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Talent management: Why one-size-fits-all doesn’t fit anyone

It’s easy to see why people are tempted by off-the-shelf talent management solutions. The fact that they are ready to use can force many to overlook the super-size price tags attached to them, particularly in today’s fast-moving HR world.

However, there is one major argument against using off-the-shelf solutions: they rarely work. Here are some of the reasons why a personalised approach is more likely to hit the mark…

Because an accountant is not just an accountant

Let’s imagine that you are creating a competency framework for your organisation. An off-the-shelf solution will furnish you with readymade job descriptions, which set out what good looks like in any given role. These job descriptions will inevitably be based on data gathered from people working in similar roles. The problem is that similar roles can in fact look very different, depending on the organisation in which they are based. An accountant in a small start-up, for example, is likely to be involved in strategic-level planning and decision-making while an accountant in a large multinational almost certainly won’t be. This is a problem that no amount of data points can overcome. Unsurprisingly, recent research shows that talent management practices tend to be far more effective when aligned with specific organisational context.

Because off-the-shelf solutions have a shelf life

The pace of change within organisations may seem to make a readymade option more attractive. However, while off-the-shelf solutions are certainly quick to implement, they are also quick to date. Assuming that the competency framework you buy is not already past its sell-by date, you will certainly need to refresh or replace it on a regular basis as roles and organisations evolve at pace.

Some vendors have tried to get around this problem by taking a ‘silver bullet’ approach, for example by creating a meta-framework of competencies and capabilities that can be applied equally to every role in an organisation regardless of specialism or function. However, by ignoring the broader qualities that individuals might bring to their roles, this can seriously limit cognitive diversity in your organisation, which will in turn impact your organisation’s ability to innovate, solve problems and navigate change.

Because not all organisations speak the same language

Language matters in organisations. It helps create norms and identity internally, and invariably feeds through into the organisation’s external persona as well. When done well, talent management frameworks will reflect the unique language of your organisation, providing employees with an even deeper understanding of what’s expected of them and helping to strengthen your corporate identity and employer brand. In this respect, an off-the-shelf solution will often fall short. Even when tailoring options are available, they are never enough to capture the unique nuances of language and messaging that make your organisation special.

Because bought solutions can be difficult to buy into

Managers and teams are more likely to embrace solutions if they have played a part in creating them. Tailored solutions tend to require wide stakeholder involvement – for example through interviews, focus groups or questionnaires – and are therefore likely to garner widespread support. The same cannot be said of off-the-shelf solutions, however, which will be selected and purchased by a small group of people within the organisation, perhaps even by a single individual.

So what can you do?

The best way to avoid all the pitfalls of off-the-shelf solutions is to create personalised talent management tools and assessments that are aligned with your unique organisational context, strategy and brand.

This means clear about talent looks like in your organisation. It means designing a process that has an eye on the future. It means asking for input from those who have a strategic view of where the organisation and role are heading to bring longevity to your solution.

To find out how you can do this in a rigorous and scientific way, please contact

For a more detailed discussion of the relative merits of tailored and off-the-shelf talent management solutions, read the latest article in our assessment insight series.

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