Talent management - implications for relocation professionals

Talent management is an ill-defined concept that means different things to different people. Sue Shortland explores the spectrum of issues that relate to it and explains the implications for relocation professionals.

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Talent management is an ill-defined concept that means different things to different people. Sue Shortland explores the spectrum of issues that relate to it and explains the implications for relocation professionals.HR professionals are well known for inventing new terms to describe and explain their multitudinous roles within organisations. So much so that the terminology is often accepted and used in everyday conversations without any depth of understanding of what it means - thus running the risk that we are talking about different issues while using the same descriptors for them. Examples from relatively recent HR speak include 'competencies' and 'business partnering'. Today, one of the top HR concerns is 'talent management'. But what exactly is talent? How can it be managed? And how is this concept related to the work of relocation professionals?Defining talentWebster`s Dictionary defines talent as 'any innate or special aptitude'. Everyone, therefore, has talents of some kind, but, in a business sense, talent has to refer to the use of such aptitudes in achieving business success. Talent is found throughout an organisation - although, for some, managing talent refers to paying attention primarily to those at the top. By contrast, for others, it involves identifying the top x per cent of achievers at all levels in the organisation and focusing developmental activities on them to enable them to do better for the good of the organisation. In defining talent, we are also considering two angles: rare talent (only) and potential talent (yet to be identified and unleashed).Identifying talented people (either rare or potential) and focusing on developing them alone sounds an excellent organisational strategy - invest in the best - but, by so doing, it is likely that those who are not identified as 'talented' are demotivated. Thus, having a focus for talent in just the top x per cent (10 per cent? 20 per cent? - where is the cut-off?) can undermine motivation as a whole within an organisation. HR discusses talent management as if it`s all-embracing. Yet, interestingly, many definitions do not see it this way; rather they tend to focus on limited aspects of people management. At a recent CIPD International Forum, Charlie Atkinson from Human Factors (UK) provided three definitions of talent management for discussion:Managing the employee lifecycle to ensure best performanceIdentifying, motivating, and retaining top performersAligning the right people with the right jobs at theright time - and at the right cost.The relocation industry has longidentified with the third of these - the CBI Employee Relocation Council used a similar descriptor long before the term talent management was ever invented.The four pillars of HRAll of these definitions are vague - they cover aspects ofthe people management function but are not comprehensive. The range of functions and activities that impact on talent management are therefore worthy of discussion here. If we are to embrace the term 'talent management' we need to see it within a broader context. The role of HR is underpinned by four key pillars of activity: recruitment and selection; training and development; reward (including motivation, compensation and performance management); and employee relations. These four functions provide the key to managing talent successfully, and it is from these that relocation professionals can draw their lessons.Virtually all references and definitions relating to talent management include the first stage of the people management process: hiring the right people into the organisation. These may have rare, latent or hidden talents. This aspect of talent management may involve recruiting externally and/or from within to fill specific vacancies at home or abroad. To undertake this, skills, knowledge and competencies must be assessed and matched to positions. For relocation professionals, ensuring that the recruitment and selection process is effective in terms of managing mobility, housing and family issues is crucial to ensuring talent is available where and when needed. New recruits from outside the organisation may be needed to move to take up their roles; existing staff may be required to move to fill new/developmental positions.Training and development is a critical part of talent management. To harvest people`s aptitudes, training is required to enable best use of talent. Developmental interventions are much longer term in their implementation than training - they result in individuals changing as people through crossing new thresholds of significance in their lives. Mobility is frequently used as a talent development strategy. To experience new and more demanding roles may require movement away from a known office or plant to a different location - in the same country or in another.To support development, mentoring is particularly helpful as it provides individuals with a senior source of support. For relocation professionals, managing developmental moves is a key part of their role.The reward aspects cannot be underestimated in talent management. Many definitions refer to motivating individuals - this is clearly required if they are to stay and use their talents for the benefit of their employer. Although reference to performance management is made, there is typically little focus on compensation and development and how these interrelate with performance reviews and associated feedback. This is a very complex area - organisations require performance at the highest levels for business efficiency and effectiveness, but the reward structure that underpins this cannot be divorced from development initiatives. In the relocation contex,t this is a particularly thorny area, especially when international moves are involved. Performance-related pay needs to be tied to home/host country results in such a way that individuals are rewarded for their contribution in their destination location while reflecting the pay structures used to reward them (potentially based on their home country). Relocation professionals may not be involved directly in pay determination, but they are certainly involved in advising on cultural implications. Performance measurement is culturally influenced, and individuals attempting to meet performance targets in a different cultural environment require a period of adjustment in order to acculturate.The key HR pillar that does not seem to feature within talent management definitions but which is key to success revolves around employee relations. The management of communications is absolutely critical, as it impacts on all the other aspects of people management. In relocation, this is perhaps the number one issue. Communicating with both individuals and families is vital not only to keep them up to date and to ensure a smooth move but also to maintain productivity and facilitate development. Employees' motivation, and hence their desire to stay with their employer and to use their talents for their organisation`s benefit, is inextricably linked to communication. Of course, in relocation communication becomes trickier - employees are not based in one location - they are on the move and this mobility affects not just themselves but their families as well. Relocation professionals are, therefore, charged with extending communication way beyond the normal organisational sphere, to ensure spouses/partners, even children, are up to speed, involved and engaged with the relocation process.Context: culture and change managementAdded into the four pillars of HRM are the twinned issues of geographical and organisational culture. These present another layer of complexity and detail for the relocation professional in their input into talent management. These affect the practicalities of what can be done in relation to all of the four main HR functional areas. Societal culture, intertwined with organisational culture, determines actions that work effectively in relation to: recruitment and selection; training and development; and reward and employee relations. Here, the relocation professional can make a big impact on talent management, providing cultural knowledge to guide HR practice.Finally, the economic climate has to be considered as a contextual factor. We are, no doubt, working through very difficult economic conditions within a context not experienced before. In times of increasing redundancies, it might be expected that talent shortages should not be an issue. However, as the going gets tougher, so the demand to employ the very talented gets greater. Only the very best will do as organisations hone down on numbers but hone up on skills. This is a different scenario from past recessions - only those organisations which maintain a tight focus on talent management will be able to attract, develop and retain the best people, thus ensuring organisational success. This places even greater demands on relocation professionals to adopt a strategic focus as mobility becomes increasingly challenging to manage. The very best talent is also needed within the relocation function itself. Relocation professionals are therefore charged with two missions - to facilitate organisational talent management while ensuring their own talent identification, development and retention.Don't miss your opportunity to recognise the brightest and best in relocation - see page 32 for details of how to enter the Re:locate Awards 2008/9.