The Rise And Call Of The Chief Talent Officer

by Jonathan Hime on 08 June 2015

In a political election, every party clamours to put their policies across and appeal to the electorate. In their deliberations, many floating voters cut through the rhetoric and ask themselves which party is best for the economy. After all, if you get the economy right the rest will surely follow. In turn, there is a widely held belief in business that if you get the people right the rest will follow.

It stands to reason that shareholders might expect ‘leadership risk’ to feature as a disclosure within every publicly listed company’s annual report, yet that is not the case. Were it to do so, the key mitigant might well be the rise of the Chief Talent Officer.

Traditional CEOs have not bought into the role of Chief Talent Officer

The concept of the Chief Talent Officer first surfaced some fifteen years ago. A number of innovative CEOs, especially in the US, have adopted it but most have not.  That points to a lack of understanding of the strategic importance of talent management in corporate stewardship.

Whereas most CEOs have accepted that sustainability should be an integral part of their business model and not just an add-on, talent management remains peripheral and still tends to be developed reactively. There is a danger that CEOs are undervaluing investment in their most important asset and failing to identify the skill gaps that need to be bridged if their companies are to retain market position in the long run.

HR Directors are too bogged down in the day to day

Most HR Directors do not have their heads in the sand. They just can’t lift them above the operational parapet. They have an endless list of responsibilities that are both strategic and tactical. These range from recruitment and performance appraisals to compensation & benefits, disciplinary procedures, engagement surveys, employee relations, change management programmes and even culture building.

They recognise the need to separate out the Chief Talent Officer role but are not persuading their CEOs to see the light. While the focus of the HR Director is more often than not the short and medium term, the Chief Talent Officer is all about the longer term horizon.

Talent mapping should underpin investment in people

Mapping should be at the heart of the Chief Talent Officer’s talent management strategy. As part of the overall business strategy, it is vital for companies to predict the skill sets required for the future and have a clear plan for delivering corresponding talent.  This can be both inward and outward facing.

Within the company, identifying high performing employees is only the first step – it is also necessary to identify whether or not they can adapt to meet future challenges and, if so, how they can be equipped to do so. Internal talent mapping often leads to leadership assessment, coaching and development programmes to prepare ‘A players’ for the critical roles of the future.   

Pipelining is a two-way process

Looking outwardly, the Chief Talent Officer needs to mastermind a networking strategy to build an external bench of talent. This should be a continuous process. It takes time, effort and dedication to play the long game, reaching out, warming up and finding common ground. The goal is to convert interest to attraction and that demands two-way dialogue.

The Chief Talent Officer must use their antennae to gauge external perceptions and feed back to the company’s Communications function, in terms of reputation and profile, and to the HR function, in terms of employee satisfaction and resulting exposure in social media. Attraction is not all based on looks, but on deep-seated corporate characteristics. It needs working at to bring top talent to the table, not just available talent.

Succession planning is a key part of the equation

Another key output from talent mapping is succession planning. The Generation Y Millennials’ career paths are far more fluid and unpredictable than those of previous generations.  The Chief Talent Officer can use that to their advantage, retaining close contact with leavers and attracting them back once they have gained valuable experience and insight elsewhere. 

It is also important to have a watertight succession plan in place that covers potential talent loss. Again, the Chief Talent Officer’s line of sight is fixed on the horizon, focusing on the skills the company will need and the appropriate talent to match. The common mistake of selecting employees based purely on past performance must be avoided as it is not necessarily a guarantee of future eligibility.

 In a fast changing business world, the call of the Chief Talent Officer is clearer than ever. CEOs around the globe must grapple with a host of forward looking issues, including sustainability, digital transformation and market risk. But there is a danger that many are overlooking the pivotal issue for ongoing success – the right people - and they do so at their peril. If talent management is not integral to a company’s business strategy, its stakeholders should have major cause for concern.