It’s Time For HR to Do Things Differently

Article main image
Feb 15, 2017

It’s an age-old problem – sticking in the comfort zone of the tried and tested, clutching tightly to tools and techniques just because we have experience of them.

But with times rapidly changing, we need to get better at meeting the needs of a disrupted world. Better means bolder – and talent management holds the reins to both.

Old beliefs for a new approach

Rather than just criticise the old favourites like high potential programmes, and diss the outdated 9-box grid, we must offer something new. A future approach, starting with new perspectives on some traditional beliefs:

  • Potential is not a fixed, concrete thing: Potential is contextual. It ebbs and flows depending on the individual and organisation’s context. So it needs to be recognised through an equally fluid approach, rather than an annual talent review cycle.
  • Really fab people will always do well: The insecure-overachievers who got straight As and excel at grad scheme assessment centres will always find ways to achieve and get recognised. It’s the majority languishing in the middle of the 9-box grid that need more attention and effort to thrive.
  • We employ grown-ups who are responsible for their own careers: HR is an enabler, but not the answer. Whether we seek control because we’re compensating for poor managers or because we want things to happen, we must relinquish control if we’re going to equip our organisation for the future.
  • We risk backing the wrong horses if line manager judgement is our only determinant of talent: Any system that is driven by line managers’ subjective views is fundamentally flawed. This is not because they’re rubbish managers (well, some of them are) but because we are all susceptible to rater bias. Be wary of backing the wrong horses.


Numerous factors are re-shaping talent management in a disrupted world.

  1. We have flatter organisations (25% flatter apparently). The traditional climb up the managerial ladder isn’t as obvious and available as it once was.
  2. Life longevity, better health and poorer pensions mean more people can’t face 30+ years of daytime TV. They want/need to carry on working.
  3. There are more varied employment options now. Staying as a permanent employee for 40+ years is a lot less likely.
  4. Artificial intelligence is not taking many knowledge-based jobs yet. But it will. When it does, HR will undoubtedly need a re-think.

So what does this brave new world of talent management look like?

Talent communitiesHR will need to extend its talent attraction and management scope. Gain insights into the capabilities, aspirations and availability of people outside companies to provide the necessary injection of talent. Essential if we’re going to be able to deploy talent at the pace that’s needed.

Focusing on the majority — Gone are the programmes that seek to cream off the top and give them everything. Focus will be on the majority of employees increasing their performance and potential. HR will need to equip line managers with the ability – and also the incentives – so this can happen.

Process-lite — Cumbersome processes that take months to complete will disappear. Individuals will have career conversations rather than an annual performance review. They’ll demonstrate how they’ve grown not by some complicated form but through their CV or LinkedIn profile.

From competency bingo to strength building — Instead of a rigid set of competencies that have to be ticked off, focus will be on understanding peoples’ strengths and the unique contribution they can make. Organisations, teams and roles will change and flex to accommodate these strengths not the other way round.

Sound like an impossible dream? Naive? Not when you consider that much of this is already happening in some organisations. Whether it’s Zappos’ approach to talent acquisition, LinkedIn’s career paths or Aviva’s strength based recruiting, HR is questioning the traditional talent management methods and finding new ways of meeting the needs of a disrupted world. It’s time for something different. It’s time to experiment.