Making Talent Management Work

"Talent management is a system, not a series of stand-alone processes."

No organisation can afford to put talent management on the backburner. The loss of experience as the baby-boom generation retires, the overall shortage of talented leaders, the absolute need to engage and retain high-potential employees at every level of the organisation, and an environment which demands that organisations continually do more with less, all combine to make talent management a Board-level priority.

How do organisations get it right? What lessons have we learned over the years? In reviewing their own talent management agenda what questions should those at the organisation's helm be asking?

Talent management is an organic system

No matter who holds the title the CEO is, and must be, the organisation's Chief Talent Officer. Line and functional leaders who see talent management as a secondary priority quickly become a business liability.

Talent management is an organic system, not a series of stand-alone processes. And like any system the whole can never be stronger than the weakest link. Business leaders who fail to align the talent management system with the emerging business context are destroying value. Top teams that support investment in only one or two aspects of development and retention of the internal talent pool and who fail to aggressively address shortfalls in the rest of the system are sowing the seeds of tomorrow's mediocrity.

The dilemma: leadership myopia all too easily leads to the assumption that positive feedback around one process is a valid indicator of the health of talent management in the organisation overall. Unless they are an integral part of the talent management system interventions such as 360º feedback, climate surveys and/or mentoring, no matter how well-supported initially, are destined to become yet one more administrative burden.

The cultural journey

Talent management starts with a robust understanding of the cultural journey. To truly make an impact talent management has to focus on "the organisation we need to be become." Working to become ever better at who we are and what we do (talent management that reinforces the status quo) is to orchestrate tomorrow's missed opportunity.

Although both are important, there is an important difference between climate and culture. Climate is a measure of how people feel about the organisation at a specific point in time. Culture describes the underlying systemic pillars that shape behaviour over the long term. Talent management means insight into and action around both.

The engine of talent management

The engine of talent management is talent acquisition. If the talent acquisition process is found wanting, every other talent management process is marginalised. One of the implications is that the value proposition of those charged with supporting talent acquisition (e.g. executive search) must move beyond "We know the market place better than anyone else."

Capability must encompass areas such as cultural measurement, role-specific competency profiling, team fit, leadership assessment, and executive integration. All these must be complemented by the broad range of skills and resources needed to enable the firm in question to become a full partner in supporting the organisation's talent management actions.

The team is the basic building block of organisation growth. The challenge: if the performance management process, compensation approach, talent acquisition outlay, succession work and internal focus on coaching do not embrace the team much of the effort and investment in talent management is for naught.

The coaching conversation

There is value in separating the performance discussion from the ongoing and complementary performance coaching conversation. The former is periodic, focuses on the achievement of goals (or otherwise) and sets out the coaching agenda. The latter is ongoing, and is about delivering that which has been agreed in the performance discussion (the coaching agenda). The most effective performance management processes balance "the what" (outcomes) with "the how" (behaviour aligned with the organisation's values).

Coaching has to become an integral part of every leader's thoughts and actions. Put simply, a leader who can't coach can't provide leadership; he/she isn't creating the space for talented employees to exploit their own potential.

Successful coaching is ultimately measured by the extent to which the employee moves to the next level of performance. In many instances this means helping the employee/team reframe outdated/dysfunctional mindsets. Coaching that makes a difference focuses, in the first instance, on what is working, no matter how embryonic (leveraging strengths, delivering affirmation, building pride, reinforcing early success).

Coaching is an integral element in the talent management system overall; the coach must model the leadership behaviour implicit in the emerging culture and deliver in-the-moment feedback and affirmation, all while continuously coaching the team. With that in mind, the wider value of the external coach (consultant), beyond coaching leaders in how to coach and/or supporting the accelerated growth of high-potential employees, needs to be regularly challenged and evaluated.

The succession process

When it comes to succession more is less. Succession work that makes a lasting difference focuses only on those leadership roles that are truly mission critical. The succession process must also take into account the future competitive environment; only then can the organisation start to understand which of its leaders have the skills, knowledge and development potential to succeed tomorrow in the (mission critical) role he/she holds down today.

There is a profound difference between succession and replacement strategies: a leader in a mission critical role who isn't actively developing both for their own role is failing to fulfil their fiduciary responsibility.

Leadership workshops

Leadership workshops supporting individual development must be seen as a reward for performance excellence, not a right that goes with the individual's role or level in the organisation. Leadership workshops make a difference when the content is valid and accessible; when the "customers' voice" is an ever-present subtext; when the learning challenges participants emotionally; when the level of abstraction contained within the material is aligned with the "conceptual horsepower" of those attending; when adequate time is set aside to challenge the ideas and views presented; when ideas, dialogue and practice are given equal weight; when reflection is part of the mix; and when the skills introduced have immediate practical application.

Although measuring success is important, not everything delivered by the workshop can and should be measured. In addition to delivering "What to do differently on Monday," it is often important that leadership workshops strive to change the way participants see the emerging business challenge. Reframing mindsets, offering participants a new lens through which to see the world, and challenging established assumptions are characteristics of success that don't fit easily on a spreadsheet.

Finally, in that real learning doesn't begin until the participant returns to the workplace, there is a strong correlation between on-the-job follow-up and return on the investment made.

A "power to" approach

Talent management that thrives emphasises a "power to" rather than a "power over" leadership approach. This speaks to transparency, risk, and allowing talented leaders to have a real say in the development journey being charted. No less important: excellence means keeping it simple!

Talent management isn't new. Indeed, scratch the surface of any organisation that has sustained outstanding performance and you will find that talent management has played a large part in that success. The talent challenge per se may not be a recent concern but the urgency and need to get it right have never been keener. And the environment has never been less forgiving to those who stumble.


As passionate experts in the executive search and leadership consulting industry we build leadership teams for our clients every day. Learn more about TRANSEARCH International and our wide-ranging approach to leadership acquisition and management assessment.

The Succession Imperative

If you don't have the leadership you need, regardless of what else works, you still don't have much. As for a crisis, it might not - as has often been suggested - create leaders but it lets you know about the capability of the ones you have.

The leadership challenge describes a talent management system with a good many moving parts:

  • The capacity to attract talent
  • The talent acquisition process
  • Executive integration
  • Performance management
  • Leadership development
  • Building great teams
  • Traditional and tech-enabled teaching/training
  • Coaching/mentoring
  • Expediting the organisation's diversity and inclusion goals

And at the centre of that system, the straw that stirs the drink? The organisation's approach to succession. If talent management is the vehicle that supports business longevity, succession - an often misconceived, misaligned and misunderstood process - is its engine. It is a critical investment that you cannot afford to get wrong.

The narrative around succession is, invariably, drawn to big jobs with big companies. The reality is that every poor succession decision destroys value. In family businesses this is especially the case. Unfortunately, the evidence demonstrates that organisations don't exactly excel at succession.

Ultimately, the true measure of a leader isn't what they achieve while in office - it's what they leave behind. That even after the heaviest storm … you can still clearly see their footprints in the sand.

Insights from "It's Time To Rethink Succession".


As passionate experts in the executive search and leadership consulting industry we build leadership teams for our clients every day. Learn more about TRANSEARCH International and our wide-ranging approach to leadership acquisition and management assessment.

What Value Creation Should You Expect From an Executive Search Provider?

Taking talent acquisition to the next level

In a world marked by speed of change, doing what we have always done, better (value added) ... is not enough. The right search partner will deliver the ideas, capability and experience to help you take talent acquisition to the next level.

Without access to best practice, forging new ways to think becomes an uphill battle. Without new questions learning is limited. Where successful role models are missing, our extraordinary ability to copy what works cannot kick in. And when thought leadership is little more than "a consulting label", creating tomorrow today becomes a bridge too far. There is clearly a good deal to gain, therefore, from working with best-in-class, external resources.

7 critical areas of distinct value

At a minimum, in addition to sector expertise and international capability, the search provider must deliver distinct value in seven critical areas:

  1. Bring creativity and flair when it comes to attracting top talent.
  2. Help the client "measure" the culture they have today (roots) and the culture the organisation needs moving forward (wings).
  3. Leading-edge tools to build a robust, balanced scorecard for the position.
  4. Develop role-specific competencies for the role in question.
  5. Provide a meaningful process to determine team fit. As with culture, this implies measurement.
  6. Coach inexperienced line managers in how to conduct the interview.
  7. Bring support and appropriate tools to the integration process, and that means a good deal more than the perfunctory call to see if the newly hired candidate is doing okay.

The organisation's story underscores a successful hiring value proposition. Central to that story are the hiring organisation's values. Unfortunately, although the majority of organisations claim to have "organisation values," in many instances, they amount to little more than window dressing. To "win" top talent over even a great story may not be enough. A best-in-class search professional draws out why high performers stay and leverages that insight to inspire the candidate who is happy where they are.

The approach to measuring culture needs to reflect the context. By way of example, an organisation confronting transformational change faces a very different challenge to that of a successful business seeking to better manage the culture they have. It is also important - and especially so in talent acquisition - that the approach describes the cultural journey in business terms.

You can't manage what you don't measure. Talent acquisition devoid of a robust measure of the culture the organisation needs to compete tomorrow … amounts to little more than the hiring executive's "best guess." For a unique and compelling measure of organisation culture see - The A-Z Of Organization Culture. John O. Burdett (2017).

Developing role-specific competencies implies a library of relevant and up-to-date leadership competencies. It also means a proven leadership model that ensures that the competencies identified deliver "leadership balance." For a measure of leadership balance, see John O. Burdett, Attract, Select, Develop & Retain TALENT (2013). Balance denotes fit in four critical leadership areas:

  1. Direction,
  2. Discipline of Delivery,
  3. Development of people, and
  4. Day-to-day Dialogue.

This simple leadership template is the outcome of asking 15,000 leaders in 40 countries, "What do you NEED from a leader?" It is framed in The Orxestra® Methodology: the head (direction); the hand (delivery); the heart (development of people); and the spirit (day-to-day dialogue).

The best candidate vs. the right candidate

Talent acquisition cannot thrive in a vacuum. It's an integral part of the overall talent management system. If you hire great people and coaching is a hard-to-find skill, assume a higher attrition rate than might be expected. If "succession" is poorly thought through expect to go outside for talent more often than is good for the organisation's health. And if the leadership development agenda is found wanting, know that over-hiring for virtually every position will be a given.

The implications are profound. When the seven dimensions of distinct value (offered by the executive search provider) are either missing or short-changed and where the search is delivered as a tactical "replacement" - not as strategic and integral to the client's overall talent management system - the inevitable, default outcome is to hire the best and not the right candidate.

Uncovering the best candidate is, essentially, a beauty contest. It's the corporate version of the popular NBC talent show America's Got Talent. If they look and sound good, give them a ticket to Vegas. On the other hand, finding the right candidate is a matchless investment in building tomorrow's leadership bench strength … today.

Building a BRAND mindset

For many service providers business development is perceived as a kind of wrestling match … where the next sale, overcoming objections and asking for the order become the name of the game.

Delivering all of the elements of fit, landing the right candidate is predicated on a supplier/client relationship that goes beyond "winning the sale." It speaks of a trust-based partnership where long-term success is based on the search provider understanding the client's emerging business need as well as the client does. It defines a way to work where making the client's business better always takes precedence. It builds on a mindset where BRAND means Better Results And No Disappointment.

Successful business development ultimately draws on one simple question, "What do we have to do to ensure that the client views us not as a supplier but as truly part of their team?

Finding world-class talent requires a partnership with a trusted outside advisor. Visit TRANSEARCH International to discover our wide-ranging approach to leadership acquisition and development.

Insights from "Talent Acquisition - The Battle For Tomorrow".


As passionate experts in the executive search and leadership consulting industry we build leadership teams for our clients every day. Learn more about TRANSEARCH International and our wide-ranging approach to leadership acquisition and management assessment.