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Making Talent A Strategic Priority

From the McKinseyQuarterly…

“The War for Talent never ended. Executives must constantly rethink the way their companies plan to attract, motivate, and retain employees. “

by Matthew Guthridge, Asmus B. Komm, and Emily Lawson

I’m loving all the newsletters I’m now receiving – my morning oatmeal has never been so interesting. This article sparked some big questions for me… here’s the gist:

Exhibit 1: Business and HR leaders identify many reasons for an inability to deliver value through talent-management practices, and seven obstacles stand out.

Exhibit 2: The suitability of job candidates varies across countries as a result of language problems, educational systems, and cultural issues.

Exhibit 3: Executives do not see the HR function as having the influence and capabilities to shape effective talent-management strategies.

Exhibit 4: Organizations cannot afford to neglect the contributions of all but the highest-ranking employees.

Of particular interest to me was this excerpt:

Bolster HR
Ten years ago, HR specialists were preoccupied largely with formulating and managing standard processes—notably, recruitment, training, compensation, and performance management. We believed then, as we do now, that human resources should assert its influence over business strategy and provide credible and proactive counsel and support for the chiefs and line managers of individual business units. Only HR can translate a business strategy into a detailed talent strategy: for instance, how many people does the company need in order to execute its business strategy, where does it need them, and what skills should they have?


Unfortunately, the credibility and influence of HR executives have declined over the past decade, and the function has failed to develop many critical capabilities. According to our research, 58 percent of all line managers believe that the HR function lacks the wherewithal to develop talent strategies in line with a company’s business objectives, though only 25 percent of the HR professionals in our interviews agreed.

HR leaders need to widen their focus beyond senior management and better address the needs of the front line. “HR serves only the top layers,” complained one global HR director recently. “My head of HR in North America works only with the CEO—nobody knows her, and she doesn’t know where the talent lies in the business.”

In the same spirit, HR departments need to get a better feel for segmentation and internal marketing in order to create and define a number of different employee value propositions. HR managers at Southwest Airlines, for example, use such skills to treat its frontline contact employees as internal customers by researching their needs and preferences as energetically as the company’s marketers investigate those of its external customers.

Finally, HR directors should acquire deeper business knowledge. At Procter & Gamble, for instance, an aspiring HR manager is expected either to take a job in a plant or to work alongside a key-account executive to learn about a business unit and win the confidence of its managers. Coca-Cola Enterprises rotates top-performing line managers into HR positions for two or three years to build the business skills of its HR professionals and to make the function more credible to the business units.

As an HR professional, I agree with the need to ask and answer these questions: how many people does the company need in order to execute its business strategy, where does it need them, and what skills should they have? Also, the part about creating different employee value propositions, being able to effectively serve the front line, and acquiring deeper business knowledge are wonderful ‘main things’ to consider (and begs the bigger question of how do I acheive this?). Definitely a garden of rich learnings here!

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