Talent brings people issues into the C-suite, says academic

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A focus on talent has helped to bring people issues into the C-suite, but many HR leaders are missing out on the strategic gains of “talent alignment”, according to Dublin City University professor of HR management David Collings.

Collings, who is ranked on the HR Most Influential International Thinkers list, was speaking at the Talent, Value & Maturity conference organised by The Maturity Institute.

He said: “HR has struggled for a long time with the C-suite and being viewed as operational. Now we have CEOs taking more interest in the talent agenda. One thing talent has done is bring these issues into the C-suite.”

However, Collings added that a lack of “alignment” in many businesses is holding back talent strategies.

“What organisations do in terms of talent is often misguided,” he said. “It is often driven by misguided beliefs around value. To improve sustainability, focus on greater alignment.”

He advised HR professionals to “move away from names in boxes” to a “more dynamic model” for talent management, where organisations develop “pools” of talented people with the potential to take on a variety of roles, rather than stick rigidly to succession plans.

"Develop talent in an organisational context rather than for specific roles,” he said. “Have a more dynamic process and don’t fit people for too narrow roles. Look to the future. What are your requirements going forwards in terms of talent? Take a more active approach to succession planning.”

In order for talent strategies to stick, they need to be closely aligned to other HR systems, such as performance management and reward, as well as organisational values and wider purpose, said Collings.

“What does the organisation stand for?” he asked. “HR practices don’t matter in isolation. What’s the organisational context?”

He cited purpose as being critical to successful talent management, and said that a purpose beyond increasing shareholder value is more effective.

“Rather than setting up organisations for being about shareholder value, is there a higher purpose we can identify?” he asked. “If it’s all about money, the organisation becomes very transactionally motivated.”

He also advised HR directors to work out what the “pivotal jobs” are in their organisations. “Pivotal jobs are central to the strategy of the organisation and can vary in terms of performance,” he said.

He used the example of aeroplane cabin crew, who can make a major impact on customer experience, compared to pilots who are less able to expend discretionary efforts, except in the event of an emergency.

“Sometimes our assumptions are to look in the wrong place in terms of value [around talent],” he said.

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