Talent management has become a high priority for companies under pressure to cut costs while increasing productivity. Still, very few organizations have a clear talent management strategy in place to drive the creation of the optimal workforce.

Long-range plans. The talent management planning process begins with the setting of long-range, achievable goals. What competencies will the company need in one to two years, or in three to five years? In the case of executive development, a plan may be laid out for the next 15 years.

According to Jeff Oberlin, president of Jeff Oberlin, Inc. in Elmhurst, Illinois, from line employees all the way up to the CEO, companies need to ensure that they have a long-range view of where they are going, what type of talent they will need, the competencies required in particular jobs and across the board, and also the number of employees needed with certain skill sets.

"Many times we forget to count the noses that are going to be required within an organization," Oberlin says, "and quantities definitely have to be taken into consideration as you start developing or acquiring certain types of talent."

Recently, Chevron experienced such growth that the company now focuses on forecasting future demand five to 10 years out. Shawstad says she and other members of senior management examine supply, identify gaps, and then develop plans to address those gaps. One such plan is a formal training program called "Horizon," which focuses on making sure employees have the technical skills they need for the next five years.

Progress checks. Once an organization devises a strategic plan that affects the acquisition and development of talent, it should conduct annual progress checks with quarterly reviews. Such reviews should assess changing strategies and explore emerging marketplace threats and opportunities, which could necessitate adjustments to the plan. According to Oberlin, companies often build competency models and never revisit them. This reduces their effectiveness over time.

Connecting business strategies. Attention should be focused in the right direction in the talent management planning process. This means connecting business strategies and the competencies needed to implement them. Personnel in critical or pivotal positions in implementation projects can immensely influence the success or failure of strategic plans.

For example, a company's business plan might call for a new initiative such as reducing long sales cycles, conducting a Six Sigma quality improvement program, or making a commitment to solving environmental issues. Whatever the initiative, change can only happen if the company has the right competencies in place. If it does not, the options are to hire new talent, develop existing talent, or transfer personnel internally. Oberlin believes that implementation of strategy is a facilitative process.

"It doesn't happen magically, or in a black box, or in the software. It has to be teased out with the right kind of functional participants or leaders," he says.

Developing a talent mindset. Leadership throughout the organization needs to have a talent mindset that drives them to actively participate in the acquisition and development of talent. Because company culture is the soul of an organization, top executives need to help create and sustain a purposeful, engaging, rewarding, and high-performance work life. This requires constant attention and should be part of the annual talent planning process.

"I've had my best success when I have the senior leaders of the organization buying into the competency models for the key jobs throughout the organization," Oberlin notes. "That has a tremendous impact."

Integrating all talent initiatives. All of the initiatives a company undertakes to attract, recruit, onboard, engage, direct, develop, reward, and retain talent have to work consciously in concert. People who perform these functions should participate in the annual talent management planning process and the quarterly reviews, along with the business leaders they support.

When Oberlin helps companies plan new strategies, he finds that businesses that have integrated their talent management data can analyze it comparatively and better answer questions, such as, "Why are certain salespeople or certain technicians more successful than others?"

"A whole variety of things could be indicators of why certain individuals perform better than others," he says. "If I'm guessing at it, I don't know why. But if I have a means to manage and analyze this talent by looking at the data, it will let me predict which other employees will be successful in certain areas."

A fully integrated talent management system helps answer many questions concerning development needs. A CEO may ask, "Do I have the executive talent to lead an initiative?" or "How long before we have enough knowledge and skills within the organization for the initiative to take hold?"

HR can then respond, "One quarter of the employees have participated in quality circles at some time in their careers." HR can also point out the high-performing professionals already inside the organization. It is, however, still up to the people in key leadership roles to evaluate this information and make implementation decisions accordingly.

The talent management process coupled with improved technology greatly enhances business communication. It increases the information exchange between HR personnel and top business executives, allowing them to create and implement strategic plans. Its ultimate outcome will be an integrated approach that leaves nothing to chance. It will assure that the right people are in the right jobs when and where the business needs them.