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Creating Sustainable Advantage: A Framework for Talent Management

Creating Sustainable Advantage: A Framework for Talent Management

Business leaders, management gurus and consultants alike continuously talk about the importance of creating competitive advantage. While chief financial and operating officers have always had a seat at the senior leadership table, HR practitioners have only recently begun to earn their place.

Originally conceived as the personnel department, the function fundamentally handled personnel hiring, payroll and, in some cases, compliance. Over the years, personnel became known as human resources, and a new focus was added on employee relations, performance management, risk management, recruitment and training. In the last decade, many progressive organizations have taken one step further to tie talent to organizational strategy and create comprehensive talent management departments. The new focus is no longer just creating competitive advantage but creating sustainable advantage through talent.


The Case for Talent Management

Among the myriad of challenges that face organizational leaders, acquiring, retaining, developing and managing an organization’s human capital is among the most significant. Few efforts contribute more to a company’s success—or failure—than its labor pool.

There is widespread recognition of these challenges. Among recently surveyed senior corporate leaders:

  • 94% said that their organizational personnel are not adequately prepared to meet their organization’s needs;
  • 92% reported that improving the quality of hires is a top organizational priority; and
  • 66% said that improving workforce productivity is a top priority.
(State of the Global Talent Nation – February, 2008 edition of Inside Training Newsletter)

In recent years, business leaders have come to a consensus that implementing a more comprehensive, high-level strategy is key for developing and utilizing talent.


A Framework for Talent Management

The heightened commitment to developing an organization’s talent originally emerged out of the need to combat increasing rates of employee turnover. Current talent management best practice, however, has also expanded. The framework I use to categorize the key pieces encompasses five general areas:

1) Organizational development and workforce planning

2) Culture work focused on creating employee engagement for the purposes of retention

3) Talent acquisition and onboarding

4) Talent development

5) HR management

Throughout the next year, my column will examine each of these areas in detail, but, as a way of introduction, I will define each of these components and provide some questions for your consideration.


Organizational Development and Workforce Planning: Defining the structure necessary to maximize productivity and ensure continued organizational growth.

The key to make these processes successful is TM and HR professionals, as well as organization leadership, who will work together to link business strategy with the talent needed to execute it. Consequently, organizational development often encompasses strategic approaches to organizational architecture, succession and talent planning. A primary objective within this component involves determining the ideal competencies (knowledge, skills and abilities) for an organization. This sets the foundation for further conversations regarding the training and development necessary to build the organization’s team and also offers opportunities to build targeted selection mechanisms into your acquisition process, as well as performance tools into your management processes.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the ideal competencies and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for our organization?
  • Position audit: Do the right organizational structures and support (compensation) structures per position exist to drive sustainability and growth?
  • Talent audit: Who is in the current pipeline and what are the current projected gaps? Bench strength?
  • Do I have a sustainable talent review process in place? Am I able to accurately classify my top talent?

 “We try to be as transparent as possible. It really plays a big role. For instance, Darin shared all of the feedback from our annual employee survey via email. It was uncensored and unfiltered and it helped for people to see the truth. It created more trust and comfort within the company.” – Stacy Benfield, HR Manager, Infinite Energy


Culture/Engagement/Retention: Engagement is the alignment of job satisfaction with job contribution. Identifying and developing talented employees is not enough; retaining and motivating those employees are equally important to ensuring that an organization maintains talent sustainability.

Implicit in this area is often the need to identify “top” or “key” talent in order to focus finite resources on retaining the appropriate populations. This area, therefore, calls for a foundational link between the needs of the organization and the needs of the individual. Retention and engagement strategies are created to support organizational culture, but their ultimate goal is to create sustainable high performing talent for the organization.

  • Is my organization an organization of choice? How does my organization retain top talent?
  • Is there fairness within my organization—is there equal pay for equal work?
  • Are my employees satisfied with their jobs and committed to organizational goals? How do I provide opportunities for empowerment and ownership?
  • Do I offer incentives that reinforce the right behaviors and drive performance?
  • Are my rewards and recognition structures targeted to the right audience?
  • Am I offering career development conversations? How am I providing employees with a roadmap of career progression?
  • Do I provide targeted support, recognition and advancement opportunities for top talent?
  • What flexibility does my organization offer in regards to working arrangements and job responsibilities? Are these options appropriate or possible for the position and organization?


See Also

Talent Acquisition and Onboarding: Identifying, acquiring and onboarding skilled talent that aligns with organizational needs. Steps in the process include sourcing, recruiting (acquiring), selecting (assessing and hiring) and onboarding (knowledge management and assimilation) candidates to fill roles specifically tied to organizational goals and strategic objectives. Altogether, the process aims to create effective organizational members.

  • Branding: What is my value proposition for candidates?
  • How am I building long-term relationships and networks across the industry to continuously attract the best talent?
  • Where am I looking for potential talent considering criteria such as level of position, location, competencies required, etc.?
  • How do I identify and attract qualified talent and encourage them to apply for and or move towards job opportunities?
  • How do I hire the most suitable candidate (what is the series of filters and assessments involved)?
  • What incentives do I offer and what promises do I make, and how does this stack up to competitors? (These can include a signing bonus, relocation or moving allowance, benefits, compensation structures, etc.)
  • How do I ensure that I hold true to all promises made in the recruiting process?
  • How do I teach the necessary skills and knowledge new hires will need on the job?
  • How do I ensure that new talent feels welcomed and supported? How do I ease their transition into the company culture, the organization itself and the greater community?
  • How will I assess performance in the first 90 days?

“If you can create an environment where employees congratulate one another when incredible results are achieved, you are essentially building a team of cheerleaders. The byproduct is a team of loyal employees who bend over backwards for the organization because they feel important and excited to be contributing to something bigger than themselves.” – Kristen Hadeed, founder of Student Maid


Talent Development: Involves a variety of knowledge management and targeted development strategies designed to achieve and maintain a competitive advantage for an organization by focusing on development opportunities for both teams and individuals.

The transfer and development of intellectual capital has become a key area of competitive advantage and overall survival for organizations. It is not surprising, therefore, that a focus on knowledge management through talent development within an organization is a key area of talent management.

  • Where and how do my employees want to grow and develop professionally, and where do I need them to grow?
  • What are their individual modes of learning? How does my talent prefer or need to learn and develop? (This can include coursework, classroom training, experiential learning, professional development, online, etc.)
  • What are the soft and hard skills that my talent needs to be successful? How should I approach delivering and building these skills?
  • What memberships, affiliations and opportunities should be encouraged for functional and industry-specific growth?
  • What type of direct experience (job rotations and special assignments) should I offer?
  • How do I create ongoing supportive relationships within my organization to enable talent to grow?
  • How do I foster cross-functional collaboration and accountability to build high-performing teams?
  • How am I enhancing the quality of leadership across the organization?


Human Resource Management: Properly managing the day-to-day traditional, core human resource functions including employee and labor relations, performance management, classification and compensation analysis, benefits administration and risk management.

  • What are the competencies and associate goals that allow employees to be successful in their respective positions?
  • What is the best practice for working through employee relations issues in order to maintain consistency and ensure adherence to internal policies and federal laws?
  • Do I ensure that appropriate training is completed to maintain compliance with federal laws and ensure alignment with the organization’s strategic objectives?
  • Are there comprehensive programs available to ensure that supervisors are knowledgeable and have the tools and skills necessary to lead and manage?
  • Does the right classification structure exist to ensure internal and external equity?
  • How do I ensure a comprehensive, competitive salary, benefits and retirement package to attract and retain excellent employees? How do I link salary and benefits to incentivize successful behaviors?


Talent management and its various components have strategic importance to the current evolution of HR. Whether by its effect on specific HR entities including talent acquisition, development or knowledge management or by helping HR practitioners earn proverbial seats at the table, talent management has led organizational leaders to place the correct significance on the overlying management of talent that is required to create a sustainable advantage.

Talent management is the development of a differentiated organizational architecture, the procurement of a talent pool of high-potential, high-performing incumbents, the creation of development programming to support the growth of competencies, and an investment in engagement mechanisms to ensure employee commitment to the organization.

In organizations with sustainable talent management systems, there is a framework that is woven into the fabric of the organization. As such, the roadmap to good talent management includes taking inventory of management potential, adopting a talent and learner mindset, creating strategic partnerships between HR professionals and organizational leaders, valuing feedback at all levels with a specific emphasis on individual contributors, redefining and investing in talent development and, perhaps most important, making an organization-wide commitment to the strategy.

The pace of change in the world of work is rapidly increasing. In order for organizational leaders to keep up with this pace, they must realize that their talent is their greatest advantage. Consequently, they must work to align talent processes with business strategies to drive performance. Only by properly managing and placing talent can organizations compete in today’s industries.

Tara Blythe serves as the Associate Vice President for Talent Management, Strategy & Planning for the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs at the University of Florida. She is also an accomplished facilitator, curriculum designer and consultant specializing in Talent Management, Workforce Planning, Leadership Development, Career Development and Strategic Planning.

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