Total Talent Management - a Q&A with Annelise Smith

This interview originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of TALiNT International between Dawn Gibson and Lorien’s Director for MSP and RPO Annelise Smith on how companies that adopt a holistic talent strategy can slash attrition and broaden their talent pool.

Talent solutions are evolving rapidly as the recruitment industry navigates the huge changes accelerated by the pandemic and digital transformation. Organisations are pushed to be more creative in order to attract and retain staff in a fiercely competitive market. Candidate expectations are also broader and more ambitious – while a fat salary will always be attractive, today’s top talent also want to know they will have access to flexible and/or hybrid working arrangement, as well as ample opportunities for career growth and development. Shifting ground in what the workplace offers and heightened competition for top talent is changing how we go to market – and surfacing a new talent solution trend.

Why is total talent management trending?

The concept of total talent management (TTM) is attracting a lot of interest as a potential way to bridge the gap between traditional recruitment and new market realities. But what does TTM mean in practice? What are the challenges? What are the business benefits and how long does it take to see them?

Annelise Smith, Director of MSP and RPO at global digital, transformation and technology recruitment specialist Lorien, part of the Impellam Group, works with an increasing number of companies contemplating these questions. “Total talent management has been talked about for some time from a conceptual perspective, but it’s a topic that is now building momentum”, she said. “We’re seeing candidate scarcity getting more and more extreme, and organisations are realising that they have to think differently about talent in general.”

“While total talent acquisition is more about how we look at the external workforce, total talent management is about having a more cohesive, holistic approach to acquiring, engaging and utilising talent in both the external and internal markets,” Smith explained. “A TTM approach draws from all sources of talent and, as a result, in theory, the talent pipeline is extended, enabling companies to keep up with shifting and aggressive business demands.”

“The market is in an evolutionary place. We may start seeing a shift from the big ‘one size fits all’ MSP/RPO programmes we have been used to. Customers are looking for more agility; they are looking for different solutions, different options and they want to work with providers who can support them with their talent agenda.”

How does TTM work?

Traditionally, hiring has been organised into distinct silos according to permanent, contingent and Statement of Work (SOW) requirements. TA and HR are responsible for permanent recruitment, whilst procurement handles contingent and SOW.

The evolution towards total talent management is blurring these divisions. TA teams are increasingly playing a key overall role, taking on responsibility for contingent as well as permanent staffing. While SOW continues to primarily sit within procurement, TA leaders are becoming more involved in setting SOW parameters and total talent management does not necessarily mean that a company outsources all of its recruitment to one provider. TTM is more about improving service delivery than cutting costs – and that means working together and across borders.

“It’s not about saying it needs one team doing everything related to talent acquisition, because that is probably unrealistic; it’s more about having an overall owner, cohesive ways of working and a unified approach,” Smith said.

“Within a TTM model, you may have an MSP, an RPO provider and a TA team working together to deliver a strategy that comes from above. Business buy-in and CEO sponsorship are absolutely key. If you’re rolling out a new model, and trying to break down traditional barriers and silos, there has to be a clear vision and executive sponsorship.”

What are the benefits?

For organisations that go down this route, the rewards look extremely enticing. TTM promises to deliver not only a wider talent pool, but also a more diverse selection of candidates and a more flexible approach to how works gets done. “Any approach that broadens the potential pool of workers, taking away barriers to entry and opening up different types of engagement opportunities, should naturally have a positive impact on diversity,” Smith said.

“Total talent is about the optimisation of a workforce, and optimisation goes hand-in-hand with diversity. It’s long been shown that businesses with a more diverse workforce and inclusive practices tend to outperform their competition. A truly cohesive approach can enable organisations to broaden their diversity aspirations beyond the permanent world, where we have tended to see efforts concentrated to date.”

TTM also means looking more analytically at the internal talent pool and alumni candidates, as well as providing opportunities for upskilling and retraining to fulfil business needs and employee goals. Smith expanded: “A true total talent management approach is bringing to the table graduates and apprentices, but also the existing workforce – talent that may well exist right under management’s noses, but they don’t necessarily have the means of classifying and understanding the potential of that talent, understanding those people’s ambitions, what they want to do, what they could do.”

“If you focus on that internal market, the external market will follow. Reskilling and retraining programmes are going to be fundamental to the importance of any solution.”

TTM could also prove a much-needed solution to retention issues. Smith said a 20% reduction in attrition over two years was likely to be a ‘reasonable target’. “Certainly, for any organisation struggling with attrition, you should see benefits from any approach that utilises the talent available to you in the best possible way,” she said. “You are looking at your workforce as a whole, you have greater access to data, and are better able to understand all the different interplaying scenarios that are happening, so you can make informed decisions that drive tangible benefits.

“I think you will see cost benefits as well. In our current siloed market, we all know of may roles going through a high-cost consultancy or contingent route that should perhaps not be run in the way. Similarly, we see many roles being recruited on a perm basis when a shorter term, albeit higher cost, contingent option would probably be the better route. We all know that; we all see it happening; but it can be hard to break the habit.”

What are the challenges?

For Smith, the evolution of TTM also offers significant opportunities for HR and TA functions to elevate people strategy as a key business priority but acknowledged this brought with it tough conversations.

“The focus of Talent Acquisition functions has to be how best to broaden the net in order to attract and engage the best possible talent – and that means putting the focus primarily on the talent and what they want rather than what the hiring manager has in the past come to expect. This means evaluating every step of the recruitment proves from attraction strategy, assessment, selection, offer right through to onboarding, to ensure a positive candidate experience. Now more than ever it is the function of TA to educate the business in the role they need to play when it comes to securing the talent they so badly need.”

Getting executive buy-in is the first and arguable the greatest challenge, considering TTM is new and largely untested. Employers have to be willing to experiment, find out what works for them and learn from their mistakes.

“We need to be really clear about what the business benefits are, and how those business benefits go beyond costs savings,” Smith said. “What will the approach achieve in terms of access to talent? How will it drive greater diversity? What tangible improvements will your hiring managers see?”

“TTM is a long-term project requiring considerable change management, so, it is essential for the investment case to be sound. TA, HR, and the C-Suite need to really think about what they are trying to achieve and how to communicate their strategies.”

“It’s about starting small – building the foundations, focusing on data, process, capability and working from there. It may take years to get a full total talent talent management solution up and running, but you can make small changes along the ay that will have an immediate impact.”

First steps to TTM

Smith recommends companies trial a total talent acquisition strategy; namely triaging roles to determine if they should be treated as permanent, contingent or SOW, rather than putting roles in the same silos as they always have. “Put in a process which enable you to look at each role on its merits, so you are optimising your chances of getting the right talent for the right amount of time, the right price, for that specific requirement considering current market conditions,” she said. “You can start to see the benefits of those kinds of small changes quite quickly from a coast, quality, and timeframe perspective.”

“However, it’s vital that all stakeholder, from the TA team to RPO/MSP providers and staffing firms, are operating on an even playing field. “The customer needs to set the right expectations and encourage a culture which supports collaboration; for example, not having suppliers being played off against each other. It goes back to setting a clear strategy of what we are trying to achieve.”

“We are already seeing some organisations putting ownership of all the different routes to market in one place, and I believe we will start seeing a lot more demand for teams, either outsourced or internal, to work more closely together and to have more valuable discussions around the right route to market for each role,” Smith said. “Even if organisations are not thinking about adopting a total talent solution, many realise they need to optimise their operations. The market is changing and that means we need to change with it – we can’t continue to do things the same way we always have done.”

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