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Match individual capability with organisational need

If your business strategy has changed, there is a good chance your workforce doesn't know it - and won't be ready. Research by Simon Collinson on business complexity, presented at the July HR Leaders Club, supported this. Collinson found that the majority of top factors creating the most complexity for employees to adequately do their job were linked to business strategy changes.

Shifting business models, increased regulation, M&As, joint ventures, divestitures, expansion - and contraction - are all the part of the 'new normal'. And today's business climate generously rewards operational scalability, elasticity and endurance - all of which can only be achieved by having the right people and a deep focus on continuous workforce alignment and optimisation.

Yet there's a huge problem: the widely adopted talent management best practices many HR organisations have in place are woefully inadequate.

For example, many organisations implement a performance-management process that involves annual goal-setting with an end-of-year review. In more advanced organisations, performance results might impact on or drive merit-based compensation plans. This 'event' approach is not very agile and makes the highly unlikely assumption that the business plan as defined in the beginning remained static. Furthermore, little or no focus is placed on valuing the skills and capabilities needed in the future, while goal-setting and rewards often lack the context of the true cost associated with delivering actual work.

HR organisations and people managers can and should do better for the business. To truly optimise your workforce, make sure you have the right people.

My long-standing favourite definition of talent management is 'matching individual capabilities with organisational need'. And that allows for 'need' to be ever-changing, which is exactly how businesses operate. If you subscribe to this definition, you will undoubtedly make innovative design choices. Talent practices and enabling technologies would be designed for business leaders to communicate the real and up-to-date, strategic and operational needs. HR needs to provide workers with opportunities to showcase, and update, their skills, experience, interests, projects, performance, goals etc.

With alignment practices in place, businesses can get credible insights into making the most of talent to support business objectives. They need to ask:

• Are my top talent working on my most important initiatives?

• What is the return on value for each initiative?How well are we doing?

• Are there addressable issues with laggards or redundancies?

• Do we reward our talent for adapting quickly?

• Are we enriching our talent pools for future growth?

It is critical organisations consider whether they're focused on checking the boxes for certain talent processes, or on facilitating practices that keep their workforce tightly aligned to what is really happening in the business. It's an important question to answer. The difference between the two is having woefully inadequate talent management and demonstrating your organisation is prepared to change with the times.

Leighanne Levensaler (pictured) is VP, HCM strategy, at HR Leaders Club sponsor, Workday