A stronger sense of an organisation’s “pain points” will help improve talent management

HR professionals understand an effective talent management strategy supports the organisation’s objectives. This is simply common sense but is often easier said than done.

A successful talent management strategy should be clearly connected with the business plan and priorities but it can also go further. To be most valuable, the talent management strategy should focus on existing and potential problems within the organisation and be tackling them.

To do this, the HR function needs to focus on identifying where the "pain points" in the business lie - what areas are causing headaches today or are likely to in the future. Of course, part of the HR function is dealing with short-term problems and providing the guidance for the "people part" of the business to function effectively. However, this should be balanced with identifying and dealing with longer-term problems, which will be much harder to pinpoint or even have acknowledged by the business.

Identifying existing skills gaps within an organisation and developing or filling the gaps is relatively straightforward but this focus is on the "here and now" and relies largely on lag indicators.

The ideal talent management strategy should also look at lead indicators to ascertain potential skills gaps in the next three, five or more years, so HR can prepare the ground and adapt the business to meet these challenges now.

By identifying the future talent gaps and problematic areas of the business, the HR function can better align its strategy with the objectives of the business as a whole and crucially add value that far exceeds short-term fixes. A clear HR strategy can help solve many of the future problems within an organisation - whether using recruitment to fuel growth or creating a more robust senior succession strategy - but the first step must be to understand where those crunches will occur.

So where to start? If there are no obvious people issues or talent gaps on the horizon, it may be worth finding out what other people in the organisation think are the areas of immediate need. Frustrations may be highlighted at executive committee level or practical implementation or operational barriers further down the chain. If the HR function can identify problems, listen to the concerns of others and adapt its strategy accordingly, it will gain the respect and trust of the organisation to a far greater extent than we typically see today.

The profession can only do this by getting out into the business and asking questions, not just about HR issues, but about business problems. What is preventing the organisation delivering its plan? Is innovation too slow? Where is the business going to find the extra people in the sales organisation to fuel growth for the £500 million expansion? Is there a pull to consolidation and what does that mean for the skills needed? Is risk a major worry and if so how will you balance performance management and risk profile? Is your board ignoring the uncomfortable questions about the health of the senior succession strategy?

Once the HR function has identified these pain points, it can create a strategy and roll out initiatives that help tackle them. It is vital to use meaningful metrics to measure progress and to refine success so that those in the business can understand and see the benefit of the efforts the HR team is making.

There will, of course, be many elements of the HR role that deal with the day-to-day tasks necessary for the organisation, rather than look at forthcoming problems. But if the HR discipline can find the right balance between long-term strategy and shorter-term challenges facing the business, it can only improve its reputation in the organisation. Looking further ahead is opaque, ambiguous and far from certain but it is where the most significant gains can be made.

Simon Mitchell (pictured) is UK general manager at global talent management company DDI