• Managing people

Talent Management Goes Agile

Executive leaders are losing patience with traditional tools for managing talent, says Ronny Vansteenkiste, a Senior Associate with Management Centre Europe and a Fortune 500 veteran

Monday 03 June 2019


By downloading this resource your information will be shared with its authors. Full privacy statement.

Digital technologies are disrupting how organizations operate. Externally, they are striving to become more agile in what they offer. Internally, their systems are struggling to adapt. For talent, it means a radical re-think, particularly in engaging a younger workforce.

In the gig economy, command and control impresses no one. Careers are no longer viewed as ladders. Careers are more like the ‘jungle gym’ in which your kids play. You move up, you move across, you move down, you move out, you move back in again.

In this environment, executive leaders are losing patience with systems that are too slow to respond. They are moving away from ‘waterfall’ projects that take a year to plan and months to implement. By then, the world has already changed twice.

Instead, they are looking to deploy teams at speed to test an idea, build a prototype and create a viable minimum product or solution, then disband and start again.

‘The talent systems that we spent 30-40 years building are off the pace,’ says Ronny Vansteenkiste, a Senior Associate at Management Centre Europe (MCE) with a long experience of managing talent at the top of Fortune 500 companies. At MCE, Ronny is bringing a wide audience of HR professionals up to speed with what is now expected of talent managers.

‘We are looking beyond our traditional tools: the annual appraisal, the succession plan, the e-learning module and the employee survey. If talent is to become agile, then it must be managed from the employee up, not from the system down.’

Agile performance

Annual appraisals are a primary source of anguish. They take up too much time and lag behind skills required. They also tend to turn into negotiations about compensation, instead of discussions about performance.

Instead, regular check-ins or forward focused conversations based on live data work better. You can pick up what is working, what is falling behind and what is going to happen next.

For leaders, it will mean improving their skills in holding the candid conversations that many of them prefer to avoid.

Agile succession

Your plans for how the organization will look in two to five years will almost certainly be overtaken by events. As we know, the world is becoming too volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous.

You can find yourself taking succession five levels down the organization, involving yourself in dozens of day-long talent review sessions, evaluating role by role, only for the whole business unit to become redundant shortly thereafter.

Instead of such wasted efforts, you can put succession in the immediate control of each leader: what skills do they need to worry about acquiring and developing in the next two years? Can they create broader based talent pools and tap into the key capabilities represented in those pools, in line with what is required strategically for future growth of their organisation?

Agile recruitment

Stick with your old system of filling vacancies and interviewing candidates, if you will. Your competitors are accepting their workforces are now radically more diverse.

You have your core, your temps and your contingent workers. You can’t make them all a standard offer. Instead, you appeal to what they value as individuals.

To tap into this gig economy, you will be actively involved in all the online platforms and will understand the nature of loyalty in the short term. In selecting the right candidates, you will probably come to rely less on interviews and more on games to check out everyone’s capabilities.

Agile learning

Learning is becoming similarly personalized. Your employees live in a world of TED, YouTube and social media. They expect their learning to be short, full of impact and targeted at them. You can’t send everyone on the same course or put them through a standard e-learning module. So, as an agile employer, you will be building learning pathways around the needs and expectations of each individual.

Employee experience

To check your talent is on track, you could continue to pay up to $250,000 for an annual employee survey. ‘They are too top down,’ says Vansteenkiste. ‘Most ask the same question year after year. The issue is only whether the answers vary by a percentage point or two.

‘If you genuinely want to improve the experience of your employees, then learn from consumer marketing. At each point where, as an organisation, you ‘touch’ your people, you have a terrific opportunity to make a positive difference that will stand out in anyone’s mind.’ A far more effective way to create a future-proof engaged workforce.

‘So, listen to your employees as they engage with you. Take back what they say, prototype it and see if it works. In that way, you will learn what experiences they really value and how you can compete for the best skills.’


Management Centre Europe (MCE) is running a series of programmes for HR professionals on leading and managing in a VUCA world, with Senior Associates like Ronny Vansteenkiste, who have direct practical experience of how to translate new thinking into action.

Google Analytics Alternative