The global competition for talent – A way forward

The competition for talent never abates — even in times of economic downturn. Kwok Hoe Choy, Human Capital thought leader and speaker at a TRACC global conference in Shanghai, China, explains why, and suggests a way forward.

We’re again hearing the lament of employers about the increasing competition for talent. Organizations are losing their talented employees to competitors and are in turn unable to find required talents to fill open positions. To quote from a Deloitte report* on talent management, “There’s a paradox of scarcity among plenty … today’s high unemployment rate does not mean the talent will be there when you need it.”

Therefore, more organizations are now focusing time and effort on talent management, with some creating a dedicated talent management function.


Talent identification

A natural talent identification approach is to equate talent with performance — employees who are in the top 1 or 2 band of the company’s performance rating system are considered the company’s talent. This seemingly logical approach has a built-in difficulty: What do you do with employees who do well in one year but drop out of the top league the following year, or when they are moved to a different manager or different role? Are they then excluded from programs targeted to develop the organization’s talents?

Some practitioners have moved beyond performance ratings to look at factors driving long-term successful sustainable performance. This calls for establishing a competency framework (e.g., business acumen, analytical ability, and dealing with ambiguity) that helps to position employees at different performance contribution stages.

In a further refinement of the identification process, a dimension of potential contribution is added. Besides competencies that drive current performance, a series of competencies indicating ability for future contribution is included for consideration. A combination of current and future contribution ability then determines the employee’s talent position. There are variations to talent identification besides the current vs future contribution model. These include a framework built around leadership and functional competencies, among others.


“There’s a paradox of scarcity among plenty … today’s high unemployment rate does not mean the talent will be there when you need it.” – Deloitte Report on talent management


Establishing a competency framework is a necessary step for a robust talent identification process. A rigorous process of feedback and discussion with relevant stakeholders needs to be built into the organization to create ownership and engagement with the business for a sustainable partnership.


Talent assessment

Having identified the talents, a typical next step would be to assess them with a view to the development process. Just being talented is never enough. Some development level will still be required to prepare talents for the purpose of building the organization’s bench strength and succession planning.

Various assessment techniques are used, ranging from simple feedback and observation (of actual on-the-job behavior as seen by peers, leaders and team members) to a structured 360o feedback system, plus using sophisticated psychometric assessment tools and assessment centers. As part of the assessment process, it’s also common practice to build a profile of the organization’s talent in terms of experience, age group, tenure, etc.

In essence, the assessment phase helps organizations to gain a deep understanding of their talents’ development needs.


Talent development

Someone once told me that a talented sales manager of a major multinational company in a fast-developing country tendered his resignation and as part of the exit interview, was asked, “Why are you leaving? You’re one of our key talents!” The response was, “Really? I never felt that I was a key talent while here.”

We need to send a clear message to our talents that they’re valued. The development process is one of the most important tools to engage talents. A well-planned development process will send a strong message to the talents that they’re valued team members and they have a key role to play in the organization’s growth. An effective development process isn’t just about being selected to attend expensive and exclusive training programs — it’s also about engaging the employee in crucial face-to-face discussions with managers.

An effective talent development process is multi-pronged. At the very least it will include growth via skill and competency development, and engaging in personal discussions with managers and executive leadership members. A typical talent development process should include elements of self-leadership before proceeding to people and business leadership.


Career development and succession planning

In the exit interviews I’ve seen, career development is one of the most cited reasons for employees leaving an organization, even for top talents. Similarly, in the many employee engagement surveys I helped to manage, career development is one of the top issues that organizations need to address. On the other hand, while companies often are able to quote examples of such and such an employee who’s been given career growth opportunities, these are the exception rather than the rule.

What seems to be lacking is a visible path for employees to grow beyond their current role in the company, if they so choose. What employees, including top talents, seem to be looking for is a structure from which they can see opportunities to progress beyond where they are today — a framework with possibilities for career and professional growth.


Career development is one of the most cited reasons for employees leaving an organization, even for top talents.


Here are a few tenets of career development which are important for talent development and retention:

  • The availability of a career development framework carries more importance in the eyes of employees than its actual utilization. Companies regularly need to communicate clearly and maintain visibility of the career development framework. Whether employees use that is another matter.
  • Managers need to be trained to conduct effective conversations with employees on career coaching and professional growth.
  • Leaders need to create a culture of comfort around role changes and organizational career mobility. Managers themselves need to be comfortable and see the benefits of such moves to build advocacy for career development across all organizational levels.
  • Career development isn’t necessarily promotion. Development is a progressive series in the employees’ roles that prepare them to assume more responsibilities, which may or may not eventually lead to a promotion.
  • Employees own their career development. The company and managers provide the framework and facilitate the process.

If the foundations of talent management, i.e. identification, assessment, development and a career development framework, are well established, then the topic of succession planning is a seamless natural next step. The foundation processes will naturally map out where the talents in the company are and where they want to go. Then the company needs to establish a succession planning process to map the available talents to the organization’s business plans. These processes are all established with the aim of reviewing career opportunities arising from evolving business needs and mapping that to the available talent pool.

Talent management is more than a numbers game. Effective talent management is about having the following processes: inclusive talent identification, rigorous talent assessment, structured talent development and finally, aligning career development and succession planning with overall business strategy and organizational growth. Having talent is never enough!

* Has the Great Recession Changed the Talent Game?