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Talent and careers, two sides of the same coin - or are they?


Let’s cut to the chase – they can be—but rarely are in practice! Having a coherent approach to talent and careers brings real benefits to the organisation and your employees, but it isn’t easy.

Laura Walker shares her top insights from 25 years in Talent and L&D for respected businesses across six different sectors. She addresses:

  • The top three Talent and Careers priorities for any organisation
  • The most common tensions that exist
  • The main benefits of a coherent approach
  • Practical steps that leaders and HR can take

The top three talent and careers priorities for any organisation

Not everyone will use the same words, but in my experience, there are always the same three key priorities for any organisation:

Talent Careers
Do we have strong succession where we need it most?

  • Senior leaders
  • Key positions (non-hierarchical)
Do we have a compelling career proposition that we live by?

  • Attracts
  • Keeps
  • Engages
Are we building the capabilities we need to succeed as a business?

  • Organisational
  • People
Are the building blocks in place to be able to navigate careers?

  • Clear framework
  • Accessible ‘how-to’ resources
Do we have a healthy and diverse pipeline?

  • Flow
  • Progression
Are career conversations engaging and impactful?

  • Capable and confident individuals and managers

There are real similarities across Talent and Careers priorities – both need a future-focus, both need real business impact, both need robust and efficient processes.

But there are also two important differences. Firstly, the parties most interested in these agendas are very different. Boards and Senior Executives care most about Talent, whereas employees care most about Careers. Secondly, the scope of the work is usually quite different. Talent attention is usually on a capital T shape – i.e. the most senior leaders, and slice through the organisation for key positions or high potentials. Careers, however, is relevant for the whole organisation.

Despite having shared interests, Talent and Careers can often end up being pulled in different directions.

What are the most common tensions?

At some time, all organisations will have faced one or more of these top four tensions. They show up in questions of strategy, proposition, processes, messages and support.

Inclusive ­Exclusive
Global ­Local
Business-led ­Individual-led
Breadth ­Depth

Many espouse an inclusive agenda, but have an exclusive approach in practice – paying most attention to high potentials, certain key positions, or their top performers. They invest much more in talent programmes than careers programmes – spending disproportionately on early careers and external candidates, and ignore their existing and mid-career employees.

Similarly, lots of businesses advocate a global or enterprise level approach saying they want people to move around. In reality though, most people have careers conversations locally with their managers who don’t feel confident to help people navigate a global or broader career. Crossing boundaries between business areas is tough and relatively few manage it.

Businesses end up see-sawing between two valid but conflicting positions. It is so seductive to want both, but in reality, one will always win. A clear, strategic choice can reduce the dizziness considerably.

The main benefits of a coherent approach

There are three types of benefit from a coherent approach: strategic, operational and experiential.

Larger businesses frequently have separate teams accountable for talent and careers. This is not an issue in itself, but can result in different strategies, measures, suppliers, intranet sites, budgets and so on. There is a real risk of creating a ‘tug-of war’ where they cancel out each other’s hard work and investment. They need to be pulling in the same direction.

Operationally, it is common to have very separate internal and external recruitment processes. Some businesses have brought them together in shared services teams and are seeing real cost savings and an increase in internal movement.

As businesses grow, often through acquisitions, they can end up with a whole cocktail of messages about Talent and Careers. Clear, simple and coherent guidance can make a huge difference to the experience of managers and employees – helping them to cut through the complexity and own their own careers.

Practical steps that leaders and HR can take

Here are four tried and tested actions to help you develop a more coherent approach.

1. Define and share key future capabilities

Clearly defined future capabilities help prioritise investment and enable individuals to make future-proof career and employability choices.

2. Provide clear, simple guidance — that you stick to

Providing clear expectations and guidance helps leaders, managers and individuals – some businesses require future executives to have a breadth of experiences across 2 geographies, 2 functions and 2 business leadership challenges.

3. Emphasise experiences more than jobs

Emphasising experiences over jobs can encourage a more diverse pipeline of talent and more opportunities for individuals as they can gather experiences via a whole variety of different routes.

4. Invest in both careers and talent — wisely

Shifting investment towards equipping individuals to drive their own career can benefit both agendas.

If you’d like to shift the focus to an inclusive career strategy, let’s have a conversation

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