How defining “talent” can improve talent management

Defining talent is something that comes naturally to anyone working in human resources; we’ve all seen what a high-performing team or individual looks like.

However, while it’s easy to spot high-performers, it is much harder to objectively understand why they are reaching these heights and what qualities they have that set them apart from others.

This seemingly simple issue is also a profoundly important one when implementing a data-based talent management solution. Knowing which metrics to track and which ones to ignore requires a careful understanding of what qualities talented workers possess that set them apart from their colleagues.

The question now for HR departments is a basic one: Do you have a solid definition of what talent looks like?

What factors are organizations measuring?

According to the New Talent Management Network (NTMN), the vast majority of organizations (72 percent) have already defined what qualities distinguish a talented worker. The larger an organization is, the more likely it has this strategy in place, with every enterprise over 100,000 employees taking the time to define talent.

Among the qualities that make for a high-performing employee, there were a few that stood out from of the rest:

‰Ñ      Learning ability – Picking up new knowledge quickly was the top quality, cited by 62 percent of respondents.

‰Ñ      Ambition – Fifty-one percent of organizations are looking for staff with the motivation to move up within the organization.

‰Ñ      Near-term mobility – Likewise, 43 per cent of HR departments are recognizing staff members who have their focus on a near-term goal to advance.

‰Ñ      Values – An organization’s culture is hard to qualify, but 42 percent of companies consider this a key factor in their definition of talent.

While organizations are clearly determined to define talent, it’s equally important to tailor the concept to each role.

The multi-faceted talent landscape

Organizations today face an increasingly diverse workforce. There are now more generations working within every organization across more specialized roles than ever, making it harder to operate with just a single notion of talent.

Instead, the HR landscape is changing rapidly, with organizations now undertaking detailed talent segmentation efforts. Rather than constructing just one model of what a high-performer looks like, they are building many, based on the needs of different departments and the skills that are called for at each level.

In many ways, this involves approaching talent in the same way that organizations traditionally manage their marketing efforts – by segmenting their audience into different categories. Just like an organization would have a marketing plan tailored to different audiences, enterprises are now segmenting their talent analysis in the same way.

As well as gaining new insights into employee performance between departments, segmentation can also help to refine a definition of talent so that it applies across different teams and positions.

For organizations that invest in data and analytics, it also becomes much easier to track and segment talent in this manner.

Instinct vs. insights: How can data help talent management?

When drafting a definition, or multiple definitions, of what talent will look like in your organization, it is important to ensure this decision is supported by sound data and analytics. Any definition has to be based on the sort of qualities organizations are looking to foster, as well as setting a realistic standard that HR staff can use to inform decisions.

Historically, this was based on the gut instinct of HR managers who relied on their own experiences and perspectives. However, this approach opens the possibility for individual biases to enter the process. By introducing data to the equation, organizations are able to remove these personal biases from the equation.

This information also allows HR departments to more accurately analyze whether staff members are reaching the definition of talent that an organization has set.

This was underscored by the NTMN research. The study found the success rate for organizations when they attempt to predict the performance of an individual employee is around 51 percent. For organizations that want to boost this number so that their talent management strategies are aligned with their overall performance, the key is to have data on hand to inform this strategy.

The good news is that many decision makers within organizations are already pursuing these opportunities. Research from the Harvard Business Review found that 71 percent see HR as the main driver of value, while 43 percent feel investing in HR is a strategic priority. The study also cited the role that technology and data will play in delivering value to senior leaders.

As technology becomes even more central to human resources departments, leaders within these teams will need to be sure they are incorporating this information into every aspect of talent management. Beginning with something as simple as defining what talent looks is an important starting point for building a broader HR strategy. 

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