By Mohamed H. Ameen 

Driving Business Value by Putting Talent First


CAPITALIZE on the right talents has evolved as a key strategic dimension in achieving the organizational success and shaping its future. With the new business normal redefining the talent marketplace, talent strategy is crucial as financial, marketing, and other business strategies in driving future success.  The ability to recruit, develop, engage, retain, and mobilize the right people becomes a high priority topic on any organization’s strategic agenda now and in the future. When the Harvard Business Review recently asked 24 high-profile CEOs to name their biggest challenges, “talent management” topped that list. Theses CEOs and business leaders comprehend that the future success of the business will be determined by the ability to transform their organizations not just once but continuously, and that rapidly recruiting and developing the right talent to drive those changes will be crucial. Therefore “putting talent first is a key driver to business value”.

The Focus of a Talent Strategy

Many professionals believe that articulating an organization’s talent strategy is more like a list of talent programs, processes, and practices. And while these components enable a talent strategy, they are not a talent strategy by themselves. A talent strategy is a road map for how an organization plans to achieve determined talent-related outcomes (usually over a multi-year period) deemed critical to executing the organization’s strategy. A talent strategy should be informed by (and inform) your organizational strategy.

Organizations create a talent strategy by focusing most on critical talent outcomes aligned with the vision, mission, strategy, and future scenarios to optimize the value of their talent assets and driving business success and sustainability. Ideally, the talent strategy will address why and in what ways the organization must attract, develop, engage, retain talents to ensure building the organization’s effective human capital, and driving continuous performance improvement and business success.

A talent strategy starts and ends with the business, and its focus is building talents and capabilities to win and to create organizational value in the marketplace.

The Business Context of a Value-Driven Talent strategy

Talent is an essential organizational asset. Most organizations’ strategic plans include a “talent pillar” that specifies the talent requirements for achieving organizational objectives. A best-in-class talent strategy builds upon that core assumption and establishes what talent outcomes or “talent enablers” will be needed to achieve the organization’s strategy. Basically, a value-driven talent strategy determines the following themes to create its business context:

  • Skills and capabilities – what skills and capabilities must we build and sustain?
  • Talent segments and roles – what talent segments and roles are critical to the business continuity and growth?
  • Organizational design elements – What organizational design elements must we maintain?
  • Leadership mindsets and behaviours – What leadership mindsets and behaviours must we foster?
  • Culture and ways of working – What culture, performance scheme, and ways of working must we co-create?
  • Employee experience and employee value proposition (EVP)- What employee experience and EVP must we deliver?

To achieve the desired talent outcomes, talent leaders must first understand the business context of the organisation: the organization’s maturity, the current talent landscape and the organization’s competitive environment: How mature is your organization from a life cycle perspective?

Is it a growing start up, successfully capitalizing on rapid innovation but struggling to build operational norms? Or is it a large, mature enterprise, with a slow growth rate and complex organizational structure, struggling to balance operational efficiency with more risk taking?

This question should especially inform your evaluation of organizational capability, design, leadership, performance, and culture needs. In what talent landscape is your organization operating? Most organizations are now operating in tight labour markets, but specific talent risks and needs will differ by geography and across workforce and talent segments. This question should inform your evaluation of critical talent segments and roles, as well as key employee experience and EVP needs.

What is your competitive environment? Can you share talent pools with competitors, or do you need to compete fiercely to secure an exclusive commitment from talent? Are you in a crowded marketplace of similar employers or in an undefined space? This question may inform your evaluation of culture, employee experience and EVP needs. Once you consider these elements, you can identify talent enablers specific to your organization’s context.

A Six-Step Approach to Build a Business Value- Driven Talent Strategy

  1. Develop the Organization’s Talent Management Philosophy
    Talent strategy is a business strategy. Many talents professionals usually start building-up their talent strategy by a focus on the link and alignment with the organization strategy. And while this step is a critical one, but it does not give the talent strategy its positioning as a fundamental business strategy. This is because it makes the talent strategy as a reactive one and a time-phase focused strategy serves the organization’s 2-3 years strategy.There is a need for a mindset-shift toward thinking of talent strategy as a fundamental strategy with focus on the organization’s vision, aspiration, and capabilities, and not as a supporting strategy with a reactive approach focusing on supporting the other business strategies. The shift is a must and should be toward “talent strategy as a business strategy with focus on the organization’s success”.Hence, establishing a successful talent strategy requires integrated understanding and analysis of the organization’s vision, philosophy, capabilities, strategic directions & future scenarios. Developing a clear understanding of the organizational strategy & capabilities is critical to positioning the talent strategy as a well-established business strategy with a focus on the organization’s success. And to develop such understanding, talent leaders should be able to create an agreement on what is the organization’s talent management philosophy.

    Think of your organisation’s talent philosophy as an integrated business approach determines the vision of delivering business value through building impactful talents. This philosophy states the organization’s preference and guiding principles for (Performance, Leadership, Skills & behaviours, talent success profile, workplace experience & ways of works).  Having a clear and well-defined organization’s talent management philosophy is crucial to build an executive-level agreement on the organizational expectations for how talent should be managed, to establish a strategic basis for how talent-related decisions are made and define the DNA of the talent strategy and its alignment to the organization’s vision, strategies, directions & future.

The following questions  are essential to generate answers to the organizational strategic expectations of how talent should be managed.

  • What are the strategic objectives and aspirations of the organization?
  • Where is the organization placing its strategic focus for future success?
  • How will the organization differentiate itself from its competitors?
  • How will the organization add unique value to customers?

By understanding the answers to these types of questions, talent leaders take a first step toward positioning their talent strategy as a business strategy mapping the strategic direction and future of the organization’s human capital and presenting a clear organizational talent philosophy and vision aims to achieve well-defined strategic talent goals associated with the organization’s vision and future.

  1. Create Alignment with the organization’s strategyBefore determining the strategic goals & drivers of a talent strategy, the focus should be on creating the alignment with organization’s strategy. To ensure having an impactful talent strategy aligned to the organization’ strategy and drivers, talent leaders can consider the following:
  • Focus on aligning with the organization’s goals: the origin of any impactful talent strategy lies in delivering talent solutions supporting the organization’s strategic direction. This requires identifying what the organization tries to build and achieve. Is it digitalization? Operational excellence? Customer intimacy? Organic growth or growth through acquisition?Talent leaders can take a research-based approach and business stakeholders discussions to determine the key goals a talent strategy will be aligned with, and how the strategy shall strengthen the organization in achieving these goals through tailored strategic talent enablers to build the needed culture, organizational structure, ways of working, performance, people’s skills, and leadership style.
  • Capitalize on Capabilities: organizational capabilities represent a set of key factors an organization does best and have a direct impact on the execution of its strategy. These capabilities (e.g., speed, innovation, customer value, and pioneering) usually represent things people admire about the organization or for which the company is best known. Organizational capabilities are often the reason two companies can have similar products, services, and business strategies, but achieve drastically different business results. Capabilities provide a competitive advantage due to being unique and difficult to imitate.

Talent leaders can add significant value to their organizations by aligning the talent strategy with the capabilities most critical to executing the organization’s strategy. To create an impactful alignment with the organizational capabilities, it is advisable that talent leaders execute the following approach:

  • Facilitate a dialogue with the business leaders around the capabilities the organization must excel at to deliver on its strategic promises, and What things, if done exceptionally well, will allow the organization to differentiate itself and deliver unique value to customers?
  • Conduct a capability audit to determine any gaps between actual and desired performance on each capability. This effort can be made through a survey or discussion with stakeholders (e.g., leadership, employees, customers, suppliers).
  • Present the talent imperatives with its goals on how to create direct impact on the organization’s strategy execution by developing the key organizational capabilities.
  1. Determine the strategic drivers of the talent strategy
    The impactful talent strategy begins with clear, well-communicated, and agreed-on strategic drivers. These drivers are directly mapped from the organization’s strategy and directions. They are the key strategic deliverables of the talent strategy and based on them the whole talent themes and programs are built and implemented.That’s why you need an integrated approach to define the 3-5 strategic drivers or promises of the talent strategy, illustrate why the business needs achieving these talent promises, and how the business can track and see the results and impact.  It is advisable here to plan well for a top executive-level talent discussion to present the business case of your talent strategy: what are the key promises and strategic drivers of the strategy, how are they aligned to the organization’s vision, strategy & capabilities, and why the organization need them?
  1. Define the talent strategy’s themes & initiativesWhile the determined strategic drivers and promises will serve as the cornerstone of the strategy, defining the functional themes, goals, and initiatives is still strategically critical to ensure the delivery of the strategy’s promises.Step 4 is to link the key drivers/promises with specific talent themes/practices that serve achieving the promise (e.g., a talent promise focuses on a shift toward performance enablement will be linked the practice of performance management). There might be a case where one promise needs to be linked to more than two or three of the talent themes. It is advisable here to run in ternal talent- team meetings to discuss the key promises, how to link them to the talent practices, and the functional activities.

    Each strategy’ promise need specific types of projects or initiatives to ensuring achieving the strategy. Start with diagnosis of the whole situation, understanding the full landscape, challenges, and ends with a proposal of the most convenient initiatives.

Think of prioritizing the potential initiatives by considering Gartner’s the three-dimensions approach:

  • Organizational impact — The extent to which the initiative will positively impact the organization and create value
  • Complexity — The extent to which the initiative requires coordination and buy-in
  • Investment — The extent to which the initiative requires resources or adjustments to team responsibilities

Then, you can analytically separate the potential initiatives into four categories:

  1. 1. Actionable initiatives — Initiatives that should be prioritized for execution and given preference for resource allocation. (You always need to focus on this type of initiatives).
  2. Priority initiatives — Initiatives that should be prioritized based on availability of resources (people, money, time).
  3. Initiatives for careful consideration — Initiatives that require careful consideration for timing and sequencing based on capacity to complete the work.
  4. Parking lot initiatives — Initiatives that should be deprioritized or shelved for future consideration.
  1. Define the strategy’s resources, ownership, and success measuresIf you have a strategy to deliver, then you need resources to accomplish its promises.  We cannot neglect resources planning in establishing an impactful talent strategy. Imagine you are presenting the final draft of your talent strategy to the business executives, and they ask what type of resources needed to deliver it. A talent strategy needs various types of resources including the following:
  • People – think of the additional team-members needed within the strategy’ timeframe, and consider such investment needed.
  • Financial investment – all the type of investments needed to deliver the strategy’s promises. This should cover consultation services, solutions providers, systems, and platforms.
  • Timeframe– time is a key resource you need t consider in your strategy and highlight it in alignment to the strategy phases and planned promises & deliverables.Additionally, the talent strategy should determine the owners for the key deliverables, and the success measures for all the initiatives. This approach will drive clarity and accountability.
  1. Communicate the Strategy and get they buy-inIdeally, you need to implement this step from the start till you end with the approved version of your talent strategy. Your role to communicate and educate the business leaders on the talent philosophy, the strategic drivers and promises, the key themes and initiatives, the deliverables & resources. Communicating each step within the strategy formulation till you produce the final draft will ensure getting the full understanding and sponsorship needed from the business leaders’ side. It is advisable to ensuring running a series of the strategy meeting to present the strategy components, gather the business leaders’ thoughts and concerns and then reflect them. Adopting such approach will ensure getting the buy-in, presenting the talent strategy as a business-value driven area, and socializing the delivery of the talent strategy across the business units.

Final Word.

When well thought-out and connected to the organization’s strategy, a talent strategy provides a clear road map that focuses the organization, its resources, and investments on those talent areas that bring the greatest return to the business. The steps outlined provide insights for talent practitioners to consider as they help their organizations develop and execute talent strategies that reflect the unique business strategy and capabilities of their organization. In doing so, talent practitioners can add strategic value to the organization and serve as true business partners to the leaders they support.