Talent Management and the C-Suite

What is the way forward?

Despite the common rhetoric that ‘talent’ is integral to organisations and competitiveness and even ‘Talent Development Officers’ in some organisations, such as Comcast Cable, HR continues to struggle to have clout in the C-Suite.

Why does this situation exist and what are its implications for talent management?

The struggle within

This topic reflects a mix of twin issues. On the one hand, there is the long-standing antipathy, even hostility, by many towards the HR function and the CHRO’s position in the C-suite.

There is also a worrying trend – organisations filling the CHRO role with other business functionaries rather than career HR practitioners, with costs to HR career paths. Furthermore, most CEOs do not have HR backgrounds and are suspicious of a function too often lazily presented as ‘a cost’, ‘not adding value’, ‘only anecdotal successes, with no hard data to show evidence’ and even ‘blocking actions’. Yet, the organisation only exists because of its people and HR usefully prevents some of the more crass and stupid, unethical and even illegal behaviours of management.

On the other hand, there is the desire of HR to transform itself from its traditional reactive and administrative reporting model image towards being a more strategically integrated contributor to organisational performance. One route towards this is for CHROs to be involved in leadership succession plans and talent management. This can involve talent management in twin ways.

Looking more at the role

First, traditionally, HR has looked more at the post/job rather than the person and at the past with analysing historical patterns. However, building on HR information systems and shifting towards HR analytics can help HR be more proactive. HR analytics has its evangelical proponents who assert it is able to use more readily available ‘big data’, methods and models to find patterns and is sold as more ‘forward-looking’, predictive and even ‘data science’.

Talent management requiring the management of sophisticated recruitment, retention and career paths can be a way forward if HR can develop and produce pools of talent and pipelines of top-class internal candidates for senior roles in organisations.

Of course, globalisation, internationalisation and cross-border M&A and workforce demographic trends create greater diversity. This makes talent management more difficult to achieve and requires leaders with requisite skills to recognise this and manage such staff. This is especially as issues of Homophily with Relational Demography, Similarity Attraction and Social Identify Theory, that encourage bias, remain.

Less focus on technical expertise

Second, once people reach the C-suite, then technical and functional expertise matters ever less than people management skills, such as leadership, along with a strong grasp of business fundamentals. This reflects the seminal work of Katz (1955 Harvard Business Review) who suggested the mix of three developable skills (Technical, Human, Conceptual) changed in relative importance – basically less of the Technical, more of the others – the higher the post in the organisational hierarchy. HR’s talent management has a role here in terms of these requisite skills of those in the C-suite.

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