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The evolution of talent strategies

Business Chief EMEA gains insight from Tom Tom, Webhelp and Alexander Manns Solutions on the evolution of talent strategies and best practices

|Oct 7|magazine16 min read

“Over the years, the conversation in HR has shifted from ‘How to Win the War for Talent’ to the more intelligent and strategic realisation that people drive competitive advantage,” comments Arne-Christian van der Tang, Chief HR Officer, TomTom. 

Van der Tang has seen the conversations around talent strategies concentrate their focus on three key areas:

  • Skills: relating to how organisations ensure their people are constantly learning and progressing
  • Deeper engagement: creating and protecting a genuinely inclusive company culture that attracts and retains talent
  • Personalisation: ensuring that employee experiences are tailored to drive success and provide support

Agreeing with van der Tang, Gillian Campbell, HR Director, Webhelp UK, says modern talent strategies are more geared towards acquiring individuals with intangible skills and potential, rather than a candidate’s time served and experience, with values becoming increasingly critical. 

“We are searching for talent that builds brands and can buy-in to organisational culture. We tend to want to look for good ‘organisational citizens’ and people who can learn and adapt their skills as things change, rather than the narrow candidate personas of the past. I think there is growing recognition that constantly moving people in and out of organisations is costly and unsustainable while nurturing and developing your own people through intelligent redeployment and progression builds necessary talent," comments Claudia Nuttgens, Global Head of Assessment and Development Consulting at Talent Collective, part of Alexander Mann Solutions 

The best method for developing a talent strategy

“An effective talent strategy must have the company’s mission at its core. It must be completely aligned with the business strategy,” comments Campbell. 

Some of the key elements of an effective talent strategy highlighted by Campbell include:

  • Having the right structure in place for employee engagement, rewards and developments
  • Establishing the role of the leader within the organisation
  • Developing a diversity and inclusion programme
  • Identifying internal talent - not just external talent - by developing dedicated initiatives for key groups in an organisation, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach
  • Ensuring that top talent is nurtured via their roles and projects

With this in mind, Campbell further highlights some of the key features required in order to achieve an effective strategy. “Structured feedback from employees is immensely valuable. It gives a company a clear idea of their people’s values, goals and expectations. We encourage our people to engage with their peer representative groups and to tell us what we should be focusing on via our engagement, mental health and wellbeing ambassadors.” 

Adding to what Campbell believes are important features, Nuttgens, comments that “for any effective talent strategy - in my view - the features are joined-up approaches that are collectively owned and supported by accountability and align with the wider organisational structure. I also believe workforce plans that are based on data will increasingly be vital in a more flexible employment landscape.”

When it comes to the role of a leader in developing and maintaining an effective talent strategy, Nuttgens comments that ”leaders need to be curious people and big thinkers who are not just interested in building functional empires, and are happy to listen to their colleagues and experts.” 

Agreeing with Nuttgens, van der Tang explains that “leadership is critical to nurturing a work culture that drives success. Finding a happy equilibrium between business goals and the needs of employees is something that the pandemic has majorly emphasised. Leaders need to ensure that their team are motivated and skilled enough to support key business functions. It is no longer enough to simply focus on inclusion but rather this aspect needs to be tied into understanding the mental and physical wellbeing of staff.”

In order to achieve this, Campbell details that, “a company should begin by putting a leadership framework in place to establish the behaviours that are expected from those responsible for taking the business forward. At Webhelp, we want our leaders to put people first, to enable and inspire high performance amongst their teams.”

Campbell also highlights that leaders need to be effective communicators that value and encourage respect between colleagues. “It is important to recruit in line with the leadership behaviours you want to see and develop the induction and performance review programmes in line with these behaviours and the company culture. In today’s world, leaders play an even more critical role in the execution of talent strategy. Leaders need to ensure that their talent is able to learn and has the capacity to do so while in the formal learning environment, and also through on the job practical application, ensuring that coaching and feedback are provided regularly.” 

The benefits and challenges of a talent strategy

“One of the most common challenges facing HR and the workforce is the ongoing war for talent,” comments van der Tang. “Organisations across the board need to stay competitive in order to attract and retain top talent. However, there is now the additional challenge of needing to be able to meet staffing requirements whilst responding to the impacting factors of Covid-19. With businesses having to pivot for business continuity purposes, talent strategies and activities may be put on the back-burner for a period of time.”

Agreeing with van der Tang, Nuttgens emphasises that, “the immediate challenges now are that we are constantly having to change and reduce costs. We are going to have bigger pipelines of talent post COVID-19 as more individuals seek new employment opportunities. Employers need to be fair but effective in the way they select, deploy and develop talent. In the end, the real challenge is getting all the right stakeholders to work together to create and develop a talent strategy. You need really visionary and assertive leadership for that.” 

This is something that Campbell at Webhelp has experienced within her organisation. “We have been evolving our organisational development strategy over the last few years and one of the key points is to ensure an effective use of talent identification, planning and management. Over this time, we’ve implemented talent identification, assessed and mapped all leaders and support roles. The main challenge we experienced in this process was to create awareness for all the key decision-makers focused on the benefits. As with most talent investments, it can take a couple of years for a strategy to bear fruit and the creation of suitable talent development opportunities for identified talent takes time to mature.”

However, van der Tang does contemplate that “on the other hand, this period of time also allows for teams to re-evaluate and refine their talent sourcing strategies, to be better prepared for the future. The benefit of doing so - and from having a talent strategy overall - is that it will allow the business to strategically source talent who align with the ethos and direction of the business, resulting in better staff retention rates, and improved employee experience.” 

Agreeing, Campbell reflects that “one of the key successes we had in our talent strategy was obtaining support and sponsorship from our senior team Now more than ever, it is critically important that we enable our people to take the time to develop themselves and prepare for future requirements.”

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