10 reasons talent strategies fail
Have you ever sat in a training course with no idea how to relate the lessons to your everyday job? Or been asked by a line manager to carry out a task you can see no purpose for?
If so then your experience is not uncommon: you’re the victim of ineffective talent management. The good news for you is you can move job; the real victim here is the employer.
Our research shows that more than two-thirds of HR professionals believe their organisation has a talent management strategy.
Despite this, roughly the same proportion of employers surveyed by US jobs board CareerBuilder in 2012 said their company had been affected by a bad hire that year.
And a 2015 poll by UK recruitment experts Robert Half found that seven in 10 HR directors had hired someone who did not meet expectations.
An effective talent strategy considers the goals and aspirations of an organisation, looks at the macro and micro climate it is operating in, and identifies the type of people needed to drive success.
It sounds relatively straightforward. So why do talent strategies fail?
1. Talent is not defined
It is a simple, everyday word but do you ever stop to think what talent means for
you? It could be very different to what it meant to your predecessor, or your
competitor, or the unrelated business up the road.
To work out what talent means for your organisation, start by clarifying the following:
the behaviours, expertise, strengths, aspirations, engagement and intelligence
characteristics required to achieve your organisation’s goals.
These qualities can be used to draw up a blueprint for talent.
Once you’ve done this, you are on the way to making your talent strategy work.
2. Lack of communication
Organisations often fail to match their corporate strategies with their recruitment
Boards or HR leaders may draw up talent strategies, but then fail to pass them down
This could result, for example, in a line manager choosing someone for their
empathy and collaboration, when the business needs hard-nosed decision makers.
Employees should be given regular feedback about how they are and, are not
demonstrating the attributes the company wants.
Identifying desired attributes should be part of the fabric and the language of the
3. Return on investment isn’t measured
Talent and development budgets have been slashed in the past few years by
organisations looking to get leaner in the difficult economic climate.
But they should be investing in their people if they want to survive and thrive.
The return on this investment should also be measured.
Use technology such as Talent Analytics to prove how the spending on talent is
When it comes to budgets and board meetings, HR directors should use data to
compete confidently with other parts of the business.
4. Focusing inward
Less than a third of organisations use their talent strategy to differentiate themselves
from competitors, according to our survey.
All too often recruitment teams focus on their own problems, working out what they
need to fill current gaps and put out fires. Instead they should be looking outwards at
what the business needs to do well now and in the future.
A successful talent strategy should always look externally to consider the market -
and wider factors such as the economy, the environment and society - before
deciding what skills an organisation should recruit and develop.
5. Not enough accountability
Psychologists use a term called bystander apathy, which means that the more
people are in attendance when someone needs help, the less likely anyone is to act.
This phenomenon can work against talent strategies when all employees wait for the
broader business to develop talent.
Ideally individuals should be responsible for their own development. Businesses
should tell staff that they are the masters of their careers and they can take
ownership of their training.
It is about culture, line manager advice and having tools available. Aside from being
more likely to act, people learn better when they come to training themselves, rather
than being told to do it.
6. Confusion of talent with performance
Don’t get confused between talent, performance, potential and readiness. They are
You could be ready for a certain role but still not have the future potential the
business wants. You could be performing well in one job but not be ideal for the next.
Yet we often see people wrongly promoted for these reasons.
At BeTalent we believe it is best to focus on potential: the possibility of someone
fitting with future corporate requirements.
To find potential, tools are needed to measure employees’ aspirations, engagement
We use carefully designed questionnaires, case studies and ratings from reports and
line managers as well as reported skills and other methods.
We use software to analyse the results and make sure we correctly identify each
7. Obscured vision
There must be a clear link from a talent strategy to the tools used to carry it out.
Many people are wrapped up in jargon and lose sight of what a company wants from
them. They start to switch off.
It is important to give people a clear indication of why they are being asked to do
certain things at work, whether that be day-to-day tasks, training courses or talent
Ultimately they need to know how their activity is helping to create the skills and
outcomes that will help the company achieve its aims.
8. Looking for average
When candidates have to score at least 3 out of 5 in every section of an assessment
to get hired, you are choosing to recruit average people.
A system will often be set up to reject people who have shortcomings in certain
areas, despite them having strengths elsewhere.
Only 1 per cent of people come out strong on everything, in our experience.
So don’t worry what people can’t do, or are weak at.
Instead, focus on their strengths and passions, and choose people where these are
aligned to what you need.
9. Over-reliance on competencies
If you want to understand how people will operate, you need to assess every
competency at least twice when recruiting.
Using different lenses – whether it be interviews, case studies, questionnaires, or
conversations with line managers or direct reports – will enable you to get a grip on
their values, their strengths, their behaviours, skills and aspirations.
This gives you a better picture of the individual than solely focussing on
competencies. You need to know how to motivate them and retain them.
Talent strategies need to adapt as organisations and their environments change.
Having rigid solutions that never change - or competency models that are used in
every department of a big employer - will hold back the effectiveness of your talent
You can work really effectively to bring in talented people, but they may not be the
people your business needs today or tomorrow.
In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world we need agile talent strategies
more than ever before.
Keep your strategy under constant review and be willing to adapt.
Written by Dr Amanda Potter, Chartered Occupational Psychologist and CEO of BeTalent and Zircon Management Consulting