Leadership : Talent Management Key to Filling Leadership Gap


Albert A. Vicere is executive education professor of strategic leadership at Penn State's Smeal College of Business, and president of Vicere Associates, Inc., a leadership consulting firm with clients around the globe.  He is one of the country's top leadership coaches, and is the author/editor of several books including Leadership By Design, The Many Facets of Leadership and more than 80 articles on leadership development and organizational effectiveness.

View his website by visiting www.vicere.com or e-mail him on a.vicere@vicere.com


For years, experts have been pointing to a crisis in leadership. But this isn't a crisis of accountability, it is a crisis of availability. We're running short of leaders.

Consider this: a Business Wire survey found that 20 percent of the senior executives in Fortune 500 companies were qualified to retire in 2003. A survey of large companies conducted by RHR associates found that half the respondents expected to lose more than half of their current senior management team by 2010. And a recent study by Executive Development Associates (EDA) found that 70 percent of the responding companies cited a lack of leadership bench strength as a major corporate challenge.

Companies finally have begun to address the issue, acknowledging leadership talent shortages and making leadership development a top priority. But most express concern that the leadership talent gap is one of corporate America's biggest challenges.

Certainly, demographics are at the heart of the challenge _ baby boomers are retiring in droves and they need to be replaced. But new employee expectations and the complexity of global leadership make that challenge enormously complex.

What companies need is a focused, intensive set of processes to expand and develop their pool of leadership talent. And they need to get those processes in place now if they have any hope of filling their leadership talent gap.

What's needed, according to Eileen Antonucci, executive vice president for Executive Talent Management Systems at EDA, are integrated approaches to talent management and leadership development. She notes that at the best companies, "talent is viewed as a key strategic resource for achieving business objectives and is never taken for granted."

Antonucci went on to note that high performing companies have well-developed talent management systems, "driven by a deep and detailed understanding of the organization's business goals and the talent needed to get there."

Human resources guru Dave Ulrich has written extensively on what it takes to build what he calls organizational capability, the ability to develop business strategies and execute them. He contends that the essence of organizational capability is a tight link between business objectives and organizational processes for selecting, developing, appraising and rewarding people. In short, they need talent management systems.

Antonucci couldn't agree more, "Talent management systems do not leave key factors to chance. The organization carefully develops a distinct "employer brand" to attract talent, thinks through how work is organized and its impact on issues such as employee satisfaction and retention. A talent management system is part of the fabric of the organization."

But effective talent management requires a perspective that goes both ways. Says Antonucci, "Organizations need to know what kinds of talent they need to achieve their goals. For example, what are the knowledge and skills employees need based on our business outcomes? But they also need to know the needs and expectations of their employees. What will engage and motivate employees? What will attract them to our organization? What will keep them here?"

What are the characteristics of a good talent management system? Antonucci outlined three simple traits. First, there is ownership and involvement across the whole company, not just with the human resource management department. Second, business objectives permeate every aspect of the system from employer branding to appraisal through development. Third, the system is measured in real business terms and results are acted upon.

And the measures of an effective talent management system? It comes down to whether a company has the talent needed to execute their business strategy. And the signs of a faltering system are readily apparent:

  • Failing to meet business targets or objectives
  • Shortages of key talent
  • Talent management a low corporate priority
  • Employee morale and satisfaction on the wane
  • Problems recruiting employees
  • Problems retaining employees
  • A tarnished employment brand

With the steady departure of baby boomers from leadership ranks and the demand for talent more intense than ever, companies should heed the siren of talent management. The crisis of leadership availability is no longer looming on the horizon. It's here. Talent management processes are crucial to meeting the challenge.

Ó Copyright Albert Vicere 2004

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