DesignIntelligence Media Group

The Talent Cycle Challenge

May 18, 2017 | Blanca Blaney

Every organization is challenged with the vagaries resident in the talent cycle. Far too often businesses neither take the time nor leverage the expertise to ensure they have clear strategy in-hand to guide talent decisions.

Sometimes decisions to bring on new talent are based on not wanting to lose out on opportunity so the hiring trigger is pulled, the new talent arrives and is dropped into a spot in hopes it will “work out somehow.” And it often does. But the load on the P&L, the impact of the change, the messages sent to legacy talent who paid the price to get where they are . . . all come at a cost usually not understood or even acknowledged.

However, a well-structured business strategy and inventory of operational requirements can provide a framework to optimize outcomes. To be clear, the talent cycle is comprised of the following stages:


  • Articulated Business Strategy
  • Enabling Operational Requirements
  • Supportive Staffing Plan
  • Talent Recruiting
  • Effective Onboarding
  • Optimized Placement
  • Targeted Development
  • Organizational Movement
  • Strategic Transitioning

Let’s look at these stages and highlight the challenges and possible improvement opportunities in each.

Articulated Business Strategy

Effective businesses are guided by an articulated business strategy, the roadmap for successful achievement and profitable growth. In the absence of an articulated strategy, businesses flounder to find their footing. The addition or reduction of talent is arbitrary, being triggered by expeditious immediacies rather than contextualized in a broader view strategy.

The articulated business strategy sets the framework for all talent decisions. Taking the time and making the investment to develop such a plan is the first and most important stage in dealing with the talent challenge.

Enabling Operational Requirements

Extracting the operational requirements to fulfilling the strategic plan is essential to functional achievement. Without an inventory of operational requirements, management is left guessing for responses to the “what” and “how” of business strategy success.

The operational requirements highlight the targeted productivity, quality of deliverables, and workforce competencies necessary for the tasks. Again, without operational requirements being clearly understood, talent acquisition or divestiture becomes a guessing exercise and that usually results in losses on multiple dimensions.

Supportive Talent Plan

The talent plan is the core of the talent cycle. Through this plan, management knows the quantity and type of competencies at what time to bring on board to meet the operational requirements of the strategic plan. The criticality of this plan can’t be overstated.

Resident in this talent plan are two of the largest cash flow expenditures of a company . . . payroll and benefits. The cost of hiring goes far above the base salary offered. The cost of administration, overhead, technology provisioning, benefits, oversight, development and more contribute to the total cost of employment. Without clear alignment between the business strategy, operational requirements and the talent plan, a company is sure to suffer either bloated payroll challenges or atrophied talent. A plan alleviates the guess work.

Talent Recruiting

Once the talent plan is fully developed, the talent recruiting can begin. Every effective recruiting effort is as much a marketing and sales effort as the workforce selling the goods and services of the company. In order to attract the best talent, a company must be ready and prepared to market its culture, value, and opportunities to the candidate pool.

Effective talent recruiting is both an art and a science. It is an art in that it requires discerning recruiters and insightful hiring managers to look beyond the surface attributes of a given candidate and discover the immediate and intermediate value contributions a candidate might bring to the hiring company. The science is best realized in the assessment, documentation, and plan management of an executable talent plan.

Effective Onboarding

Effective onboarding of candidates requires much more than efficient orientations. HR departments are famous for efficiency in getting the employment paperwork and benefit packages communicated and enrolled. Truly effective onboarding of new hires leaves a lasting impression.

Onboarding is perhaps better understood as assimilation. Acknowledgement and affirmation of an individual’s independent potential is only part of effective onboarding. Equally important is how that individual understands and moves into an interdependent function within the company and the role they’re assigned. Essentially, the goal of effective onboarding is company cultural assimilation.

Optimized Placement

So often we place talent in roles that miss the mark. A given talent placed in an inappropriate or sub-optimal role not only minimizes the return on productivity but also creates a ripple effect across the employment community and creates workflow disruption. Back to the beginning, an articulated business strategy, enabling operational requirements, and the supportive staffing plan together define the context for what talent should be placed where in the company to ensure optimal productivity and, ultimately, positive contribution to the bottom line.

Optimally placing talent is perhaps the most critical success factor a company can initiate. Cavalier and seeming arbitrary placement decisions undermine the essential foundations of any enduring business.

Targeted Development

When it comes to talent, investments in development make the difference between status quo and exceptional. Establishing clearly defined talent development paths and investing time and energy into each employee’s growth will yield exponential returns in productivity, cultural effectiveness, and talent sustainability. The more you invest in your organization the more you can rest assured you have the talent necessary to fulfill the articulated business strategy for your company.

Organizational Movement

Things change. Whether it be market conditions, market offerings, competitive landscapes, financial dynamics, or talent attrition . . . things change. And with change often comes the necessity to move talent within a company and sometimes out of a company.

The decision to move individual talent from one role to another, if not done within the context of an overall talent plan, could harm the company, discourage the person being moved, and miss the reason for the movement in the first place. Understanding how the move will first effect that talent and what incentives might be established to award talent adaptability can make the difference between an effective move and a disastrous one.

Strategic Transitioning

When it’s time to replace key talent out of roles and transition successors into the roles, it can feel like walking a tightrope. A mistake can mean real failure and incalculable cost immediately felt by constituents near and far. As the title suggests, it’s really all about strategy. Putting a thorough plan in place that anticipates and mitigates transitional risks is essential to positive outcomes.


There’s nothing more critical than planning when it comes to dealing with talent. People are any company’s most valuable asset and as such deserve the care and attention given to lesser assets. Understanding the stages of the talent challenge and how best to organize the talent cycle will best position your company for exponential returns on your talent investments.


Blanca Longarte-Blaney is the managing principal of the Strategic Leadership practice of DI Strategic Advisors.

Dave Gilmore is the president of DesignIntelligence and a scholar member of the American Institute of Economic Research.