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Talent management is broken

Bbc radio 4 today programme | 28 december 2015

PA’s Lesley Uren, a people and talent expert, is interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme. Lesley discusses talent management and the results of PA’s survey of 71 Chief Executive Officers from global organisations. The survey found that the approach to talent in top companies is not working and that, although two thirds of CEOs rank talent management as one of their top five challenges, only a minority have a formal talent management approach in place. Lesley was asked the following questions:

What is wrong with the way firms are looking for talent?

“Talent and the way we are approaching it hasn’t really evolved since the 1940s. We are still using a lot of the same processes and the same tools that were developed back then. Yet we know that organisations and the world of work have transformed radically since that time.” 

What outdated tools are still being used today?

“Succession planning is a key example. We know that a lot of the jobs that will exist in ten years’ time don’t actually exist now. This means that we are forecasting for a world of work that won’t exist. We are spending a lot of time looking at things such as succession planning when in reality it is probably a waste of our time.”

What should we be doing?

“We ought to be thinking about capabilities rather than jobs and thinking about the world as it is going to be in terms of possible scenarios. We should be looking at skills that we will need - like digital - and starting to find those skills in our people, rather than trying to match our people to specific jobs that won’t exist in ten years’ time.”

Should we be looking broadly throughout the organisation for the right skills and talent?

“Most definitely. We should start to look beyond the role that someone might have at the moment and think about their innate skills or even the interests that they have. Many people have latent interests that an organisation doesn’t tap into. These are things that are going to be so important and useful for a lot organisations in the future.”  

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Why do you think we are so limited in our approach when it is very obvious that the world is in the midst of rapid change?

“One of the reasons our research highlighted is that a lot of the CEOs that we interviewed have a tendency not just to hire in their own image but to develop in their own image. Seventy percent of the CEOs we interviewed have a personal philosophy about the way you develop leaders which is absolutely akin to their own experience. This means that we are at risk of creating organisations full of mini-mes. As much as we might love our current CEO and as good as they might be, you don’t want 250 of them in the organisation. We tend to duplicate our experience through our people and CEOs in particular seem to do that, which does limit what we look for.”

Is it possible to pinpoint the cost of this approach to talent?

“We know through our research that organisations that do a great job of managing talent produce approximately 67 percent more total shareholder return than those that don’t. There is huge value to organisations who manage talent well. Instead of spending time on things like succession plans, which at best become lovely works of fiction, we ought to be thinking about how we grow our people, how we get closer to them and how we develop capabilities for the future.”

Listen to Lesley's interview here.

Find out more about our work in people and talent.

Contact the people and talent team

Jonathon Hogg

Jonathon Hogg



Lesley Uren

Lesley Uren



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