Rethinking Talent Management

A Brave New World

By Kati Frazier and Lisa Cannell


Lisa Cannell, Managing Director and CHRO at the UVA Darden School of Business, set out to learn answers to the questions: “What talent management practices have stood the test of time in companies, which ones are changing, and why? What impact are these changes having on talent management leaders today?” She conducted 50 interviews with a variety of industries, including a majority of Fortune 500 companies, to get to the source of the driving forces of change.

As can be expected, the interviews with such diverse companies revealed that companies fall on a broad spectrum of approaches to talent management and organizational design. Some are committed to completely rebuilding talent management systems within their organizations; some are committed to their tried & true approaches. While the differences in industry influenced some of the changes, they all reported on macro trends that are shaping their future.

Big Trends and Big Questions

We all know the common saying “what got you here, won’t get you there.” Four macro trends of technology disruptors, fast pace of growth, brain research and changing consumer values are taking that saying to a whole new level for organizations. These trends are forcing organizations to fundamentally rethink their identities, and to reshape their organizational designs accordingly. Most organizations interviewed are hanging in the balance between the old and the new. As a result, leaders of talent management are in the middle of navigating their own identify shifts – from creators of processes and procedures to creators of solutions. People at the helm of this change are asking big questions: (Figure 1)

These driving forces have led to several organizations reporting that talent management strategies are “on the table” for disruption. The examples that follow are a sample of how companies are adapting to these significant driving forces of change.

Recruiting & Onboarding

In search of non-traditional talent pools. Six percent of companies reported that they are hiring outside of areas where they traditionally recruited from in the past. The search for non-traditional backgrounds has forced those responsible for recruiting to extend beyond traditional MBA programs. Additionally, several companies commented that they’re looking for new hires with more life experience.

“We are not going to be a company of labels, we are going to be a company of learning.”
– Talent Management Executive

Succession Planning

Focus on strategic roles. Five companies reported that they are moving away from onerous succession planning processes, and put a heavier emphasis on the most strategic positions that are difficult to fill externally. As one office furniture learning leader reported: “It is more important for us to identify key roles in our organization that we cannot win without and then plan back up for those positions.”

Performance Management

Emphasis on conversations. The 25% of organizations who reported moving from process-driven talent management to performance-driven talent management are using some variation of dialogue with managers. One social media organization claims: “we talk to our people, not about our people.” This focus on conversation has two drivers: speed and performance.

Learning & Development

Focus on growth mindset and agility. Key emphasis in leadership development reported by 19% of organizations is cultivating a growth mindset. Many organizations cite a growth mindset as a critical skill for organizational growth. The general hope behind an emphasis on a growth mindset is developing an employee base that is willing to evolve professionally along with the changing landscape of work.

Diversity & Inclusion

Small steps, but not enough. Advances in diversity & inclusion were not widely reported across interviews. Of the interviewees that mentioned their efforts in this space, they noted the effort to move away from a more programmatic approach and develop more integrated strategies throughout talent management approaches.

Conclusion: Be Brave

Leaders in talent management have a choice: they can hold on to the past, or embrace the new. In order to keep pace, leaders will need to find the courage to let go of some old approaches and pioneer new ones. Taking an agile approach to innovating and customizing talent programs with the focus on customer needs – and not HR needs – is a solid method to enter this brave new world.

Darden Executive Education is a top-ranked, global provider of executive development. Delivered by the University of Virginia Darden School Foundation and taught by the Darden School of Business’ highly acclaimed faculty, Darden Executive Education prepares and inspires leaders to succeed in a global marketplace. Offering more than 30 short courses and partnering with leading organizations worldwide to develop custom business solutions, we provide personalized, transformational learning experiences at our location in Charlottesville, Virginia, in Washington, D.C., and online. Darden shapes the way the world does business through our research — energized by 10 research Centers of Excellence — and draws upon our collective knowledge and experience to cultivate responsible, innovative leaders.