Saturday Shoutout!!! Should HR Drive the Talent Bus?

Saturday Shoutout!!!  Should HR Drive the Talent Bus?

Issue 3 | Number 1 | 11 August 2012

In the first articleHR Conquers their Waimea Bay Pipeline Dream we explored why high-value HR executives should have a “seat at the table” with an organisation’s other high level leaders. Is this simply a pipeline dream for many in HR?  How important is this strategic presence to HR’s success? And do employees, line managers and executives agree on the relative importance of HR?

In this second article around the continuing theme of HR’s seat at the boardroom table, I share an article by Cathy Bussey – ‘Talent is driving the global economy – HR Directors need to ensure their competitive advantage in the boardroom‘. As talent is driving the global economy – HR directors need to ensure their competitive advantage in the boardroom’ – prompted me to question my beliefs around talent managment and should HR has this responsibility.

Talent is an enabler for private companies, governments and academic institutions to close skills gaps and remedy talent shortages, while also moving more to employability and employment. But assigning responsibility for talent management – in that it might not be up to HR directors to devise a talent strategy any longer – poses challenges to businesses, not least because the nature of talent is changing.

And putting this into the context of HR, other than the loss of the very people that keep them in business, the customers, there is no bigger risk to leaders of global organisations than a shortage of talent.

When it comes to business, a knowledge of talent management is of major competitive advantage in the boardroom for any HR director, because, as the research proclaims in bold print, business success fundamentally boils down to talent. In this tough environment, businesses have to adapt not only to survive but to bring innovation and creativity to the table – impossible without the right talent.

But assigning responsibility for talent management – in that it might not be up to HR directors to devise a talent strategy any longer – poses challenges to businesses, not least because the nature of talent is changing.  Traditionally, responsibility for talent lay with the HR department, as part of its overall people remit. But it is impossible for HR directors to have a detailed working knowledge of every individual in a company numbering hundreds or even thousands of people.

HR then turns to line managers to utilise their in-depth knowledge of the workforce, but as research from Roffey Park, published in HR magazine in February, revealed, the line resents ‘extra duties’ being foisted upon it, and can often view talent management as simply one more thing getting in the way of the day job.

“We in HR constantly think ‘why aren’t line managers doing this?’,” says Hannah Sandford, head of business psychology at HR consultancy, ETS. “We don’t give them enough credit for the fact that it is really difficult, and line managers are not experts in talent management. For the line, it is just an extra thing to do.”

Andrea Ranyard, L&D director at ITV, says HR must help line managers take ownership of the talent management agenda. “It is essential to involve line managers and they are very much central to the success of our talent strategy at ITV,” she says. “Managers are in the best possible position to nurture talent,” she says.

Niki Rouse, head of people at training venue supplier, etc., an employer of 250 staff in London and Birmingham, agrees. “In some of the more corporate or public sector organisations, HR tends to sit in an office, as opposed to being on the floor operationally and understanding what is happening in the business and seeing staff,” she explains. “Then you will rely on data that’s coming out of performance management or talent systems.

“You are always going to need line managers’ input, as they work with people in the day-to-day business.”

But Matthew Mellor, MD of search consultancy Armstrong Craven, has reservations that involving line managers in planning a talent pipeline might lack a strategic imperative. He fears using the line for talent management can be more of a cost-cutting exercise than a decision prompted by the needs of the business.

In this climate, we have seen a lot of businesses cut costs, and where departments – including HR – have been rationalised and resized, talent management has been put to the line,” he explains. But he adds: “Where businesses do this well, it is an opportunity to improve talent management.” According to Chris Phillips, VP for EMEA marketing at talent management consultancy Taleo, the ratio of line managers to employees is likely to be 1:5 or 1:10, whereas for HR staff it is more likely to be 1:100. So a realistic and effective talent-management solution incorporates both HR and the line. “HR’s role is to support and facilitate the process,” says ITV’s Ranyard.

But HR also needs to have accountability for talent management, and make sure it is being performed effectively.  Without support from HR, there is a threat managers could home in on individuals who remind them of themselves in some way – the ‘like me’ approach.

Managing talent within the organisation doesn’t stop at identifying the future stars of the business. They also need to be persuaded to stay. Miller advises ‘re-recruiting’ talent each year, sitting them down and explaining that they have been earmarked as future leaders within the organisation and asking what it will take to make them stay. “We often assume people are going to stick around, but has anybody actually asked them?” he muses.

The risk for HR is that incorporating the line into talent management risks the much-prized seat at the board table. Nick Holley, director of the Centre of Excellence at Henley Business School, says ultimately HR should not be put off by this. “What really matters is, are you influential?” Holley says. “Are you building the capability of your organisation? Sometimes that can be done more effectively behind the scenes, rather than at the boardroom table.”

So while the importance of talent for business has reached the top table suddenly, nor is it a fly-by-night buzzword. Talent strategy, like people strategy, needs to evolve – but Valerie Scoular, group HR director of Aegis Media, explains this doesn’t mean that HR directors need to be left out in the cold.

“In a world where talent is mission-critical for business success, line managers need to lead the charge on attracting and retaining top talent. Talented people want to work for inspirational leaders,” she says.

“HR’s role is to provide thought leadership and exciting talent opportunities to support managers in getting the best out of their people,” Scoular added.

“The best talent work happens when the individual, the manager and HR all work in partnership.”

Photo Credit: Newepicposting

If you find these updates useful, feel free to forward on to a work colleague or friend.

About the Author

To fulfil his professional and personal career aspirations, Tony Wiggins created ‘The HR Architect’ brand in 2009.  With a well-grounded focus and passion for HR, he thrives on working across his networks as a thought leader in ‘making a difference’ in the HR arena.

Tony Wiggins is the Founder and UX Editor of Saturday Shoutout!!! and The HR Architect Spends 5 Minutes with ….Tony utilises the blog ‘The HR Architect’ as a social media network and platform that empowers HR professionals to network, assist and support one another, spanning different countries, subcultures and niches.

Contact Tony at or @tonywiggin on Twitter.

One Response

  1. […] the second article, Should HR Drive the Talent Bus?, I shared an article by Cathy Bussey – ‘Talent is driving the global economy – […]

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