· 1 min read · Features

We need a whole systems approach to talent


A whole systems thinking approach to talent is critical if HRDs are to deliver

What do we talk about when we talk about talent? It’s a pertinent question, given we can’t seem to stop talking about it.

Every time I speak to an HR director or even other business leaders outside of HR about what’s on their agenda, talent is always near the top of the list. But what we actually mean by ‘talent’ is more complex than it might first appear

I recently attended a conference organised by The Maturity Institute on talent, value and maturity. In a day full of high-quality discussions, some of the clearest and most insightful messages came from HR Most Influential Thinker, David Collings from Dublin City University.

Collings spoke of the need for more integrated talent strategies, ones that consider the breadth and depth of the organisation, understand what those truly pivotal and value-adding roles are, and are aligned to wider HR policies. What, for example, is the point of a talent programme if it is undermined by your reward processes?

This ‘whole systems thinking’ approach to talent is critical if HR is to seize the opportunity to deliver on what is consistently ranked as the top concern for CEOs worldwide. Seeing talent in isolation, as a series of shiny HR initiatives, is at best counterproductive and at worst damaging. And it (hopefully) goes without saying that the same is true of all other people processes and strategies.

Instead, HR directors must clearly link talent strategies to the wider purpose of the organisation and bear in mind the context in which the business sits. The growing complexity and unpredictability of the outside world is already impacting on talent strategies.

Various HRDs have told me they are refocusing their development programmes to improve organisational agility or are being forced to change their approach given external pressures. Take for example insurance firm RSA, which is no longer able to send high potentials to emerging markets due to business disposals and so is instead exploring other, more creative ways to develop people.

With the economy on the up and talent back on the agenda with a vengeance, HR directors have a fantastic opportunity to harness the power of an effective talent strategy to improve their standing and influence with the business.

The real question now is whether the function can move away from obsessing over talent models like the nine-box grid to something altogether more sustainable and dynamic – something that works for the business, its employees and wider stakeholders.

Katie Jacobs is editor of HR magazine