Talent Management is Dead - Long Live Talent Management!

By Professor Emma Parry
In a live, insight-laden panel event with Cranfield Executive Development, global talent leaders convened to share their hopes, fears, ideas and aspirations for the future of talent development.


Of the several hundred event participants – mostly senior HR and L&D leaders from organisations all over the world, and experts in the field of talent - 89% believe current approaches to talent management were not fit for purpose, a snap poll revealed.

Cranfield’s Executive Development experts agreed: traditional methods of talent management are no longer adequate at a time when worker attitudes, employer expectations, and the workplace itself are all changing.

The Cranfield team proposed a more flexible, agile and inclusive approach, better suited to the modern workplace and non-traditional career trajectories.

”What we need is very different to the current or traditional approaches to talent management such as 9-box grids, competencies and career paths, long-term succession planning, etc. It has to be much more flexible, agile and inclusive.Cranfield School of Management’s Professor Emma Parry.


Flexible Talent Management


The world of work is changing. Digitisation, automation and other 4IR technologies are transforming both white- and blue-collar jobs. Workforces are getting older and career paths are less rigid. Organisations are finding it harder to attract and retain the skills they need.


Traditional talent planning is based on succession pipelines, identifying people with particular competencies and moving them along a linear career path. Now, in the search for agility and adaptability, there needs to be deeper understanding of the workforce and the individuals within it. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach the focus should be on workforce intelligence, learning cultures and personalised development.


  • “You need junior talent to have the potential to move up the line. Equally, some people are happy to work at the same level but opportunities need to be open to them.”  
  • “We have just implemented a talent process focused very specifically on gaining a 360o view of the individual, understanding their aspirations and most importantly the conversation. All of this, behind the scenes, rolls up into data that we in talent management can use to look at talent and succession. But this is not the core part for the end user so we have focused on the tools and resources for our managers to make this a useful discussion.”
  • “Inertia is the biggest issue. I work with clients that are using psychometric data to back up their talent decisions instead of trusting gut instinct. Surprisingly, people tend to prefer their obsolete gut instinct approach rather than listening to cold hard data. It really reminds me of the movie ‘Moneyball’.”
  • “My leaders want a talent strategy but they only understand the ‘traditional’ methods because that's what they experienced. Very hard to get them to see another way.”

  • “Stating the obvious here but surely there are two main categories of employee: those that want to progress and manage their own career planning, and those that don't want to move or need encouragment to progress? In which case, a framework should differ depending on the individual.”

  • "We are actively working on adapting or eliminating 6-box and segmentation, and towards personalisation of growth experiences based on colleagues’ aspirations and future business needs.”  


Agile Talent Management

Organisational needs are changing. Uncertainty along with rapid market and technological change makes organisational agility a must. From a talent perspective this means upskilling, reskilling and employee redeployment, and a modernised set of leadership skills.

There is increasing need to recruit and develop people, not for specific competencies, but for their potential to learn and adapt. Organisations are also increasingly aware of the need to build more diverse pools of talent.


The experience of two of Cranfield Executive Education’s clients are salutary:

  1. A large infrastructure engineering firm, faced with uncertainty around skills and job roles as AI transforms areas such as design process; and

  2. One of the four top consulting firms, seeking flexible pathways rather than fixed skillsets, for people able to adapt to the ever-changing needs of the consulting market.

The overriding priority that emerges for these clients is the need to predict the human skills most needed in the future. Cranfield’s clients emphasised agility, adaptability, and a learning mindset, which are reflected in the seven ‘meta capabilities’ considered essential for the future:

  • curiosity;
  • systems thinking;
  • learning;
  • agility;
  • working with purpose;
  • sensemaking;
  • judgement.


  • We want to move away from a 9-box grid, but are still interested in ensuring we grow talent pools and pipelines. What we struggle with a little is the scalability, and satisfying the typical employee who wants to identify their next step.”
  • “We are looking at creating a matrix that tracks talent; getting to know key stakeholders who should get to know the people who are interested in exploring roles outside of what they do today.”

  • “No matter what process or programme you use, it does require that managers know their people; how they need to develop, how they want to grow, what career they want. It is a partnership between both the manager and the employee ... and mechanisms are in place to make that happen. We spend much time training managers on how to do that, albeit painfully.”
  • “We have recently implemented a more fluid approach that promotes incremental growth in role i.e. depth of expertise, or mobility along horizontal, vertical or diagonal ‘zig-zags’ i.e. breadth of experience. It all starts with putting our people at the centre of our strategy. Colleagues reflect and define their growth aspirations and then managers ‘assess' talent to validate the best growth path for them based on aspiration, performance, leadership experiences, agilities and business needs. This drives more outcomes-focused growth conversations and bold talent decisions.”
  • “We are moving from ‘Building Lego’ (standard designed pieces and bits that fit and stick together) to ‘Shaping Clay’ (more dynamic and shapeless entities that continuously need to be managed not to dry out and stiffen).”
  • “With more and more focus on implementing agile ways of working and having a more personalised view of growth, another question is: does a traditional approach or view of headcount need to fundamentally change?”
Inclusive Talent Management

Employee attitudes and aspirations are significantly different to those of past generations. Rather than a job for life with a final-salary pension, people follow a personalised career path characterised by individualism and a desire for meaning in the work they do. Flexible working practices and work-life balance are valued, as is equality of opportunity whether by gender, ethnicity and age.


"We are all on a continuum between a wholly exclusive approach to talent management at one extreme and moving towards a completely inclusive approach at the other extreme,” suggests Kim Lafferty, VP People Effectiveness at GlaxoSmithKline.

At the exclusive end we talk of ‘high-potentials’ and ‘top talent’; as we become more inclusive the language changes. GSK now speaks of ‘outstanding people’. The exclusive approach involves managers devoting time to populating 9-box grids, completing talent reviews, and agreeing succession plans in the organisation; whereas with the inclusive approach time is devoted to knowing your people, succession planning for critical roles, and career discussions (often tricky when the jobs of the future are yet to be defined).

This points to a fundamental change in philosophy from an exclusive organisation - and process-centric approach to an inclusive one that is employee- and person-centric.

Key components of the inclusive approach include “keep it human; view everyone as talent and make customised development investments in individuals.” Arguably, the inclusive approach is more suited “to be a ‘magnet for talent’ in a shape-shifting world of work; a place people are proud to work for and if they leave would be happy to return to.”


  • “Perhaps the ‘inclusive approach’ to talent management is becoming conceivable because of the explosion of talent management software and digital platforms we are seeing in workplaces.”
  • “Agreed! An inclusive approach would have been very difficult 5 years ago (just as adapting to COVID would have been 5 years ago).”

  • “Love the concept of the organisation being a ‘talent magnet’. A struggle I see is about shifting the mindset and behaviour of managers; moving from being a talent 'hoarder' i.e. I'm successful if I keep my people and have low turnover, to being a talent 'exporter' i.e. I'm successful when I grow my people and encourage internal mobility.”

  • “The inclusive approach relies heavily on the manager. We know people have very different experiences of management including quality of career conversations. Middle managers also tend to be very time-poor. How can we ensure they are engaged and developed in the right way?”

  • “I agree completely about the focus on the line manager. In my opinion, one of the greatest failings in organisations is that we don’t concentrate enough on developing line managers. We know that this is the key part of employee experience and the success of initiatives like talent management, and yet so few organisations do this well.”


Looking ahead

Like all large-scale change endeavours, revitalising talent management for the modern world with an emphasis on flexibility, agility, and inclusivity will be a great challenge and face resistance and difficulty. Yet it is certainly one that Cranfield Executive Development and our audience of forward-thinking talent leaders here will relish and meet head-on.




Professor Emma Parry specialises in working with commercial and Government organisations to improve how they anticipate and prepare for the changing world of work. Emma is Professor of Human Resource Management and works with clients to advise, design and oversee delivery of impactful, future-focused solutions, with particular expertise in workforce wellbeing and productivity, cross-cultural ways of working, and understanding operational environments across borders.

As head of the Changing World of Work group, Emma is regularly called upon to speak at key events as a leading expert in her field. She has worked extensively with the Ministry of Defence and the UK Home Office to transform people management in UK defence and security. Other organisations who have benefitted from her work include the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the US Society for Human Resource Management, and ex-service personnel support charity the Forces in Mind Trust.


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