What challenges do employee resourcing practitioners confront in developing strategies to manage and engage ‘talent’?

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Introduction

While developing strategies to manage and engage talent within the organisation, there are a number of challenges that human resource personnel face (Boxall & Purcell, 2008). Most of these are well documented in literature and backed with empirical studies to confirm their existence (Iles, 2007). In this paper, a thorough argument is made on the relevance of talent management and employee engagement. Different approaches that human resource personnel may take in undertaking both talent management and employee engagement are also discussed. More importantly, an insight is thrown on some the core challenges that are likely to be encountered while undertaking talent management and employee engagement. While identifying the challenges, the need to solving them, as well as interventions that may be adopted in solving them will also be exemplified in the paper.

Talent management defined

Taylor (2014) defined talent management to involve the strategies and programmes an organisation puts in place to recruit, retain and develop employees considered as the most talented and superior for a particular job market. In a similar line of argument, Cappelli (2008) indicated that talent management involves the use of strategic human resource planning to help improve an organisation’s business value so that it can reach its goal within a competitive market. These definitions help in getting a deeper understanding about talent management as a set of practices dedicated for making an organisation’s competitive advantage one that is tied around the employee. This is because before an organisation can be said to have a competitive advantage, it must possess certain qualities that will make customers choose them over their competitors (Collings & Mellahi, 2009). Meanwhile, based on the definition of Taylor (2014), when the company has the most talented and superior employees, these people will contribute in offering a type of service and product delivery that cannot be matched by competitors and so will lead to customers selecting their brand. The definition of Cappelli (2008) is also about competitive advantage creation through the employee because when value is improved, it enhances the chances of customers selecting a particular brand over others.

Importance of talent management

As can be deduced above, the first importance of talent management is that is leads to competitive advantage. This type of competitive advantage can be described as an employee-driven competitive advantage. This is because it is a type of competitive advantage that is tied around the kind of output that an employee gives while delivering work (Beardwell & Collin, 2014). Another importance of talent management is that it creates a conducive working atmosphere where each employee feels at ease with the type of work they do, while having the assurance that their work output will be an exceling one. This particular claim is backed by research where employees working in companies that prioritize talent management have raised optimism towards roles assigned to them, indicating that they are better trained and nurtured to produce excellent outcomes (Handfield-Jones & Axelrod, 2001).

In a related line of argument, Iles (2007) mentioned that when employees are confident about their work delivery because they have received the right forms of training and nurturing, it increases their chances of job satisfaction. Meanwhile, high job satisfaction has been noted to be a necessary and important ingredient in motivating employees, while enhancing their commitment to deliver more for the company they belong. What is more, Thompson (2011) stressed that any organisation that prioritises talent management is able to retain its most experienced employees and consequently maintain the organisational culture for a long time. Once this is done, customers feel highly comfortable in doing business with the company because of consistency in its culture (Beardwell & Collin, 2014).

Best-practice and high-performance approaches

There are certain best practices and high-performance approaches used within organisations that can be said to relate very directly to talent management. The relationship between the best practice and high-performance approaches to talent management is that they are all tailored towards equipping employees with the right human capital, while creating the best working conditions to ensure highly skilled and most talented employees are attracted and retained (Boxall & Purcell, 2008). One such practice and approach is training and development. Through training and development, the kinds of skills and competencies needed for employees to deliver to upmost perfection are given to employees (Beardwell & Collin, 2014). This way, employees get a sense of fulfilment as far as the skills and competencies needed to deliver work is concerned. In the long run, employees are retained because they know they may not get other forms of skills and competencies superior to what they receive. Another practice and approach, which will later be explained in detail is employee engagement. Through employee engagement, employees are given the opportunity to personally grow by taking centre stage with the delivery of work. Another is motivation for employees. Schein (2007) asserted that when employees are well motivated, they get a sense of satisfaction at work, which is a prerequisite for employee retention. Finally, performance management is also a best practice and high-performance approach needed to be present at the workplace, which can be said to be directly related to talent management (Carpenter, Talya & Berrin, 2009).

Relationship between talent management and HRM

The question of whether or not talent management is related to human resource management (HRM) has been well debated in literature. Based on available information from preliminary literature reviewed, it would be argued that talent management is indeed related to HRM. The basis for this assertion is that most HRM practices including recruitment and selection, performance appraisal, rewards and incentives, training and development, and work-life balance are all geared towards attracting and retaining employees for the purpose of building a competitive value for the organisation. Meanwhile, such an outcome is exactly the same as those that have been advocated for talent management (Wilton, 2013). In another line of argument, there are those who have actually claimed that in talent management, the talent that is managed is basically the employee (Taylor, 2014). Meanwhile, the employee forms the basis of the organisation’s human resource. With this in mind, it is possible to make the claim that talent management is the same, or close equal to human resource management. From a more practical perspective, there are researchers whose studies have showed that by using various metrics to measure the extent of talent management and human resource management, organisations that possess these two end up experiencing the same kinds of organisational outcomes including employee retention, customer loyalty, and reduced conflict (Wilton, 2013). These are also indications that help to establish a very clear relationship between talent management and HRM.

Strategies for talent management

There are a number of strategies that may be adopted by human resource managers while managing talent at the workplace. In most modern organisations, there is preference for what has become known as the inclusive-exclusive continuum. This is an approach or strategy that emphasises on whether to use an inclusive or exclusive group in the talent management strategy (Carpenter, Talya & Berrin, 2009). Taylor (2014) noted that the inclusive approach is suitable when dealing with small professional organisations. This is because with the inclusive approach, all employees are considered as potential talent. Because the size of the organisation may be small, excluding some employees leaves it with very little to deal with. On the other hand, the exclusive approach works where certain subsets are formed among employees and used as potential talent (Marchington & Wilkinson, 2012).

The exclusive approach is more suitable with large organisations. In a real world scenario, the Bank of America is known to have a philosophy that says invest in the best. This means that when certain unique talents can be identified among the larger workforce, it makes more sense to target these and spend the organisation’s resources on them during talent management. Meanwhile, Iles (2007) emphasised that using the exclusive approach should only be considered when the organisation has a clearly established or defined mission of which certain groups of people are found to have talents directly addressing them. But whether an organisation uses the inclusive or exclusive group, it is admonished that they must align the overall talent management strategy with the organisation’s larger business strategy.

Challenges organisations face in talent management

Whether using an inclusive or exclusive approach to talent management, there are certain challenges that the human resource personnel in-charge may face. As far as internal approach is concerned, it is known to come with the challenge of being less competitive and fit for specific purpose. That is, because all employees know they have the same chance of being considered for talent management, they hardly see the need to excel in specific areas or compete in terms of competence to become outstanding with talents (Wilton, 2013). In direct relation to this, Thompson (2011) emphasised that companies may face the challenge of turning off real talents when all employees are treated equally and given same consideration as potential talent. What is more, as much as it is relatively easier to implement inclusive approach, and that it comes with little impact on employees, Cappelli (2008) feared that its use may require more resources since every employee is a potential talent. Consequently, the issue of difficulty with resource allocation can be said to be a challenge that faces the human resource personnel implementing talent management. Interestingly, Thompson (2011) admonished that with effective human resource planning, it is easier to forecast the human resource needs of the organisation and therefore strategize for the search of resources and the allocation of it.

When using exclusive groups for talent management also, there are some key challenges that may be encountered. The first of these challenges is the likelihood that this strategy will create a divisive culture among the employees. That is, when some employees feel that others are preferred over them in terms of talent management, they could raise against the selected ones, leading to a protracted era of divisive culture (Boxall & Purcell, 2008). In the same way those outside the potential talent group may feel stigmatised and discriminated against. Indeed in most modern literature, the question of whether or not using exclusive groups constitutes an ethical breech has been asked (Handfield-Jones & Axelrod, 2001). In this paper, it would be argued that as far as exclusive groups are formed to accomplish certain clear and specific missions that others may not be in a position to do, it does not constitute any ethical breech. Meanwhile, Schein (2007) characterised the use of exclusive groups with employee resistance to change, especially among those who fall outside the subset of potential talents.

Employee engagement

Employee engagement has been defined by different authors in different ways. In all, there are certain key phenomena that run through the definitions to give the concept a simplistic meaning. For example Pointon (2014) noted that employee engagement entails creating the right working atmosphere to ensure employees give off their best at work. Guest (2015) on the other hand saw employee engagement to comprise the practice of giving employees greater control over the flow of work, as well as in decision making. Some have also explained employee engagement to comprise how passionate employees feel about their work, as well as the emotional connection they attach to their work (Marchington & Wilkinson, 2012). From these definitions, an important indication that is drawn is that there always have to be a means by which the employee will feel attached to his or her work out of freewill, created by a conscious effort by superiors at the workplace. Employee engagement will therefore be seen to involve such modalities as employee empowerment, which is a prerequisite to ensure that once work is left for the employee, he or she can deliver it well. It also involves coaching and mentorship to ensure that when the need arises, the employee does the right things while working and taking decisions independently (Carpenter, Talya & Berrin, 2009). What is more, employee engagement involves adequate performance measurement to know if employees live up to standards and targets set for them.

Employee engagement and employee retention have often been discussed in literature together. This can be understood from the perspective of what these two concepts have to offer organisations. That is, organisations want to retain and engage talented employees because it the one of the fundamental means to ensure customer satisfaction. Guest (2015) noted that the employee is the one the customer is most likely to have direct and one-on-one interaction with during product or service engagement with the company. It is therefore important that the employee will be someone who understands the needs of the customer and have the right skills, competencies and experience to meet these needs (Handfield-Jones & Axelrod, 2001). Interestingly, Pointon (2014) was optimistic that the more an employee works with the same company, doing relatively the same thing over the years, the higher the chances of gaining skills, competencies and experience needed to meet customer needs. What is more, organisations want to engage and retain best talent because it is important in ensuring both effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness is ensured among such employees because their work output is often of high standard and quality (Marchington & Wilkinson, 2012). Efficiency is also ensured as they require fewer resource, training and time to deliver high quality jobs. In the long run, working hard to engage and retain employees contributes to overall productivity, which can also translate into profitability.

There are certain factors that impact on employee engagement and therefore go a long way to constitute deficit in employee engagement. The first of these is having the right mentors and coaches at the workplace. This is an organisational factor which comes about when there is lack of models that younger and talented employees can look up to while seeking to be engaged for the delivery of work (Collings & Mellahi, 2009). On the part of employees, Pointon (2014) indicated that unmet expectations about motivation and satisfaction can negatively affect employee engagement. Also at the organisational level, there are often inconsistencies when it comes to methodologies for measuring and administering employee engagement. Once this happens, it become difficult to tell if the right forms of outputs are being achieved from the use of employee engagement. From the definition of employee engagement, it was mentioned that the right working conditions or atmosphere ought to be created in order to achieve an engagement. Meanwhile, when employees have low job satisfaction, they do not find their working environments as conducive enough to be emotionally attached to it. Last but not least, there are studies that have reported about the challenge of lack of senior management support in the implementation of employee engagement programs (Collings & Mellahi, 2009). With such lack of support, senior management disagrees with why human resource personnel should put ordinary employees at the forefront of work delivery.

In the midst of the challenges, organisations still use a number of strategies to ensure they retain and engage their best talents. One of the ways is to develop a job description that clearly aligns with the overall business goal. Once this is done, conscious effort is made to select only those employees whose unique skills, characteristics, attitude towards job, competencies, and past experience show that they have what it takes to exhibit superior potential for the job description (Wilton, 2013). Schein (2007) noted that another important strategy to consider in the selection process is to fall on employees who have what it takes to fit into the organisational culture present at the company. This is an important consideration to make because it is only when the employee personally finds the culture as one that aligns with their expectations and work attitude that they would want to remain in it for long. Guest (2015) also suggested the need to negotiate best practices and performances with employees. This negotiation is aimed at ensuring that employees have the confidence to leave up to the standards set for them. Once this is done and the best potential for talents have been identified, it is time to offer employees with both on-the-job and external training that will ensure that they maintain the status quo of high performance desired for maximising work outcomes.

Conclusion

The paper has been useful in identifying the place of talent management and employee engagement in today’s competitive organisation. With global competition going up, the need for organisations to have and maintain the best talents to gain competitive advantage has clearly been endorsed. As much as it is easier to appreciate the importance and relevance of talent management and employee engagement, it cannot be denied that there are times that the successful implementation of strategies to foster these become hindered. This is because there are a number of challenges associated with the implementation. Core among these are the issues of resource allocation and resistance to change. Meanwhile, it has been clearly argued in this paper that the presence of challenges in the implementation of the strategies should not be an excuse for ignoring the entire implementation process. This is because with the right forms of interventions, the challenges can be overcome to ensure successful implementation process.

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