100 Years of Talent Management

Over the last one hundred years, the economy has gone through several stages in which success has been defined differently. Each stage has had its own structure, governing patterns, roles, talent practices and assumptions about people.

The Industrial Age was when the economy was manufacturing oriented. A few people made decisions, command and control was vital and employees were like replaceable machine parts. People were considered a cost to be controlled. The Knowledge Age developed as the economy became more service-oriented. Decision-making was pushed down the organization and to more people. The knowledge worker phrase was coined and people were viewed as potential assets.

In the Global Talent Age, success is defined differently. To be successful organizations must innovate, be agile, respond to change quickly and encourage creativity. Organizations are no longer huge and monolithic, but rather consist of value chains of various companies, countries and suppliers. In this age the “right talent, and not all employees,” is the most valued asset.

This provides an example of different skills being important in different eras.  In the industrial age, it is all about economies of scale, efficiency and control.  Because this defined economic success, this is what managers were expected to do.  As the economy moved to the service sector, success meant something different; and managers had to adapt and adjust.

In the Talent or Creative Age success is characterized by innovation, agility and speed of choice; all of which are highly talent-dependent.  The manager in the Talent Age needs to become a talent leader to unleash and leverage the capabilities of people.  And to do that, talent leaders need to also become experts at workforce planning.

Workforce planning is a very underdeveloped practice in most Talent Age organizations. This stems from the fact that talent management has not been viewed as a strategic process but rather as people practices that are administrative and operational in nature. This is a dangerous perspective from the Industrial Age. Most businesses have no talent plans at all and will therefore be impacted greatly by retirements, downsizing and other external and internal factors.

One of the most difficult aspects of workforce planning is predicting future skills needed, not just extrapolating current skills into the future. This is part of the art of workforce planning. But there is great opportunity for organizations to do workforce planning right and for it to make a vital difference by helping to get unstuck from the middle between in the present and future success of the organization.

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