Strategic Talent Management

Few CEOs today question the importance of talent to their business. But how many genuinely align the organisation’s strategy with its talent needs? They may say that human capital is their primary concern but too often, ‘talent management’ is relegated to the HR department. This allows vital decisions about the organisation’s future to evolve in siloes – and it’s an outdated approach to organisational transformation.

”Work in the human capital dimension underpins many of the company’s most important decisions about where and how to compete,” according to a recent article by Accenture consultancy.

Selection firm Heidrick & Struggles even notes the emergence of a new discipline, ‘strategic talent management’, among FTSE companies. However, it is a role that has yet to find its place among senior executives.

This is perhaps the only consistent thing about talent management in organisations: there is little direct connection between big-picture strategy and human capital requirements. A KPMG report found that while 81 per cent of business leaders claimed to regard talent as key, only 17 per cent believed HR did a good job in leading that strategy.

This does both HR and the organisation a disservice: “The only route to improved performance is by placing your human resource at the centre of your strategic decision-making,” according to author and London Business School professor Lynda Gratton.

What is needed is a more strategic approach to talent that moves the discussion beyond HR and into the boardroom. It means hardwiring ‘strategic talent management’ into the overarching business plan, and placing it under the leadership of the CEO.

Thinking and acting strategically about talent gives strategy
focus. It’s about getting the right people in the right places at the right time. It is outdated to relegate concepts such as ‘culture’ or engagement to any single division within business: as the recent banking scandals have amply demonstrated, corporate culture is at the heart of any organisation that employs people.

“Talent sits with all parties on the board. It doesn’t matter what role you have: you cannot ignore what is going on in other parts of the business,” says Jon Coverdale, UK HR director at Inchcape former group HR director (CS&S) at BAE Systems. “If only the HR person is interested in talent, that’s a worry – it indicates a degree of myopia on the board.”

There is absolutely a role for talent at the boardroom table and good CEOs will have an HR director there, but it’s a collective responsibility. This, argues Harvard Business School’s John Kotter, is what separates leaders from managers: leadership, he says, is about “taking an organisation into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster” and successfully exploiting them. But it is also “about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change.”

Traditional views of strategic talent management have one thing in common: they relegate it to the domain of Human Resources or organisational development (OD) practitioners. CEOs may well acknowledge the importance of talent, but many still see it less in terms of strategy and more in terms of tactics and role filling.

We believe it is essential to hardwire strategic talent management into business planning processes and place it under the direct leadership of the CEO and the senior team.


  • A CEO’s Guide
  • An HR Leader’s Guide
  • White Paper

If you would like a copy of these materials, please email quoting ‘STM’ and we will send you the download links.