The allocation of financial capital has long been recognized as a critical driver of an organization’s performance. The value of managing and allocating human capital, however, is less widely known. But the results from a new McKinsey Global Survey confirm the positive effects of talent management on business outcomes.1 According to respondents, organizations with effective talent-management programs2 have a better chance than other companies of outperforming competitors and, among publicly owned companies, are likelier to outpace their peers’ returns to shareholders.
The survey also sought to uncover the specific practices that are most predictive of successful talent-management strategy. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the effective management of human capital, the survey results reveal three common practices that have an outsize impact on the overall effectiveness of talent management as well as organizational performance: rapid allocation of talent, the HR function’s involvement in fostering a positive employee experience, and a strategically minded HR team. The survey results also point to underlying actions that organizations of all stripes can take to cultivate these practices and thereby improve their talent-management strategy and organizational performance.
Why effective talent management matters
According to the survey responses, there is a significant relationship between talent management—when done well—and organizational performance. Only 5 percent of respondents say their organizations’ talent management has been very effective at improving company performance. But those that do are much more likely to say they outperform their competitors: 99 percent of respondents reporting very effective talent management say so, compared with 56 percent of all other respondents.3
What is more, the effects of successful talent management seem to be cumulative. Like an overall effective talent-management program, the abilities to attract and retain talent appear to support outperformance (Exhibit 1). Among public companies, we see a similar effect on total returns to shareholders (TRS). At companies with very effective talent management, respondents are six times more likely than those with very ineffective talent management to report higher TRS than competitors.
Three drivers of successful talent-management strategy
To support these outcomes, the results suggest three practices that most closely link with effective talent management: rapid allocation of talent,4 HR’s involvement in employee experience, and a strategically minded HR team (Exhibit 2).
Respondents who say all three practices are in place—just 17 percent—are significantly more likely than their peers to rate their organizations’ overall performance, as well as TRS, as better than competitors’ (Exhibit 3). They are also 2.5 times more likely than others to rate their organizations’ overall talent-management efforts as effective.
Rapid allocation of talent
Only 39 percent of respondents say their organizations are fast or very fast at reallocating talent as strategic priorities arise and dissolve—a practice that leads to a 1.4-times-greater likelihood of outperformance. And while it is well established that companies with rapid capital allocation are likely to see higher TRS, our findings show that the same holds true for talent allocation. At public companies that quickly allocate talent, respondents are 1.5 times more likely than the slower allocators to report better TRS than competitors.5 The link between rapid allocation and effective talent management is also strong: nearly two-thirds of the fast allocators say their talent-management efforts have improved overall performance, compared with just 29 percent of their slower-moving peers.
To allocate talent more quickly, the survey results point to three specific actions that meaningfully correlate with the practice (Exhibit 4). The first of these is the effective deployment of talent based on the skills needed, which has a direct impact on the speed of allocation. Respondents are 7.4 times more likely to report rapid talent allocation when their organizations effectively assign talent to a given role based on the skills needed.
Second is executive-team involvement in talent management. Respondents who say their leaders are involved in talent management are 3.4 times more likely to report rapid talent allocation at their organizations. The frequency of leaders’ involvement also makes a difference. At organizations that quickly reallocate talent, executive teams usually review talent allocation at least once per quarter (Exhibit 5). Finally, the results suggest that organizations where employees work in small, cross-functional teams are more likely than others to allocate talent quickly.
HR’s involvement in employee experience
A second driver of effective talent management relates to employee experience—specifically, the HR function’s role in ensuring a positive experience across the employee life cycle. Only 37 percent of respondents say that their organizations’ HR functions facilitate a positive employee experience. But those who do are 1.3 times more likely than other respondents to report organizational outperformance and 2.7 times more likely to report effective talent management, though our experience suggests that the HR function’s role is just one of the critical factors that support great employee experience.
A couple of key actions underlie the HR function’s ability to ensure better employee experiences. One is quickly assembling teams of HR experts from various parts of the function to address business priorities. Just 24 percent of respondents say their organizations employ this characteristic of an agile HR operating model, and they are three times likelier than other respondents to report a positive employee experience. Second is deploying talent and skills in a way that supports the organization’s overall strategy. One-third of all respondents say their organizations’ HR business partners are effective at linking talent with strategy in this way, and those who do are over three times more likely than other respondents to say the HR team facilitates positive employee experiences.
Strategic HR teams
The third practice of effective talent management is an HR team with a comprehensive understanding of the organization’s strategy and business priorities. When respondents say their organizations have a strategy-minded HR team, they are 1.4 times more likely to report outperforming competitors and 2.5 times more likely to report the effective management of talent.
The factor that most supports this practice, according to the results, is cross-functional experience. When HR leaders have experience in other functions—including experience as line managers—they are 1.8 times more likely to have a comprehensive understanding of strategy and business priorities. Also important is close collaboration among the organization’s chief HR officer, CEO, and CFO.6 Fewer than half of all respondents say those executives work together very closely at their organizations,7 but those who do are 1.7 times likelier to report a strategy-minded HR function. The findings also point to the importance of transparency with all employees about strategy and business objectives. Respondents who say their organizations’ employees understand the overall strategy are twice as likely to say their HR team has a comprehensive understanding of the strategy.
In summary, effective talent management—and the practices that best support it—contributes to a company’s financial performance. No one approach works for every company, but the survey results confirm that rapid allocation of talent, the HR function’s involvement in fostering positive employee experience, and a strategic HR function have the greatest impact on a talent-management program’s effectiveness.