Exploring the Growing Importance of Chief Talent Officers

Today’s CEOs are putting people at the center of their growth strategies. To manage that resource for optimal competitive advantage they are turning more and more to their chief talent officer for guidance.

March 30, 2018 – As the war for talent continues to forge onward, designing and implementing a robust talent strategy has become critical for companies to succeed and compete. Organizations are strengthening their internal talent management capabilities under the stewardship of the chief talent officer.

In a recent survey by Dallas-based executive search firm Pearson Partners International, 60 percent of the respondents said they lacked a chief talent officer and cited the following as the top three human capital challenges they face: supply of available talent, lack of skills and attracting talent.

The role of the chief talent officer is divorced from the traditional human resources and chief human resources officer role, serving as a strategic partner to the CEO and C-suite for developing talent, said Pearson Partners. A CTO’s responsibilities focus on every aspect of the talent life cycle, including managing procurement teams, professional development, engagement, retention, acquisition, succession planning, onboarding, aligning hiring strategies and more.

“I see the chief talent officer as being the person providing some of the most intimate business counsel to the CEO,” said Jo Rencher, chief business and talent officer of Girls Scouts of the USA. “We see the business through such a different lens, so we might see things hindering the business or identify new business opportunities. So our role might be to uncover those things and then help the CEO leverage that knowledge.”


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Evolving talent landscapes, the rise of remote workforces and technological advances are disrupting the traditional approaches to talent management, said the search firm’s report. The relationship between employer and employee has drastically shifted – creating unprecedented challenges for the chief talent officer.

Changing Skill Sets

“Skill sets are changing rapidly as we continue to evolve from an industrial to an information society,” said Lisa Thompson, a vice president at Pearson Partners. “Technology and connectivity has enabled workforces to leave the office space in droves, a challenge that past CTOs have not faced to the same magnitude.”

Chief talent officers, she added, must not only implement leadership training programs to train and retain a highly mobile generation of workers, but tailor programs for the remote and digitally driven way they work.

CTOs are managing this crisis in several ways. To better manage the current leadership skills gap, chief talent officers must communicate consistently with internal talent pools and embrace transparency, said Pearson Partners.


Chief Talent Officer Delivers Pivotal Advice to the C-Suite
Joanne (Jo) Rencher has been a visionary, results-driven business and human capital leader almost from the start. She’s led major initiatives across a variety of industries, where she’s become well-versed in strategy development and execution, human capital strategies, rigorous P&L management and board governance.


Nairouz Bader, CEO of Envision Partnership in Dubai, said she is seeing a shift towards prioritizing transparency and communication to foster professional development. “For tomorrow’s leaders to remain engaged and aligned with the company’s goals, they must see how they are personally impacting the organization,” she said. “This all starts with an open and transparent culture, where everyone is comfortable and encouraged to share thoughts, issues and ideas. The CTO needs to champion education and development programs by creating their own corporate universities or rotational programs that add to their employment value proposition (EVP).”

New Generation of Leadership

The chief talent officer should ensure that there are clear career paths to succession for employees and that development opportunities are well marketed and accessible, said the report. This provides emerging leaders with the accountability to actively manage career aspirations in partnership with their line management.

The next generation of chief talent officers is interested in learning new things, doing meaningful work and having flexibility, all of which impact their leadership style. Sally Talbot, human resources practice leader of Per Ardua Associates in London, said she has seen the effective implementation of these programs deliver results for organizations. “New leaders take their role as leader very seriously and do not simply see it as an ‘add on’ to their existing role, but as a key responsibility of its own,” she said.

Related: Here Are Some Talent Management Trends Transforming HR

With this new responsibility, comes a desire to learn and lead effectively, so that direct reports feel fulfilled by their work and the climate in which they work, said the Pearson Partners’ report. As a result, emerging leaders want to accommodate the “whole person,” encouraging remote and agile working, and merging the world of work with other life commitments. “This is a departure from the traditional management of people towards the natural empowerment of others and enabling people to work in their own way, within defined parameters naturally,” Ms. Talbot said.

The professional development of the next generation of leaders is critical to a company’s succession plan, said the report. In addition to investing in these development initiatives, however, chief talent officers are charged with identifying new methods and tools for retaining these key leaders.

Heightened Competition for Talent

Compensation, titles and benefits are all easily matched by competitor organizations, and companies are facing great difficulty when trying to compete for and secure talent. As a result, chief talent officers must identify alternative solutions for attracting and retaining key talent beyond the typical compensation and benefits packages, said the study.


Four HR Roles That Matter Most
CEOs increasingly recognize the positive impact that HR can have on talent attraction and retention, setting company culture, and defending the bottom line. Consequently, they are demanding more and more from their top C-suite HR leaders, particularly chief talent officers and CHROs, who are responding by elevating their functional performance. 


Mirko Petrelli, a partner of Stones International in Hong Kong, said he has seen more chief talent officers leveraging company culture as a critical tool for retaining and attracting these rising leaders. “Culture is much more complex to grasp and reproduce,” he said. “A strong working culture is the most difficult element to replicate from one company to the next, and is a key driver that makes people stay or leave a company. Therefore, companies must work to build distinct and engaging cultures and use this as a competitive advantage.”

Employee Value Proposition

Company culture is shaped by several key factors including a strong employee value proposition, diversity and inclusion. “When attracting strong leaders, talent acquisition departments are not only selling a role to a potential candidate but also the organization as a great place to work,” said the search firm report. “Chief talent officers are responsible for laying the foundations of the EVP and assuring these promises are met even after the hiring and onboarding processes are completed.”

Related: 2018 Predictions for Talent Acquisition Professionals

Sally Stetson, co-founder and principal of Salveson Stetson Group in Philadelphia, said that the EVP must be flexible and is not a one-size-fits-all solution. “While some employees value a more flexible working schedule, others will place a stronger emphasis on a nurturing working environment that allows them to learn from others,” she said. “Some groups will want to be challenged with more stretch assignments while others may cite vertical mobility as a key motivator.”

Diversity & Inclusion

Chief talent officers are also focusing more on the intrinsic value of a diverse and inclusive workplace. “CTOs must evaluate leadership gaps across the organization and integrate new processes for promoting diversity,” the report said. “Some companies tie diversity and inclusion programs to overall performance, while others focus on creating an inclusive environment where employees feel comfortable sharing differing opinions.”

Related: Talent Acquisition Leaders See Gaps In Delivering Quality Hires

Barbara Stahley, managing director of The Ellig Group in New York City, said she is seeing many chief talent officers implement diversity and inclusion as a key element to their employer brand. “Inclusion has been part of our firm’s DNA for many years,” she said. “In the course of my day-to-day conversations with chief talent officers, I have seen an increase in their desire to create a world-class, inclusive workforce. A workforce that reflects an organization’s diverse customer base, and the world at large, is not only the right thing to do, but also a sustainable best practice. Strong chief talent officers recognize that diversity and inclusive cultures are key to fully leveraging and retaining their best assets – their people.”

Ms. Talbot said chief talent officers should consider developing programs to recruit university graduates with non-privileged backgrounds, adopt a more positive approach to hiring prior offenders and can specifically target armed service veterans. “Depending on the sector and the business model, broader definitions of diversity can become a source of competitive advantage,” she said. “I anticipate the ‘inclusion’ aspect of the diversity trend to increase in importance in future years and bring an even more socio-diverse element to the workforce.”

Related: Will Most Talent Acquisition Roles Be Eliminated Over the Next Decade?

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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