Five building blocks for building a structured talent strategy

12 April 2018 6 min. read

Disruptive technologies like Big Data, IoT and AI are rocking industries at an unseen pace. As companies navigate the change, they are inevitably faced with an increasing skills gaps in the digital realm. How big the skills gap issue will be was highlighted in a recent report from the European Commission, which found that Europe could face a shortage of more than 800,000 skilled ICT workers by 2020. 

Building a future-proof recruitment model in an era of growing talent scarcity is however a daunting task, says Jelle Vermeiren, a consultant at Hightech Partners, an executive search and digital transformation consulting firm based in Belgium. 

Those that aim at successfully bridging the gap will have to invest significantly in their talent management and succession planning processes. “Achieving this requires a well-defined talent strategy for the digital age. In addition, business leaders need to take action when it comes to re-skilling the workforce.” On top of these two factors, the talent advisor adds that talent management should transition from its isolated focus within HR to become a more integral part of a company’s culture, with accountability and support needed at every level of the organisation. 

Vermeiren sets out five levers for building a structured talent strategy:

1. (Re-)Define talent

Given the current and upcoming evolutions of technology, companies will need new types of leaders. Over the past few years there has been a bigger focus on executive positions such as Chief Digital Officer, Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Information Security Officer, and Data Privacy Officer. These roles are often defined by a set of required hard skills, but there is a drastic change in soft skills needed to fill such digital leadership roles. There is also a large shift in the meaning behind these titles, with a focus on responsibility rather than hierarchy.

Five building blocks for building a structured talent strategy

The digital skills gap is defined by a combination of specific hard and soft skills. To overcome this gap, companies need to redefine their ideas of talent. To illustrate this, the IBM’s Global C-Suite Study found that CEO’s of the most successful companies are more focused on experimentation and agility to drive disruptive innovation, and people are central to their strategies for organisational reinvention. Client centricity, emotional intelligence, willingness to change the ‘status quo’, the ability to carry out people management in horizontal not hierarchical ways, and the ability to thrive in times of change will be key personality aspects found in any successful digital leader.

2. Identify and assess talent

Talent can sometimes be found within an organisation where one does not expect to find it. Once a talent has been identified, it is crucial for a company to allow these employees to make lateral moves in a simple way. Reskill or upskill talented employees and support internal mobility and job rotation to cover the digital skills gaps.

Externally, change talent sourcing procedures if they’re not successful, and take advantage of new technologies to increase diversity and bring on board new skills. For example, in 2016, Unilever started using AI for entry-level recruitments, and as a result, the diversity of their workforce increased significantly. 

Work with trusted advisors with industry specific knowledge, look to new geographical regions, stimulate cross-border activity and target universities to uncover new talent. Attract and retain talent by making sure your company stands out as a ‘hot’ place to work, and if necessary work on your company branding to attract HIPO’s. 

3. Develop a communication plan & provide feedback

Employees should be aware of the companies’ talent strategy and the possibilities for personal and career growth. Communicating clearly (preferably directly by the CEO) to HIPOs about targets and about their status will raise awareness and motivation. This buy-in will translate to commitment to the development programme and make sure that all stakeholders are aligned.

Quote Jelle Vermeiren, Hightech Partners

4. Provide strategic developmental experiences

Lifelong learning should be a mantra in talent management, especially during times of disruptive change. Combining formal training programs with challenging projects will enable high potential talent (HIPOs) to develop new skills while taking on different responsibilities. Most development occurs through on-the-job challenges, so having structured ‘high potential programme’ that facilitates such opportunities is important. Keep the baby boomers’ wisdom and ‘turn silver into gold’ by passing on knowledge to next-generation leaders. 

5. Measure success

According to one research, a majority of companies have a process in place for succession planning but most of them struggle with achieving the right ROI, while also admitting that their programmes are out of sync with what the key human capital objectives. Yet another study highlight, among others, is that 73% of the HIPO programmes don’t have a positive ROI and 64% of the HIPOs are not satisfied with their development experience.

It’s clear that there is still a long way to go. Therefore, setting up clear KPI’s and continuously measuring the success and understanding the failures of the implemented processes is vital to build and maintain a successful talent strategy. Take on a customer-centric approach with HIPOs to reflect on their development experiences and provide mutual feedback on: new skills/knowledge acquired; operational efficiency that enables better leadership; improved communication skills, and; time spent on training and effectiveness of delivery method.