What is a pipeline of talent for the future?

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair" A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens. Just like the dichotomy that Charles Dickens highlighted in A Tale of Two Cities in 1859, today organisations around the world are dealing with the complexities and challenges on both ends of the economic spectrum.

Talent is one of an organisation's key competitive advantages during tough economic times. Because of this, effective and deliberate talent management is more crucial now more than ever.

The world's organisations exist in a dichotomous environment from developed markets, such as Europe, in crisis; to slow growth in traditional markets; and rapid growth in emerging markets. To maintain market position and sustain growth, many of these organisation's leaders are focussing on growing a presence in new markets.

This in turn, brings its own set of challenges. In particular, the challenge of having the right people, in the right place, at the right time with the right skills and capabilities. Talent management and talent pipelining are key focus areas to ensure this is achieved.

With constraints in headcount and the increasing need to 'do more with less', effective talent management is critical. When thinking of talent management there are many frameworks or models one can use. The BCG-matrix, developed by the Boston Consulting Group, is one of the most effective global tools to rank business units (or products) based on their relative market share and growth rate. It categorises these rankings as Dogs, Cash Cows, Question Marks and Stars in terms of talent, the matrix offers a simple view of the talent in your organisation.

The Question Marks present challenges where to invest and build talent, versus pool and where to divest and reduce talent. These decisions of course need to be aligned to the strategy, the growth projections and market focus of the business.

The Stars are the future pipeline of talent they are the high potentials and investment, which extends beyond academics to accountability and exposure and will be required to enhance their capability.

The Cash Cows are the heart of the business, typically they represent 75% of the workforce's performers. These are the individuals who need to be effectively deployed, leveraged, engaged and motivated.

• Finally the Dogs, who generally contribute little to the business's market share. Here, performance is critical and if it is not possible to re-focus the Dogs then they should be swiftly managed out and the investment needs to be reassigned to developing your Stars.

Once you have categorised your talent and understand your organisation's talent, pipelining this becomes the next area of focus. The key to developing a relevant talent pipeline is to understand the future direction and strategy of the organisation.

This then needs to be distilled into a clear people strategy for the business which answers the following questions:

• Who do we need?

• Where do we need them?

• How will we get them there?

• At what cost?

Talent pipelining needs to take both internal and external environments into consideration. Internally, what existing talent does the organisation have to build, retain and correct deploy? Externally, what talent does the organisation need to identify, attract and acquire?

The biggest challenge to effective talent pipelining is that it is very often managed in isolation by the human resource function, without involvement from the business. However, business input is fundamental to planning, especially when an organisation enters into new markets.

Traditionally, when organisations move into new markets, they rely on 'imported' talent (expatriates) to provide the required capacity and capability. This is still a strategy that can work, but with country legislation and government mandate to localise skills development and job creation, it is becoming more difficult to rely on expatriates in the long term.

Using local talent also means bringing in local understanding of the market into your business, especially where relevance and on-the-ground knowledge is key. Ensuring the right capacity, capability and skills are in the right place to develop markets is vital.

Any business strategy aimed at entering new markets needs a clear business plan, but equally important is having a strategic talent plan. By having a talent pipeline plan in place, not only can you deploy the great performers, but you can also manage out the under-performers for future success.

Trevor Jamieson is the Associate Director of MAC Consulting.

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