Perspective: Why the time is now for talent liberation

Written by
Maggi Evans, author and consultant

16 Feb 2021

16 Feb 2021 • by Maggi Evans, author and consultant

Talent liberation provides a workable strategy perfect for a new age of uncertainty, writes Maggi Evans, author of From Talent Management to Talent Liberation.

As the pandemic continues to dominate our work and personal lives, we are all left trying to make sense of what has happened and trying to understand how to lead our organisations into an unknown future.  

For those of us focused on the ‘people’ side of the business, this is profound. We are being forced to question long-held assumptions regarding diverse challenges such as where work is done, the role of government in paying our workers, the advantages of face to face interaction and the essence of organisational culture.  

Core to many of these challenges are questions regarding workforce and talent planning – the tasks that need to be done, the people we can afford, the expectations of our people, the skills and capabilities that are needed now and in the future.  

From management to liberation

Many of the existing models for looking at workforce and talent planning were developed in the 1950s. Designed for stable, predictable environments, these approaches are not suited to the turbulence, ambiguity and uncertainty that we are faced with. Furthermore, according to most HR people, they add little value. This was beautifully summed up by one of my clients who told me, ‘we’ve got so wrapped up in the process of talent management, we’ve forgotten what its purpose is’.  

Talent liberation offers a fresh approach to workforce and talent planning. The simple change of language from talent management to talent liberation in itself opens new ways of thinking about talent challenges and potential solutions. Designed to focus firmly on the purpose and not on a set of prescribed processes, talent liberation provides a blueprint for a flexible and holistic approach and right now, this is just what we need.

Talent liberation can help to navigate and prioritise needs, developing a workforce and talent strategy that will prepare your organisation for the future. Given the current challenges, there are four fundamental areas for you to address. 

1. Confirming the purpose of your talent and workforce strategy

This may seem simple, but it requires some deep thinking. The purpose will be fundamentally different for each organisation, depending on the environment, strategy, business model and the possible scenarios that the organisation faces. For example, the overall purpose may be responsiveness to changing client needs, being able to quickly scale parts of the business up or down. For another organisation, the purpose might be lowest cost of delivery or retention of unique knowledge. Whatever it is, the clarity of purpose needs to be central to the rest of the talent and workforce plan.  

2. Creating visibility of current supply and future demands

Armed with a clear purpose for your talent strategy, the next step is to explore the talent you have, the talent you need, the gaps and how to fill them. This focuses attention on two key enablers that have often been neglected. 

Firstly, talent visibility – can you readily see the talent that you have? Do you really know what your people are capable of?  Many leaders have been surprised by the ‘hidden’ talent that has emerged during the pandemic.  

Secondly, how well do you leverage a broad talent ecosystem? Are you still wedded to traditional views of how you employ people, or have you broadened your talent pools to include ways to borrow, redeploy, reskill or share talent? How can you leverage the opportunities of remote working to access new sources of talent? How can technology enable different ways of working and different requirements?

Exploring these questions enables you to identify risks and opportunities. For example, if you need a lot of a scarce skill, then this needs to be a focus. If, however, you are confident that you can readily access the talent that you need in both the short and long term, then it will not be a priority

3. Building the talent climate

Performance depends not just on the right people in the right place, but also on having the right environment to enable them to perform, for talent to be liberated. Does your environment encourage and support everyone to be the best they can be? In the current world of remote working, a climate of high trust and empowerment will be more successful than one of command and control.  

Similarly, a climate of ‘not my job’, will limit the opportunity to flex people’s roles and to redeploy people when the needs change. In the future world, many organisations are likely to need a talent climate that celebrates flexibility, that encourages diverse voices, that harnesses disrupters and that connects and engages with the workforce. This can’t be left to chance. We need to be clear on the talent climate that will help us to achieve our goals, and we need to engage the leaders, managers and team members in making it a reality.  

4. Overhauling talent processes

We need to review all current talent processes with a focus on the purpose. The only processes to survive should be those that genuinely make a contribution. Alongside this, new processes may be needed to increase talent visibility, to broaden the ecosystem, to enable people to perform or to ensure rapid feedback loops of current and future needs. 

You may need new ways of letting people know your future talent needs and helping them to take responsibility for developing ‘in demand’ skills. These talent processes may look and feel different to previous processes. In particular, there is an increased emphasis on personalisation, so rather than a ‘one size fits all’, you may need to look at flexible contracts, reward mechanisms and ways of attracting and engaging talented people to help you to achieve your goals.

In the danger zone

Over the past few months, many organisations have reacted to the pandemic by rapidly implementing fundamental changes such as remote working, virtual recruitment, redeployment and extensive on-line meetings. 

These changes represent huge progress – and demonstrate how quickly we can change when the sense of urgency is driving us. However, we’re now in a danger zone. If we sit back and focus on our successes, we risk being unprepared for what’s next. We need to drive forward a new talent agenda that prepares our organisations for the future, whatever that may be.  

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