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Linking talent management practices with a company’s business, vision and strategy is a top issue for managers and one, which needs to be advanced even in a slow economy.

Deborah Peirce, Director, Global Talent Management, Baxter Healthcare Corporation, is a speaker at the marcus evans6th Annual Talent Planning and Leadership Development Conference taking place on 30-31 August in Chicago. She outlines the critical role of talent management in supporting a growth trajectory in today’s business environment.

What are the top talent management challenges for businesses today?

I think the field has developed some excellent processes that the business leaders appreciate and that add value. We are increasingly a well-defined specialty that has best in class talent management practices.  In financially challenging times, however, the business leaders invest their time and resources only when they see a direct link between our practices and their respective business mission and strategy.  It’s now more important than ever to understand your business’ key competitive advantage and align your talent management practices to it.  An example of this is to align your leadership behaviors with customer expectations and incorporate these behaviors across your talent processes.

The ‘war for talent’, which characterized the years up to the economic crisis, has been quelled as companies have fewer funds. Can companies look within to build their critical talent?

The question is about having ‘ready now’ talent for critically important positions.   If we look to build from within for “sell”, or revenue generating positions, our leadership development processes must be accelerated to keep pace with the demands of the market place to have ready-now critical talent.  Otherwise, the outside market will more than likely be the best supply of critical talent.  On the other hand, for critical positions that are focused on “make” or cost management, value is found in constantly improving current processes to maximize cost savings, so grooming talent from within makes a lot of sense.   Experiences tells me that most of us have  a 70:30 ratio across the organization (invent, make, sell, and support) where 70 per cent of our leaders on a succession plan are filled internally through a talent pool, and that 30 per cent typically are needed from the outside as a new hire.

What do you say to those who proclaim talent management and leadership development to be activities relegated to good times only?

I first always want to acknowledge what probably is in the business leader’s mind, which is, reducing expenses, or implementing cost containment measures, makes a bigger difference on the bottom line than increasing sales—even if you double sales, it doesn’t impact the bottom line in the same way as reducing expenses.     Therefore, to re-emphasize that our leadership development program will create greater leadership capacity to grow the business may fall on deaf ears during financially difficult times.   Alternatively, we may want to repeat what we hear from the business leaders themselves, which is, “…we’re currently in a downturn, but we still have to be ready for the upturn when it occurs—and, we don’t want to be caught flat footed”.   In our world, we too often dismantle our Talent Management programs to be a team player, when perhaps we should find ways to simplify and reduce.   I further would add that research is showing that talent management practices are most effective when processes are integrated (e.g. leadership/management development, with succession planning/talent reviews, and 360 degree assessments).   To re-build, of course, takes much more time and resources than working from an existing base in which the focus is to re-fine and integrate existing processes.

Is there a fear that progress made in leadership development and talent management by companies over the past decade might be wiped out as a result of excessive short-term thinking and non-strategic cost cutting?

Yes, there is always that fear.  I don’t think my experience is unique, we all have been a part of building and creating best-in-class talent management practices linked to the business strategy only to hit upon financial hard times and see our efforts dismantled to the point of being ineffective or lacking business support.    Even the best companies with best practices have short-term thinking when it comes to their talent management programs.

In the post crisis world we need leaders that inspire trust as well as imaginative and innovative talent that can rethink the company for a new reality. Is this truly attainable or just wishful thinking?

Yes, it’s absolutely attainable.   The literature and research on leadership is constantly evolving and integrating inter-disciplinary findings, such as new discoveries on how the brain works as it relates to new ways of thinking, new ways of listening, new ways of speaking.    How a leader brings out the best performance in others is the question I ask, and building trust is a very important variable.  Trust is built by being good at what you do (ability), providing a supportive work environment (benevolence), and being accountable for one’s actions, having congruence between one’s values and actions.   We need to emphasize and support these qualities in our development programs and integrate them in our talent management processes to create imaginative and innovative leaders.

The marcus evans 6th Annual Talent Planning and Leadership Development Conference will be held on 30-31 August in Chicago.

Interview by Maeve McGovern.

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