Four key tips to help you develop a successful talent strategy

Many talent programmes just pay lip service to what a true strategy involves. Mohamed Ameen shares a model that can dig beneath the surface to deploy a more immersive approach

Many professionals believe that articulating an organisation’s talent strategy is similar to deploying a list of talent programmes, processes and practices. While these components enable a talent strategy, they are not a talent strategy by themselves.

A talent strategy is a business strategy. It should be informed by (and inform) your organisational strategy. Organisations create a talent strategy by focusing most on critical talent outcomes deemed vital to executing the organisation’s strategy.

Ideally, the talent strategy will address why and in what ways the organisation must attract, develop and retain talent. A more progressive strategy might also address the importance of mobilising and empowering talent, optimising the employee experience and improving diversity, equity and inclusion.

Business leaders expect a talent strategy capable of maximising the relevance and impact of “all we do to build organisational talent”, of fuelling the competitive performance of the organisation and addressing its future challenges.

As part of my research-based series (The FACTORS), I have developed The Context Model of Talent Strategies, which guides on building and executing effective talent strategies. The model presents four key steps towards creating a successful talent strategy.

Step 1: identify the business context of the talent strategy

A best-in-class talent strategy is built upon a clear understanding of the organisation’s maturity, the current talent landscape and the organisation’s competitive environment. Executives need to know the “why” behind how a talent strategy can move the business forward. As a talent leader, you need to plan for an executive-level talent discussion, through which you can identify the organisation’s business context that will drive the talent strategy. To do so, your talent discussion must end with clear understanding and identification of three elements: organisation’s priorities, key business drivers, and the key organisational capabilities.

Key questions that can inspire your executive-level talent discussion might include the following:

  • What are the strategic objectives and aspirations of the organisation? Where is the organisation placing its strategic bets for future success? How will the organisation differentiate itself from its competitors?

  • From a talent perspective, what must be true for the organisation to achieve its objectives? Which challenges are significantly slowing achievement of goals or degrading its ability to execute its strategy? What, if put in place, would significantly accelerate achievement of goals, or enhance its ability to execute its strategy?

Your executive-talent discussion must end with clear strategic alignment with the organisation’s business context, and an agreement on the key talent promises or outcomes the talent strategy shall deliver.

Step 2: build-up the talent strategy’s themes and initiatives

While the determined strategic drivers and promises will serve as the cornerstone of the strategy, defining the functional themes, goals and initiatives is still strategically critical to ensure the delivery of the strategy’s promises.

Step two is to link the key drivers/promises with specific talent themes/initiatives. It is advisable here to run internal talent-team meetings to discuss the key promises, how to link them to the talent practices and the functional activities. Start with diagnosis of the whole situation, understanding the full landscape, challenges and ends with a proposal of the most convenient initiatives. Think of prioritising the potential initiatives by considering the following three-dimensions approach:

  • Organisational impact — The extent to which the initiative will positively impact the organisation and create value

  • Complexity — How much the initiative requires coordination and buy-in

  • Investment — The degree to which it requires resources or adjustments to team responsibilities.

Then, you can analytically separate them into four categories:

a. Actionable initiatives that should be prioritised for execution and given preference for resource allocation

b. Priority initiatives that should be prioritised based on availability of resources

c. Initiatives for careful consideration about timing and sequencing based on capacity to complete the work

d. Initiatives to be parked or shelved for future consideration.

Step 3: define the strategy’s resources, ownership and success measures

If you have a strategy to deliver, then you need resources to accomplish its promises. A talent strategy needs various types of resources including the following:

  • People – think of the additional team members needed within the strategy’s timeframe and consider such investment needed

  • Financial investment – all the type of investments needed to deliver the strategy’s promises. This should cover consultation services, solutions providers, systems and platforms

  • Timeframe – time is a key resource you need to consider in your strategy and highlight it in alignment to the strategy phases, planned promises and deliverables.

Additionally, the talent strategy should determine the owners for the key deliverables and the success measures for all the initiatives. This approach will drive clarity and accountability.

Step 4: communicate the strategy and get the buy-in

Ideally, you need to implement this step from the start until you end with the approved version of your talent strategy.

Your role is to communicate and educate the business leaders on the talent strategy, its strategic promises, the key themes and initiatives, the deliverables and resources. Communicating each step within the strategy formulation until you produce the final draft will ensure getting the full understanding and sponsorship needed from the business leaders’ side. It is advisable to ensure running a series of meetings to present the strategy components, gather the business leaders’ thoughts and concerns and then reflect them.

Adopting such an approach will ensure getting the buy-in, presenting the talent strategy as a business-value driven area and socialising the delivery of the talent strategy across the business units.

Mohamed H Ameen is global thought leader in talent management