Four key talent management challenges facing HR leaders and how to overcome them

Kate Keaney

By Kate Keaney

18 Jul 2017

Four key talent management challenges facing HR leaders and how to overcome them

From looking after a multi-generational workforce to managing talent on an international scale, we reveal what senior HR people have on their agendas right now and share some top tips for success.

The following challenges and solutions come from the latest Connor HR leaders forum – free events for senior HR people.

1.The internationalisation of talent management

For HR directors with an international or global remit, the internationalisation of talent management can be the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity. One HR leader at our forum worked for an automotive company with over 40,000 employees worldwide. He added: "We have a great opportunity to move middle and senior managers across countries rather than up and down existing departments."

The theory is great. Fill international talent gaps and give talented employees the opportunity to develop their careers and work globally. But how can you make it work in practice?

"We're good at moving people because we have established a culture of people in leadership roles getting international exposure and their career history being valued."Head of HR, international pharmaceutical and consumer goods company

One head of HR in an international pharmaceutical and consumer goods company had some words of advice. "We're good at moving people because we have established a culture of people in leadership roles getting international exposure and their career history being valued. It is normal and acceptable for people to rotate for two years, from Europe to the US and vice versa, for example.

We've also established a talent management process at senior leadership level. We have a list of high potential people who are ready for their next move and we match these individuals against any vacancies. Coupled with this, we offer generous relocation packages and the role of HR is to make it as easy as possible for our people to move their families to a different country."

2. Balancing an ageing demographic with a need for fresh talent

Several issues were identified by members of the forum when it came to more experienced members of their talent pool. What is the right way to replace this technical expertise – through recruitment or developing the skills of existing employees? And when it comes to new talent, how can you get a new, fresh outlook by attracting people who are finishing their education?

A forum attendee revealed that one of their factory sites has 50% of its workforce due to retire in the next five years. She joked: "Our long service incentives are clearly too good! The good news is we have an opportunity to bring new skills, ideas plus digital expertise into our organisation."

Again, the theory makes sense. Replace retiring employees with fresh talent who may be better equipped to provide value in a digital economy. But what about if you are an HR leader in a less glamorous industry, where there is a scarcity of talent.

Connor head of recruitment Sarah Cooper has considerable experience in solving these problems for employers in sectors including IT, telecoms and charities among others. She adds: "Recruitment for talent in sectors where there is a skills shortage is tough, but there are simple things you can do to maximise your return on investment. Collate every response to your job adverts, not just those you take forward for interview so you track the careers of those who demonstrate potential. This approach helps you to compile a database of potential candidates to tap into for future hires. If it's not feasible for you to do this with internal resources, consider working in partnership with someone who can.

Challenge each role profile that you receive. Could it be covered by two more junior positions for those earlier in their career for the same budget? Also look at schemes like The 5% Club, which promotes the benefits of recruiting graduates and apprentices for your organisation."

One head of HR and L&D at the forum commented: "We have a big need for chemical engineers so we've linked up with the top engineering universities and offer industrial placements to undergraduates in their third year. It's helpful to see what they can do over 12 months. If they perform we can offer them a job and they can focus on their final year exams and not have to worry about going through the traditional graduate recruitment process."

Additional advice came from a HR leader who discussed how her organisation was doing its best to get value from the apprenticeship levy when it came to attracting new recruits. "We are offering jobs to eight school leavers funded through the levy, but there is still a huge gulf between what we contribute and what we use."

3. How do you deliver a consistent approach to talent management across a multi-generation workforce?

Forum members agreed that it was about offering 'work-life flexibility' to your employees. One leader kicked off the debate with insight that got heads nodding in the room. "Research suggests that people of all generations need flexibility and segmenting people like millennials or baby boomers is futile." What we know is that life and work events happen to everybody.

Another head of HR shared how a spoon-fed approach to managing talent wasn't the right one. "We put the onus on the individual by asking them how they are going to get the experience to enable them to meet their career goals. The next step is for them to put together their own personal development plans so they own the process and the responsibility." When it comes down to it, your career development is yours to drive and it's your organisation's responsibility to support it.

One forum member shared a useful learning from Starbucks. She revealed how the coffee giant looks at the five key reasons that people work for them and focus on those when delivering personal development, rather than engaging people based on their age or seniority.

Starbucks has taken the time to profile their employee population and aims to retain them by understanding what they they are all about. They have grouped their employees as follows: social students, transitioning college graduates, practical individualists, community builders and Starbucks career builders.

Another attendee also looked at talent management from the perspective of what career type their people were. "We ask people 'are you a seasoned master or an explorer?' and match their status to any personal development that they might need."

All forum members agreed that these activities need to be part of an overall strategy so your organisation has a flexible approach that can be delivered and measured in a consistent manner.

4. What are the practical things that you can do to turn managers into leaders?

So, you've recruited new people and your talent management process has enabled many to climb the ladder to assume managerial positions. How do you help employees make the final step and become effective leaders of the organisation and its people? One HR leader shared a theory with the forum: "It's about measuring and rewarding managers on how well they lead and making it one of your company values."

While this was a strong suggestion, another HR leader had a reality check for those thinking that the challenge can be met simply by establishing these practices in your organisation. She countered: "In my experience, despite what your values say, people will reflect the behaviour of your CEO and your leadership team. For instance, if they rule by fear, others will tread on eggshells rather than exhibit the values that you might want them to. It's about cushioning any bad behaviour and enabling the rest of your organisation's talent to grow."

Connor offers HR professionals a programme of support, specifically designed for the unique challenges they face.

You may also like to find out more about our HR leaders forums – exclusive, free breakfast events for senior HR people.

Kate Keaney

Contact Kate Keaney

Head of HR services and talent & organisation development

"I enjoy working with leaders and teams to realise the individual, team and business changes and benefits they want."

Kate Keaney