed to bring that high-potential along.

Another issue can be that – with the best of intentions – a company develops a talent management strategy, implements a stack of new talent management initiatives and processes… and then gets so caught up with the day to day running of the business that no-one goes back to measure the results and see if all of that new activity really made a difference.

And other times still, a company may fail to make sure their talent strategy really is aligned with their business goals. Or else, they assume that their high potential employees are engaged and invested in what they’re doing, when chances are they’re not.

The common thread through each of these scenarios is that if talent management is ever to succeed, it is something that needs buy-in at the very highest levels of strategy and planning as well as throughout the business; and there needs to be a way to track whether the strategy is succeeding: as the saying goes, “what gets measured gets done”.

The latest thinking on talent management

Talent management is about keeping one eye on today and one eye on the future.

In other words, do you have the right people in place to achieve everything you want to now and in the short term? And, if so, are they the right people for the long-term too? And if not, what will you need to do in order to grow and hit those goals?

The latest research also suggests we should be focusing on building talented teams, not just talented individuals – even though we should be using a focused and individual approach to identify and nurture talent within.

Again, the easiest way to do that is to make sure your talent management plan aligns with your business objectives. Or, as Forbes puts it: “When you put talent in the context of business strategy, talent will naturally start to align itself.”

Identifying the right talent and getting the most out of it

Making sure your talent management plan aligns with business objectives is a great start – but it won’t be enough on its own. To be truly effective you also need to build a talent identification process.

To do this, start by examining the talent you need to achieve your objectives and compare it with the talent you have in place. Once you know where your gaps lie, you can then start closing them with the right training, promotion and hiring decisions. To this end, you should focus on training your stars in the skills they need to excel in today’s role, as well as the roles you’d like them to eventually step into.

Make sure all individual and team goals align with your business ones and ensure each person has a clear idea of where their contribution fits in your overall goals. You can do this by tailoring feedback, performance reviews and incentives around goals.

After all, you shouldn’t focus only on the talent strategy itself but also the elements required to execute it.

The essential components of your talent development program

Now that you know the strategy behind what to do, it’s worth reflecting on the best way to do this. Generally, I find all good talent development programs share the same essential components. These include:

  • For talent acquisition and retention: A well thought out and systematic hiring process, as well as a solid onboarding program to make sure staff feel part of the team.
  • For observing and assessing talent: A program for assessing future leaders, which might include EQ and leadership testing, clear KPIs, communication observation, training and role modelling.
  • Learning and motivating: Formal coaching, mentoring and leadership development programs, and where possible, the chance to gain new skills through taking on business critical projects, and through opportunities such as secondments, higher duties, and networking.
  • Remuneration: An effective remuneration strategy that links rewards to the overall goals of the company as well as personal achievements.
  • Career development: Checking in quarterly, half-yearly or annually to make sure personal and business goals align and that people are held accountable for achieving them.
  • Succession planning: Making sure that critical roles stay filled, that current and future staffing needs are accounted for and that any gaps get covered.


Finally, the very best talent development programs move beyond the top-down, employee-focused and traditional way of doing things and take a more reciprocal approach. That may include reverse mentoring, active learning and knowledge sharing, and giving people their own responsibility for learning and development. It also often includes focusing on team development, not just looking at the individual.

That way, employees truly become part of the business – helping shape its direction and becoming part of something bigger. When this happens, it creates a combined sense of purpose and energy that means you can’t help but achieve your goals.

The icing on the cake: ROI

A successful talent management program requires a lot of time and energy to build. And you want to ensure that all that spend actually makes a difference. So first of all, you need to work out what the issues with your current practices are, and what that is costing you: do you keep finding yourself without key people in critical positions because it takes too long to find the right replacement? Do you seem to have more grievances raised in teams with newly promoted managers? These will be the factors by which you can tell if your new way of doing things is working.

Ensure that you build into your strategy opportunities to review and measure against those factors, and mechanisms for the right stakeholders in the business to be held accountable, and you’ll have no trouble demonstrating the return you’ve made on investment in talent management.

Want more?

If you’d like to know more about building the perfect talent management program in your business, get in touch.

say hi to our author

Merilyn founded Catalina Consultants in 2012 on the belief that all organisations, regardless of size, should have access to top quality bespoke HR services. She enjoys working closely with her clients and believes that the best results are built on relationships of rapport, trust and authenticity. Growing up, Merilyn had her sight set on stardom and dreamed of becoming an actor. She also sang and played the piano, but ended up studying accounting and HR. Whilst she hasn’t won her Grammy just yet, she still loves a good karaoke night. Merilyn loves to travel with her family, with South Africa being one of her most memorable destinations.

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