Building an effective talent management strategy

Celeste Warren
VP, Human Resources and Global Diversity and Inclusion Center of Excellence
MSD (Merck Sharp & Dohme)

“Putting the Right Person in the Right Job at the Right Time!”

Putting together an effective Talent Management strategy is something that many Human Resources leaders find challenging. There are a number of reasons. One would think that Business leaders would understand the importance of ensuring the appropriate people are driving their organizations to an optimal level of performance. While this is intellectually understood, however, it takes a particular level of thought and discipline to implement.

The dilemma for the Human Resources Executive is three-fold: developing the talent management strategy, driving the understanding through the HR professionals to understand and support it, and influencing business leaders to drive it through their respective organizations.

The key to implementing a successful talent management strategy for Human Resources Leaders lies in the ability to do all three of these things well and calls on a skill set that pulls from many different areas.

Developing the Talent Management Strategy

The first thing necessary in developing a talent management strategy is ensuring that there is an established business strategy. That business strategy is the foundational element that determines the type of talent needed in the organization.

Secondly, as HR Leaders, we have to dissect the business strategy and extrapolate the critical organizational capabilities needed to drive future growth. Organizational capabilities signal both internally and externally what the enterprise requires and values in its business.

Third, once the organizational capabilities have been defined, they then need to be translated into key roles within the organization. The HR Leader must determine the types of roles needed to drive the various capabilities within the organization. These critical roles are the ones you will focus on through differentiated investments when sourcing talent for the roles, while transitioning talent into the roles and while positioning talent to develop and hopefully thrive in the roles.

Fourth, we outline the individual competencies needed for successful candidates for the critical roles. Are broader competencies or more in-depth functional competencies needed to do the role well? What types of experience should any individual have to ensure they are successful in the role?

Once individual competencies have been identified for the critical roles, then we have to turn our focus as HR Leaders to the employee population. We have to assess the employee base and determine if we have the key talent readily available to fill the critical roles. After this is done, the talent planning comes into play. If you have employees readily available to fill these roles, then you are at an advantage and will probably be the envy of all your peers. Most organizations aren’t that lucky. Talent planning involves assessing your workforce to determine one of a few things: Do I have employees who are ready to fill the roles? Do I have key talent that can eventually be ready to take on the critical roles? Do we lack the talent internally? Do I have to go to the outside and staff the roles externally? Answering these questions forms the elements of a talent management strategy which is visionary and action-oriented at the same time.

Driving the understanding through the HR team:

Once the talent strategy has been developed, members of the HR team will need to understand it and put the appropriate HR enablers in place to ensure that the strategy is implemented effectively. HR Business Partners and COE Specialists will play an important role in developing the appropriate plans.

  • Training and Development Specialists will need to develop the learning plan to build capabilities within the existing employee population.
  • Staffing and Recruiting Specialists will need to put together sourcing plans to bring external talent with the capabilities needed into the organization
  • Talent Specialists will need to ensure that developmental and performance planning processes are in place so individuals can continue to enhance their capabilities and job performance
  • Compensation Specialists will need to ensure that there is a proper reward and recognition plan in place to incent the appropriate performance and behaviors
  • HR Business Partners will need to coach and counsel line leaders and middle managers to ensure they develop their key talent through all of the HR processes and tools available to them

Influencing business leaders to drive the Talent Management Strategy through the organizations

It’s not enough to have developed the talent management strategy and to have a team of Human Resources professionals who have put the enablers in place to support the talent strategy. If the business leaders do not embrace the talent management strategy, then it will not be implemented.

Influencing skills are critical for the Human Resources leader. The business leaders must understand the importance of the talent management strategy. In order for HR leaders to be successful in their areas of influence, they must be able to speak the language of the business leader. Strong business acumen is critical to the success of any HR leader. Understanding how to show the business leader how the talent management strategy will impact their bottom line and grow their business is imperative.

As HR leaders, we have to be more than HR practitioners who know HR processes, policies and procedures. We must understand the businesses we support. We must be business leaders whose area of functional expertise is “people strategies”. I like to say that we have to know what keeps our business leaders up at night. We must understand the key challenges they face as business leaders and then apply the talent management plan to overcome those challenges.

As an HR leader, you must be able to help the business leader solve his problem and drive growth by determining and implementing the appropriate HR intervention. Then you, like any other functional leader, can consider your partnership with the business leader a success.

In summary, implementing an effective talent management strategy from end to end is a key foundational element to driving strong business growth and creates a competitive advantage for your organization.

Celeste Warren is the VP, Human Resources and Global Diversity and Inclusion Center of Excellence at MSD (Merck Sharp & Dohme). She will be speaking at the HR Vision London Summit, which takes place 21-22 November. For more information on speakers, the agenda and to book tickets go to

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