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Talent Management: All about Sustainability

Sustainability isn’t something that is always associated with Talent Management; rather, it is usually associated with environmental issues and activities. However, Wikipedia describes Sustainability as “…in a general sense [it] is the capacity to support, maintain or endure“. For me, sustainability in a Talent Management context is about organizations developing their future leaders, managers, specialists and employees from the talent potential within. It is about reducing the need to hire externally and releasing the potential of individuals throughout the organization. It is about creating a talent supply without needing to rely on ever-dwindling and competitive talent supply externally.

It is a well-known fact that, financially, recruiting an individual externally is far more costly than recruiting an individual internally. In the long-term, an incorrect hiring decision can prove more costly, whether this is external or internal, and so internal recruitment must be done properly – and a well-executed talent management strategy can help to achieve this.

Internal recruitment is based on a number of factors that can be controlled with much more precision than for those hired externally. It goes without saying that behavioral traits, performance, competencies and qualifications, experience, ability to deliver results, communication, derailers and disruptive tendencies, and potential are some of the things that are best judged when the individual is from within the organization. When an organization knows that its training and development programs are aligned with its needs and goals, then the outcomes bear much more reliability and suitability than if a similar type of development activity was performed elsewhere.

With all of this, planning successors for mission-critical, and non-critical, positions becomes a lot easier. Long-term plans can be drawn up for the individuals identified as successors and specific development considerations made would increase the reliability of hiring that individual into a senior position versus the risk and cost of hiring externally. Workforce planning activities can be performed with additional accuracy to ensure that the right people are available in the right positions at the right time.

Having a talent management strategy that enables the right individuals to be hired and onboarded, supports identification of potential leaders and specialists, keeps employees engaged and retained, and provides the right development platform will enable organizations to grow organically and become sustainable. Employees that know they have development and career progression opportunities are much more likely to be engaged with the organization and support achieving the organization’s goals.

All-in-all, sustainability isn’t just about the responsible management of the planet – it’s about the responsible management of unleashed talent.

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  • Great blog Luke. Check out this video as well: How to make sustainability work at your organization. It’s more focused on the environmental issues but it is some good “food for thought” on how HR can be more creative in how to not only make our environment more sustainable (which is important to a lot of people when selecting which company to work for) but how to make our people more sustainable. Getting your executive buy-in on these programs is crucial. Making it appeal to “us” is critical.

    • Hi Tammie,

      Thanks for the comments. That’s a great video and there is a link between sustainability for the environment and sustainability for an organization. It’s the mentality of re-using and being more thoughtful and efficient with what you have. I am a strong believer in Change Management and how this is used to get people engaged and on-board with initiatives that benefit the greater organization while not necessarily benefiting each individual directly.

      Best regards,


    • Hey Ray,

      That’s a great piece and shows that it’s not something new – just that it’s something that hasn’t been focused on enough in the last 9 or 10 years. While I was excited I might’ve come up with something new, I knew it was unlikely 😉 . Seriously, I’m glad this isn’t a new topic and I hope that it can be viewed upon with more interest than it has been in the past. Organizations can really become high performing and a hotpot of talent if they create and execute a solid talent strategy centered around being self-sustaining in a tough hiring climate for the top talents.

      Best regards,


      • You are in good company if you are writing about the same thing John Boudreau is writing about. I think it is a topic that is on a lot of peoples’ minds but there isn’t yet a vocabulary for widespread discussion, especially among HR professionals. So you are doing a good thing!

        BTW, probably the best piece I have read on the topic is by Jeffrey Pfeffer, in his 2010 Academy of Management Perspectives article, “Building Sustainable Organizations: The Human Factor” (pdf). Very readable and thought provoking.

  • Ray, you always have impeccable references.

    Luke, great point. And this brings on the concept of sustainable development – what is talent if not development? looking at the social, economical and environmental overlaps that are required to reach sustainability, it all has to happen through the onboarding, through the retention programs, through the compensation benchmarking, through the on and off the job training programs – carefully educating internally and externally.

    • Hey Chiara,

      Thanks for your comments. You’re absolutely right and you bring up some added examples of how business can become sustainable. I’m sure I could’ve made this into a white paper if I had covered all of the detailed facets of becoming sustainable 🙂

      Best regards,