24 May 2021
The past year has seen many changes in the talent landscape, but perhaps the most significant is the impact that budget cuts have had on talent initiatives. Faced with reduced revenue, uncertain sales pipelines, drops in demand and recruitment freezes, human capital professionals have had to find innovative and alternative ways to ensure they have the required talent in place to reach their strategic goals – a daunting task for most.
The result has been a need to fast-track succession plans and up-skill internal talent to broaden skill sets, while considering the need for a flexible and agile workforce that can adapt to changing circumstances and take on additional responsibilities at a moment’s notice. This has meant an increased emphasis on talent optimisation.
Talent optimisation moves the usual organisational succession planning or high-performance strategies to an entire new level in an organisation, not only focusing on leadership and talent pipelines, but both horizontal and vertical movement across the total organisation, creating an agile workforce that can take on different or more complex responsibilities as the need arises.
Not only does talent planning and optimisation serve the core requirement of business continuity, but if done effectively, it can help organisations get the most out of – and retain – their current talent, by creating a more challenging, exciting and engaging work environment, as well the promise of a future career within the organisation. It can furthermore help mitigate the risk that retirement, resignations, illness and poor performance pose.
The challenge with talent planning is that when it is not conducted effectively, it can cost an organisation in numerous ways. While very few research studies have focused on holistic talent optimisation and planning, many have focused on the impact of succession planning, a core component of talent optimisation. In an article on the high cost of poor succession planning, Harvard Business Review notes that improved succession planning can result in higher annual revenue, improving corporate performance and investor returns. Add improved talent optimisation across the entire workforce, and we are truly setting up our organisations for business supremacy.
While it is clear that not having a talent plan in place is risky, it is interesting to note that many organisations struggle in this regard – either they do not have proper talent plans in place or have not implemented their talent plans, or they have not been able to get buy-in from business or prove return on investment. There are a number of reasons for this, and the reality for most organisations is likely to be a combination of factors. Last year’s lockdown moved the focus of human capital teams from pro-active planning to survival mode, and delayed talent plans – whether creating or implementing them. With the economy and businesses under pressure, executives and line managers are also feeling the pressure of performance, and this diverts their attention to being reactive to sales and operational demands, rather than proactive about talent management.
Another reason for a lack of quality talent optimisation plans, is lower appreciation by executives and line managers of the impact of top talent within their organisation. More often it is only once they are left with critical gaps in their teams, and are forced to put out fires, that they realise the value of good talent, and then it’s often too late. Lastly, it can be difficult for human resources teams to prove ROI on talent initiatives.
Amidst all the uncertainty being faced currently in the world of work, talent planning is now more important than ever. However, it is even more critical for human capital professionals to ensure that is it done effectively, in order to get a proper return on investment. Talent optimisation is not a once-off initiative, but a long-term strategy and engagement that requires constant investment, support and involvement from top leadership and line managers.
Organisations need to redefine what good talent looks like. It is also critical to ensure that talent is objectively assessed and identified, so that tight budgets are correctly spent on those with the most potential. The talent planning process should include programmes to actively develop the gaps identified and keep talent engaged. This will ensure that the identified talent can take up other responsibilities when needed and will have the added benefit of keeping them engaged and committed to your organisation, while realising a return on talent investment. In closing, organisations need to be open-minded about how they approach talent optimisation and who they consider to be talent, as organisational objectives and the world of work will continue to evolve and change in unexpected ways.