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Talent management in the flemish public sector. Positioning the talent management approach of the Flemish government

Dorien Buttiens et Annie Hondeghem
p. 61-85

Résumé

This paper presents a short theoretical background of Talent Management in the field of strategic HRM and specifies the characteristics of the public sector with regard to Talent Management. Furthermore, we distinguish two main approaches of Talent management : exclusive and inclusive Talent Management. Exclusive Talent Management is aimed at a specific segment of employees in the organization while inclusive Talent management includes every employee of the organization in implementing the Talent Management policy. We use this framework to position the approach of the Flemish Government. The results of the document analysis and the expert interviews indicate that the Flemish government focuses on the inclusive Talent Management realm. The view is that every employee has talents and these talents must be developed, in order to achieve organizational and individual goals.

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Notes de la rédaction

This text is based on research conducted within the frame of the Policy Research Centre on Governmental Organization - Decisive Governance (SBOV III - 2012-2015), funded by the Flemish government. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not those of the Flemish government.

Texte intégral

I. Introduction

1In the last decennium, Talent Management has been put forward as a solution for various challenges in society like for example the demographic evolutions on the labour market. At the same time Talent Management runs the risk of being depicted as a passing hype since a common definition as well as a scope and a conceptual framework are still non-existing. Furthermore, most research on Talent Management can be situated in the private sector. In doing research on Talent management in the public sector, attention must be paid to the specific context in which governments develop their HR policy (Thunissen, Boselie & Fruytier, 2011, p. 11).

2In this paper, the first stage of the research project on ‘Talent management in the Flemish Government’ is presented. We first describe the context in which a Talent Management strategy became a top priority for HR-managers in general and for the Flemish Government in particular. In what follows, a short theoretical background is given in which Talent Management is situated in the field of strategic HRM. We chose to highlight the theories and models that can be coupled to the approaches of Talent management that are presented in the following of the paper. Furthermore, the characteristics of the public sector, with respect to Talent Management are specified. The third part of the paper sets out two main approaches of Talent management : exclusive and inclusive Talent Management. Exclusive Talent Management is aimed at a specific segment of employees in the organization while inclusive Talent management includes every employee of the organization in implementing the Talent Management policy.

3These appraoches are applied to analyze the vision and practice of Talent management in the Flemish Government. The research methods used are : a document analysis and semi-structured interviews with two civil servants. The document analysis captures general policy documents as well as policy documents with regard to the personnel policies of the Flemish Government. The interviewed civil servants were chosen because they are involved in the development of a vision on Talent management in the Flemish Government.

II. Context

4The popularity of Talent Management in academic and practice-oriented literature can be explained by several trends in society.

5First, a shortage of talented employees on the labour market is emerging, caused by the wave of retirement of the baby boom generation. For organizations, the attraction and retention of competent employees is therefore top priority (Baert, e.a., 2011, pp. 20-21).

6Second, the expectations of employees concerning their career and work situation have changed. Loyalty towards the employer is for example replaced by the need for personal development. Experiences and challenges in different contexts (within and between organizations) have become a newly valued aspect of careers of individuals (Hiltrop, 1995, pp. 289-290 ; Anderson & Schalk, 1998, p. 642).

7Third, the unstable economic climate forces organizations to work efficiently with a constrained budget. This means that efficiency and effectiveness are values that are again high on the agenda of organizations. Also, the HR policy of organizations is confronted with an external pressure which results in a culture that is driven by confined performance indicators. Organizations want (a group of) employees to be stimulated to perform at their best. As a consequence, in private as well as public organizations a tension between financial-economic goals and ethical values rises (Leisink, 2005). This tension can also be found in the strategical aspirations of an organization in their Talent Management policy and the personnel management in general. When presenting the different approaches to Talent Management in this paper, this tension will be highlighted.

8Also the Flemish government is confronted with these different trends in society. In order to be able to deal with these challenges, the Flemish government included the key project ‘Modern HR policy’ in the horizontal policy project ‘Flanders in Action’. This key project focuses, among others, on ‘Competence and Talent Management’. The aim of the project is to contribute to the HR-vision of the ‘Modern HR policy’ :

‘The Flemish government is conducting an integrated and sustainable HR policy aimed at the realization of its strategic objectives and focusing on attracting, developing, and retaining (scarce) talent. Attention is paid to social responsibility, cost awareness, and employability’ (College van Ambtenaren-generaal, 07.04.2011, p. 4).

9It is within this project that the vision of the Flemish government on Talent Management is developed.

III. Strategic HRM and Talent Management: a theoretical background

10Before diving into the definitions of talent and Talent Management, we want to situate the origin of (the different approaches to) Talent Management. Therefore, we will present a short overview of theories and different views that can be linked with the different approaches to Talent Management.

III.1. Human capital as a resource for sustained competitive advantage

  • 1 These resources are financial resources (equity, debt and retained earnings), physical resources (m (...)
  • 2 This view was presented by Wright et al (1994). With the human capital pool, the authors refer to a (...)
  • 3 Lado & Wilson (1994) state that a firm’s HR-practices are a source of competitive advantage. They n (...)

11In Talent Management the strategic value of employees is one of the basic assumptions. This assumption was first put forward by the resource-based view (RBV) of the firm. The RBV puts emphasis on internal resources1 of the firm in producing a sustained competitive advantage, in contrast to external resources (such as industry position). As a consequence, also the consideration of human capital as an important resource became a more legitimate assumption. This assumption is further enforced by Barney’s specification (1991) of the resource characteristics that are necessary for obtaining a sustained competitive advantage. Resources in his view must be rare, valuable, inimitable and nonsubstitutable. Human capital can be characterized by these specific criteria. In literature though, the human capital is split up in the human capital pool and the HR practices. Different views exist on whether it is the human capital pool itself 2 or the HR-practices3 that possess these characteristics and constitute the competitive advantage. Building on these views, Wright, Dunford & Snell (2001) distinguish three components of the human resource architecture that are necessary to achieve sustainable competitive advantage can be achieved. These three components are the human capital pool, employee behavior and the HR practices or people management system. In this view, both the human capital pool as the HR practices must be accounted for when striving for a competitive advantage. These components are presented in figure 1.

12The human capital pool refers to the stock of employee skills in the firm at any given point in time. This pool changes overtime and must be monitored to suit with the strategic goals of the firm.

13The second component is the employee behavior. Apart from skills, the employee is also recognized as a cognitive and emotional being who possesses free will. This means for example that a firm may have access to an excellent human capital pool but the poor design of work or the mismanagement of people can result in a suboptimal strategic impact. In other words, the full potential of the human capital pool cannot be reached. The members of the human capital pool must individually and collectively choose to engage in behavior that benefits the firm (Boselie, 2010).

14The third component is the people management system of a firm. Wright et al. (2001, p. 705) state that ‘by using the term system, we turn focus to the importance of understanding the multiple practices that impact employees rather than single practices. By using the term people, rather than HR, we expand the relevant practices to those beyond the control of the HR-function, such as communication (both upward and downward), work design, culture, leadership and a host of others that impact employees and shape their competencies, cognitions and attitudes’.

15Wright, Dunford & Snell (2001, p. 706) conclude by stating that to gain sustained competitive advantage, a superior position must be achieved on the three described components : ‘a combination of human capital elements such as the development of stocks of skills, strategically relevant behaviors and supporting people management systems.’

16When linking the theory of Wright, Dunford & Snell (2001) to Talent management, it is clear that the Talent Management policy of an organization is part of the people management system since Talent Management is often focused on developing and maintaining a talent pool and attracting and retaining employees (influencing employee behavior). Moreover, Thunnissen, Boselie & Fruytier (2011) state that the Talent Management policy of an organization should be a people management system in which attention is paid to managing people and managing work.

III.2. Valuing some more than others ?

  • 4 Exclusive talent management is aimed at a specific segment of employees in the organization
  • 5 Boselie (2010, p. 150) places this model in the Anglo-American view in which particularly pure econ (...)
  • 6 Social legitimacy can be situated at a macro level, concerning the legitimacy of an organization to (...)

17In addition to the above, Lepak & Snell (1999) present a popular architectural approach to strategic HRM, that is partly based on RBV and can be described as one of the basic principles in exclusive Talent Management4 (see ). Lepak & Snell (1999) distinguish between peripheral and core employees. The core employees are of higher value because of their uniqueness and skills, in contrast to the peripheral employees. In this view, the core employees constitute the real human and social capital of the organization. The main contribution of this model is the explicit acknowledgement of different employee groups in an organization with potentially different HR practices and systems to achieve (financial) organizational goals (Boselie, 2010, p. 150)5. Boselie (2010) notes however that differentiation between different employee groups can have potentially negative effects on people. He points to the mechanism of distributive justice, in which peripheral employees can perceive injustice when the group of ‘core’ employees gets more opportunities in, for example, development. This can be the case when an organization chooses an exclusive Talent Management approach. More general, when taking into account the social legitimacy of an organization6, differentiation can have a negative impact on the organization, concerning for example the corporate reputation (Boselie, 2010).

18Social legitimacy is, next to labour productivity and organizational flexibility, defined by Boxall & Purcell (2003) as one of three critical HR goals of an organization. They remark that a natural tension between these different goals exist. Boselie (2010) states that there appears to be an optimum point at which the three critical goals are balanced. This brings us to the strategic balance model (Boselie, 2010, p. 9).

III.3. Balancing the Talent Management goals

19The balanced approach starts from the assumption that organizational success can only be achieved when both financial and societal performance are taken into account. This model contrasts sharply with the Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-American managerialist-oriented models since they focus on creating shareholder value in terms of profit and market value. The two performance fields of the balanced approach must be above average to create a sustainable competitive advantage (Boselie, 2010). Peccei (2004 in Paauwe, 2009) remarks that a set of HR practices that works good for financial-economic goals, is not necessarily equally good for, e.g. the well-being of employees. This issue highlights again that also for HR-practices attention must be paid to the different dimensions of performance. Boselie (2010) concludes that when taking into account multiple stakeholder interests and a broader societal view in the design of the employment relationship in an organization, it is likely to result in ‘good’ people management (CFR Wright, Dunford & Snell, 2003)

20With regard to Talent Management, Thunissen, Boselie & Fruytier (2011) find that the view on Talent Management in academic literature is characterized by a managerialist orientation in which the organizational effectiveness is prevailing. The consequence of this approach can disadvantage the employee as well as the society. This is not in line with the above-mentioned balanced approach. Talent Management, as a people management system, should thus pay attention to integrate a balanced approach in order to contribute to the long-term success and achievement of sustained competitive advantage.

III.4. Talent Management in the public sector

21On the one hand, governments must participate in the war for talent if they want to attract and retain competent employees. A modern HR-policy is thus essential. On the other hand, the public sector context is characterized by numerous rules, prescriptions and norms and values which limit the flexibility to design a modern HR policy. These characteristics must be kept in mind when designing Talent Management in the context of the public sector. Furthermore, also in the personnel management in the public sector rival values are present : efficiency and effectivity as well as equality, justice, representation and legal certainty must be taken into account when designing the HR policy. Tensions that may rise while implementing (some approaches of) Talent Management are explained in literature as follows : ‘the implementation of Talent Management initiatives presents specific tensions and dilemmas for public sector managers which arise largely from well-embedded organizational approaches to equality and diversity’ (Harris & Foster, 2010). In this respect, Bach (2000) states that, in the public sector, attention must be paid to the pressures to move away from social legitimacy, in favor of the economic side. The balance between the societal and economic values must be guarded.

  • 7 These considerations are kept in mind by the researcher in the following stages of the research.

22Thunnissen, Boselie & Fruytier (2011) find that, in academic literature, research concerning Talent Management can mainly be situated in profit organizations. They conclude that, considering the specific context and characteristics of the public sector, the current models are not appropriate to research and describe Talent Management in the public sector. We see, for example that the critical HR-goals of Boxall & Purcell (2003), mentioned above, have as ultimate business goals : creating and maintaining viability with adequate returns to shareholders and striving for sustained competitive advantage. The problem is that public sector organizations do not have shareholders. Boselie (2010) states however that these ultimate business goals can be adapted to a broad range of organizations7.

23The models and theories, mentioned in the theoretical background, will have to be adapted when used in research in the public sector. It is clear though that the HR practices will have to take into account rival values and goals. This also reflects the characteristics of a public sector institution in which several stakeholders have to be accounted for. The balanced approach thus seems a more natural reflex for the public sector.

IV. From definitions to approaches to Talent Management

24To fully introduce the concept of Talent Management, we will present some definitions of talent and Talent Management. As we mentioned in the introduction, Thunissen, Boselie & Fruytier (2011) conclude that a common definition of Talent Management is not possible because of the dependence on the context of an organization. It is possible though to distinguish different approaches to Talent Management. Several authors categorize Talent Management approaches on differing criteria. We will discuss a selection of definitions that exemplify the different emphases currently present in literature.

IV.1. Definitions of talent and Talent Management

25Thunissen, Boselie & Fruytier (2011) conclude that the definition of the concept Talent Management is one of the most recurrent themes in the academic literature of Talent Management. When going through these numerous definitions of Talent Management, various scopes and emphases come to surface. To give an example of the different conceptualizations that exist, we will present a few definitions :

‘Talent management is the use of an integrated set of activities to ensure that the organization attracts, retains, motivates and develops the talented people it needs now and in the future. The aim is to secure the flow of talent, bearing in mind that talent is a major corporate source’ (Armstrong, 2007).

26Armstrong (2007) stresses in this definition the integrated set of activities to attract, retain, motivate and develop (future) employees. Furthermore, in this definition, it is not clear how the author defines ‘talented people’ or ‘the flow of talent’. When reading through the entire article though, the author explicitly states that ‘everyone in an organization has talent, even if some have more talent than others. Talent Management processes should not be limited to the favored few’ (2007, p. 390).

27The definition of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (2009) follows the focus of Armstrong (2007) on the activities to attract, identify, develop and retain employees but presents a different idea of the notion of talent :

‘Talent management is the systematic attraction, identification, development, engagement/retention and deployment of those individuals who are of particular value to an organization, either in view of their ‘high potential’ for the future or because they are fulfilling business/operational-critical roles’ (Chartered Institute of personnel and development, 2009).

28The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development focuses in her definition on a segment of the workforce of an organization, notably the ‘high potential’ or ‘high performing’ group.

29The last definition of Van Beirendonck (2010) emphasizes the strengths of each individual :

‘Talent Management is getting the best out of people by making use of their strengths and interests and by organizing the context in such a way that those talents can have the space needed to further develop’ (Van Beirendonck, 2010, own translation).

30The strengths and interests of an employee are in this definition considered as the talents of an organization. Subsequently Van Beirendonck (2010) stresses the importance of a stimulating context and an optimal organization of the work situation in order to unfold the strengths of individuals.

31By presenting some definitions of Talent Management, the wide range of different standpoints and emphases becomes clear. Moreover, we see that the conceptualization of talent is of great influence to the differences in defining Talent Management. Several authors (Thunissen, Boselie & Fruytier, 2011, Gallardo-Gallardo, 2012) state that the way an organization defines talent is context dependent. Some defining context factors for the definition of talent are : characteristics of the organization (e.g. : sector, organization goals, labour market) and the nature of the job (e.g. : knowledge-oriented, routine). The definition of talent will thus differ depending on the context of the organization. Gallardo-Gallardo (2012) developed a typology of the different approaches to talent in an organization. A distinction is made between the subject and object approach.

32In the subject approach of talent the ‘employee as a person’ is considered as a talent in the organization. In addition, this approach can be inclusive or exclusive. The inclusive subject approach stresses the added value of the human resource for the organization in the current knowledge economy and makes no distinction between groups of employees. Critics state that the notion of talent in this approach can be exchanged with the notion of employee of the organization (Lewis & Heckman, 2006). No added value is created. The exclusive subject approach of talent is aimed at a specific segment of the workforce. An HR policy with specific programs and actions is developed for this group of employees. In most organizations this group consists of ‘the high performers’ or ‘high potentials’ of the organization. Only this group is considered as talents for the organization.

  • 8 As is the case in the subject approach of talent.

33The object approach of talent defines talent as a set of exceptional skills with regard to knowledge and competencies. In this approach the concept of talent refers to a characteristic of a person and not to the individual as a whole8. Some authors add commitment and motivation to the concept of talent in the object approach (Ulrich & Ulrich, 2010 ; Boudreau & Ramstad, 2005 ; Martin & Schmidt, 2010). Also the nature/nurture debate can be situated within this approach. Some authors consider talent to be something natural which cannot be mastered (Hinrichs, 1966 in Gallardo-Gallardo, 2011). Others presume that experience and effort determine whether someone is talented in a specific field. The middle way are definitions that contain aspects of both views.

34We conclude this paragraph by stating that the concept of talent as well as Talent Management can be applied in a very broad or a very narrow way (Garrow & Hirsch, 2008). Different definitions of Talent Management and talent circulate. These can be situated in different approaches in which the view on the concept talent presupposes the approach of Talent Management. In the next paragraph these different approaches will be presented.

IV.2. Approaches to Talent Management

35In academic literature, Talent Management approaches are subdivided along differing criteria. Lewis and Heckman (2006) for example distinguish in their literature review on Talent Management three views on Talent Management. For the current research, we developed a framework in which we make a distinction of Talent Management approaches based on the scope of the Talent Management strategy of an organization. The scope can be inclusive or exclusive. This distinction is clear-cut and gives a straight forward base for deciding which Talent Management policy can be implemented in practice.

IV.2.1. Inclusive Talent Management

36In the inclusive approach to Talent Management every employee of the organization is part of the target group. Moreover, this means that there is no subdivision of employees on the base of their (future) performance. We make a distinction on the base of the approach to talent.

37The inclusive subject approach of talent can be related to the first view to Talent Management that Lewis and Heckman (2006) distinguished in their literature review. This approach to Talent Management encompasses a collection of typical human resource practices, functions, activities or specialist areas such as recruiting, selection, development, and career and succession management. There is some difference in the perspective that practitioners take : some focus on specific sub disciplines when talking about Talent management (f.e. : succession planning, leader development) while others emphasize the need to use HR-techniques for attracting and retaining talents on an organization-wide level (instead of the department or function level). Lewis and Heckman (2006) state that in this approach the term ‘human resources’ of the organization is replaced with the ‘talents’ of the organization.

38The second approach to inclusive Talent Management is based on the object approach to talent. This view starts from the assumption that the strenghts/talents of every employee have to be developed and supported within the Talent Management strategy of an organization. Every employee is stimulated to achieve high performance. This corresponds with the view of Lewis and Heckman (2006) on handling talent in a generic way (Buckingham & Vosburgh, 2001 ; Walker & Larocco, 2002 in Lewis & Heckman, 2006).

  • 9 It can be linked with the Harvard-model of Beer et al. in which the HR-policy concentrates on the l (...)

39This view on Talent Management fits in with the ‘soft approach’ to HRM9 and the strategic balance model (Boselie, 2010). With the inclusive Talent Management approach it is possible to include the multidimensional view on performance (the individual and societal level as wel as the economic goals of the organization). Critics state however that, in the soft approach to HRM, attention is distracted from the return on investment of the organization (Boudreau & Ramstad, 2005). In this respect, Knies (2012) concludes that an organization can acknowledge that everyone posseses strengths and competencies (‘talents’) that can be of value for the goals of the organization. So on the one hand, the organization strives to fulfill the wishes and needs of the individual but on the other hand, organizational success is being put forward. Hence, there is a balance between the different values.

IV.2.2. Exclusive Talent Management

  • 10 When looking to the identified approaches of Lewis & Heckman (2006), the second approach seems clos (...)

40Exclusive Talent Management is aimed at a specific segment of employees in the organization. As a consequence employees who are not considered as talents will not be included in the Talent Management practices. This approach can be connected with the view of Talent Management of Lewis & Heckman in which talent is something generic and organizations choose to focus on ‘high potentials’ and/or ‘high performers’. Also the follow-up of strategic positions in the organization is one of the priorities in the Talent Management policy10 since these strategic positions contribute for a large extent to the competitive advantage of the organization (Collings & Mellahi, 2009). Another view on Talent Management that can be placed in this approach is called ‘topgrading’. This means that the organization wants to hire/develop high performers for every position in the organization :

‘packing entire companies with A-players – high performers, form senior management tot minimum wage employees – those in the top 10 % of talent for their pay’ (Lewis & Heckman, 2006).

41The organization focuses thus on a specific segment of the labour market. Gallardo-Gallardo (2011) concludes that this view can be applied in organizations in which the performance of the organization is dependent on the results of all employees, like for example luxe resorts and innovative consultants.

42The views above can be coupled to the exclusive subject approach of talent. However, it is also possible to apply the object approach to talent in this view. It can for example be found when organizations are looking for specific strengths, necessary in a key strategic position.

  • 11 Paauwe (2009) refers to lower employee absence, higher satisfaction, greater willingness to stay wi (...)

43Regarding the performance goals of an organization, it is clear that the exclusive approach of Talent Management is much more focused on the organizational effectiveness than the inclusive approach. The societal view on performance is thus harder to link with the differentiation strategy in exclusive Talent Management. The exclusive Talent management approach can be situated in the managerialist-oriented models that focus on the performance of the organization and neglect the individual and societal goals. According to Boselie (2010) and Paauwe (2009) this narrow definition of performance misses out on the positive effects that can be achieved when HR practices also take into account both internal and external stakeholders (based on criteria as fairness and legitimacy)11.

IV.3. Overview of approaches

44The different positions an organization can take concerning Talent management are bundled in the following overview:

Table I. Approaches to Talent Management

  • 12 The selection base is thus the specific strengths of the employee but the HR-actions are naturally (...)

Approach to talent

Focus of organization

Inclusive Talent Management

Inclusive subject approach

Talent management = HRM -

Every individual is a talent

Object approach

Every individual can be stimulated to his highest performance by developing and supporting individual strengths

Exclusive Talent Management

Exclusive subject approach

Only a specific segment of employees of the organization/labour market is targeted with the Talent Management strategy – ‘High potentials’ and/or ‘high performers’

Object approach

The focus is on specific strengths that are needed in a key position of the organization. Only employees with these specific talents will be selected for the Talent Management strategy12.

45This framework will be used to position the approach to Talent management of the Flemish government.

V. Methodology

46This paper presents the position and approach of the Flemish government on Talent Management. In the previous chapter, we presented an overview of the approaches that an organization can adopt. This overview serves as a framework that we will use to position the approach of the Flemish government.

  • 13 In Dutch: ‘Naar een talentenbeleid in de Vlaamse Overheid’

47The research methods that were used, are a document analysis and semi-structured expert interviews with two civil servants. The document analysis is aimed at general policy documents as well as policy documents with regard to the personnel policies of the Flemish government. The selected documents are : the Coalition Agreement 2009-2014, the policy note of the policy domain ‘Administrative Affairs’ (‘Bestuurszaken’ ; 2009-2014), the vision note on ‘Modern HR-policy’ and the vision note on ‘Up to a policy of talents in the Flemish Government’13. When going through the documents, special attention was paid to the occurence of the key words ‘talent’ and ‘talent management’.

48The document analysis is complemented with semi-structured expert interviews with two civil servants. These civil servants, the project leader and a member of the project team, are closely involved with the key project ‘Modern HR policy’ and the subproject on ‘Competency management and Talent Management’.

VI. Results

49We present the findings by starting to describe the vision of the Flemish government on talent and Talent Management in the Coalition Agreement 2009-2014. We then present the results from the policy note ‘Administrative Affairs’, the vision note on ‘Modern HR policy’ and the more specified vision note on ‘Up to a policy of talents in the Flemish government’. The results of the document analysis of this vision note are complemented with the information obtained from the semi-structured expert interviews.

Coalition Agreement 2009-2014

50The Coalition Agreement presents the policy plans of the Flemish government for the next legislative period of five years (2009-2014). The concepts of ‘talent’ and ‘Talent Management’ are cited in very general contexts. When mentioning talent in the theme of ‘Flanders’ learning society’ (‘De lerende Vlaming’), the context of people getting life-long chances to develop their talents is dominant :

“We must invest in the development of talents and skills of every child, every young person and every adult. Every talent must find its place on the labour market.” (Flemish government, 15.07.2009, p. 24).

51In the theme ‘A Decisive Government’, the goals for the personnel management of the Flemish government are put forward. The Coalition Agreement states that the Flemish government must do more with less. Changes in the personnel management are thus necessary :

“We need to invest in talented, engaged employees, who are more employable through intern mobility in and between the different levels of government” (Flemish government, 15.07.2009, p. 78).

52One of the goals is to be an ‘Exemplary Employer’ (‘Voorbeeldig Werkgeverschap’) in which cost-consciousness and societal responsibility are top priorities :

“Being an ‘Exemplary Employer’ means implementing a modern HR policy, based on Talent Management, coupled with a correct reward that is in line with the prevailing market.” (Flemish government, 15.07.2009, p. 78)

53It is clear that talent is used in a very general context, for example to point to people in society. With respect to the HR policy, the Flemish government wishes to employ talented employees in order to achieve efficient and effective working government institutions. Talent Management does play a part in this objective. However, it is not specified which approach the Flemish government wants to implement.

Policy note ‘Administrative Affairs’ (‘Bestuurszaken’) 2009-2014

54The policy note ‘Administrative Affairs’ presents the planned policy for the policy domain of ‘Administrative Affairs’ for the next legislative period of five years (2009-2014). The policy development of the general HR policy is classified within this policy domain. The policy note centralizes ten strategic goals, of which one is focused on the development of an innovative HR policy. An important part of this strategic goal is ‘attracting, developing and retaining the scarce talent […]’ (Bourgeois, 2009, p. 7). To stimulate the attraction of talent, ‘being an employer of choice’ is also a strategic aspiration. Furthermore, by following-up the future personnel needs, there is enough time left to search for the missing ‘talents’ (Bourgeois, 2009, p. 27). Though talent is mentioned several times in the policy note, there is no consistent use of an approach to talent.

55With regard to Talent Management, the Minister of Administrative Affairs, Geert Bourgeois, concludes that the development of good leaders and the stimulation of the employability of employees should be emphasized :

“I want to develop careers in function of Talent Management and the strategic needs of the organization, with a clear connection to the workforce planning.” (Bourgeois, 2009, p. 29).

56Moreover, the personnel development of employees should start from the strengths of every individual, taking into account the organizational strategy (Bourgeois, 2009, p. 30).

57In conclusion, the Minister of ‘Administrative Affairs’ wants to use Talent management to achieve some strategical goals, like attracting and developing competent employees, in order to contribute to the organizational success and the personal development of the individual. It is however not clear which approach to Talent Management and talent is chosen.

Vision note on ‘Modern HR policy’

  • 14 ‘Flanders in Action’ is partly included in the coalition agreement in the form of ‘breakthroughs’. (...)

58The vision note on ‘Modern HR policy’ is developed within the framework of the horizontal policy project ‘Flanders in Action’ of the Flemish government14 and presents the organization-wide point of view of the Flemish Government on the HR policy:

“The Flemish government is conducting an integrated and sustainable HR policy aimed at the realization of its strategic objectives and focusing on attracting, developing, and retaining (scarce) talent. Attention is paid to social responsibility, cost awareness, and employability” (College van Ambtenaren-Generaal, 07.04.2011, p. 4)

59Talent is thus one of the central concepts in the formulated vision. Remarkably, in the remainder of the document, not much attention is paid to the concept of talent and Talent Management. However, in the context of leadership and the skills of a leader, talent is mentioned :

“He/she is responsible for the development of talents within his/her team, but should be able to allow talents to go to others entities […]“ (College van Ambtenaren-Generaal, 07.04.2011, p. 13).

“As a coach, the leader uses Talent Management to optimally deploy workers within their area of responsibility.” (College van Ambtenaren-Generaal, 07.04.2011, p. 14).

60In this document, again, it is not clear which approach on talent or Talent Management is taken. Talent is used in a very general way and seems to incline to the subject approach of talent (cfr. the above-mentioned quotations)

61The policy documents that we presented up to here, proved to be very general in defining talent and Talent Management. The following document is the vision note on ‘Up to a policy of talent in the Flemish government’. This document captures in detail the approach to talent and Talent Management.

Vision note ‘Up to a policy of talents in the Flemish Government’

62This note is published as an output of the project ‘Competence and Talent management’ as part of the key project on ‘Modern HR policy’. This note focuses on the vision and development of Talent Management in the Flemish government. The analysis of this document is supplemented with the information obtained from the interviews. In this way, a more complete picture can be presented. We first discuss the approach to talent.

“In general, managing talents is predominantly associated with a high potential policy. This high potential policy is aimed at young and promising employees. In the Flemish government, however, we believe that everyone has talent !” (Flemish Government, 2012, p. 7)

63The above-mentioned quotation moves away from the exclusive subject approach to talent. ‘Everyone has talent’ fits in with the object approach. This approach is confirmed in other extracts of the text :

“Talent is not connected to age, gender or origin. Instead of focusing on the favoured few, the Flemish government wants to create a favourable atmosphere in which talents can be acknowledged and put to full use” (Flemish government, 2012, p. 8).

“Talent is (…) a natural aptitude, a gift, something you like to do and something you’re good at. Talent starts from within the individual. Personality and background play an important role.” (Flemish government, 2012, p. 8)

“Using talent in an organization means appreciating the natural strengths and positive elements of all employees.” (Flemish government, 2012, p. 14).

“We already mentioned, we want to start from diversity and certainly not from a high potential policy. (…) Everyone has talent !” (Flemish government, 2012, p. 16).

64When summarized, this is what the Flemish Government means when talking about talent :

“Talent is the combination of doing something good and doing something you like to do. This generates an automatic passion to get results. When developing talent, the right context, support and a proper fit with individual, societal and organizational goals is necessary.” (Flemish government, 2012, p. 9)

65The project leader stressed in the interview, however, that several organizations (departments and agencies in the Flemish government) have different views on talent and Talent Management. One of the goals within the project is to establish a common understanding of what the Flemish government entities understand as talent and Talent Management. The general view put forward in the vision note is the foundation for this common understanding.

66Regarding the vision note on talent, we can conclude that the cited extracts and the final definition of talent fits with the object approach of talent (Gallardo-Gallardo, 2012). The further refinement of the definition by the Flemish government is focused on the relation of talent with individual interests and the fit with personal, societal and organizational objectives. This can be matched with the above mentioned model of strategic balance (Boselie, 2010). The intention of the Flemish government is to take into account several stakeholders and values.

67In the following part, the approach to and different aspects of Talent Management, defined by the Flemish government, will be presented. The quotations on talent already make clear that the Flemish government is not willing to implement an exclusive Talent Management approach since it moves away from a high potential policy and advocates the principle that ‘Everyone has talent’. The project leader expresses the view on Talent management as follows :

“We are not looking for a purple squirrel but for the individual strengths that everyone possesses” (Bonamie, 27.03.2012)

68Furthermore, different emphases are put forward in the vision note. The first emphasis is the importance of culture and context :

“If we want a fully integrated talent policy, we have to obtain a shift in culture in the Flemish Government.” (Flemish government, 2012, p. 9).

“Context plays an important role in detecting and employing talent.” (Flemish government, 2012, p. 9)

“Leaders can create a context in which employees have the possibility to show and use their talents.” (Flemish government, 2012, p. 14).

69The project leader (Bonamie, 27.03.2012) states that talent cannot be managed because it comes from within the employee. That is why the shift in culture is being emphasized. The reasoning is that when a culture of thinking and talking in talents exist, people will be stimulated to develop and use these talents instead of being told to.

70The second focus is on the reciprocity between organization, employee and leader :

“By linking the personal development plan and an organization’s development plan, an ideal harmony can be found between the goals of the organization and the expectations of the employees.” (Flemish government, 2012, p. 12).

71This reciprocity follows out of the goals and objectives of Talent management that the Flemish government puts forward. As the following quotations will show, the Flemish government is differentiating between the individual, organizational and societal level :

“The aim is to develop satisfied, motivated and committed employees (…) A pleased organization and satisfied leaders who realize the goals of their organization through getting the best out of people (…).” (Flemish government, 2012, p. 12).

“This point of view makes clear that using talents is not only nice-to-have but also has to contribute to the achievement of the objectives of the team and the organization.” (Flemish government, 2012, p. 12)

  • 15 Bach (2000) found that there is a tendency in the public sector (in the UK and the Netherlands) to (...)

72Though attention is paid to the individual level, the main emphasis is on the organization’s objectives. It is clear that also the public sector must account for its results and the pressure on efficiency and effectiveness is present15(Francois, 02.04.2012). Furthermore, the project leader states, that when service is more qualitative, the contentment of the citizens increases. This results in a more positive image of the government in general (Bonamie, 27.03.2012). Nevertheless, the individual and societal level are not out of sight in the intentions of the Talent Management policy of the Flemish Government. This corresponds with the ‘balancing values principle’ in the balanced approach to HRM (Boselie, 2012).

VII. Conclusion

73Talent Management in this paper is seen as a specific way of designing HR measures that, dependent on the strategy of an organization, can be inclusive or exclusive. The inclusive approach of Talent Management is aimed at all employees of the organization while the exclusive approach is limited to an elite group of ‘best performing’ employees or employees on ‘key’ positions. In the theoretical background, this paper highlighted theories that explain the basic assumptions of Talent Management. Different schools in HRM can influence the approach to Talent Management. The balanced approach to HRM for example leans closer on the inclusive Talent Management approach in which the talents of every employee are developed to benefit the individual, the organization and the society. For the public sector, this seems a more natural reflex. Meanwhile, there is a lot of pressure on government institutions to prioritize the economical-financial values such as maximized efficiency and effectiveness.

74This paper positions the Talent Management approach of the Flemish government on the presented distinction between inclusive and exclusive Talent Management. We conducted a document analysis, together with two expert interviews. The more general policy documents showed that the Flemish government was open-minded to use Talent Management in the planned modern HR policy. It was, however, not clear which approach the Flemish government wanted to introduce. In the more specific vision note on ‘Up to a policy of talents’ and the two expert interviews, on the other hand, the inclusive approach of Talent Management, together with the object approach of talent were prominent.

75In the next phases of the research project, the impact of implemented Talent Management measures on the individual, organizational and societal level in the Flemish government will be studied. In order to fit the broader context of the public sector, further refinement of the presented theoretical background is required.

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Notes

1 These resources are financial resources (equity, debt and retained earnings), physical resources (machines,..), organizational resources ( information technology systems, organizational design,..) and human resources (knowledge, skills, abilities and social network) (Boselie, 2010, p.47)

2 This view was presented by Wright et al (1994). With the human capital pool, the authors refer to a highly skilled and highly motivated workforce.

3 Lado & Wilson (1994) state that a firm’s HR-practices are a source of competitive advantage. They noted that the system of HR-practices of a firm is impossible to imitate because of the complementaries and interdependencies among the set of practices.

4 Exclusive talent management is aimed at a specific segment of employees in the organization

5 Boselie (2010, p. 150) places this model in the Anglo-American view in which particularly pure economic values are prioritized.

6 Social legitimacy can be situated at a macro level, concerning the legitimacy of an organization to the outside environment, or at a more micro level, concerning the organization’s legitimacy to its own employees (fairness) (Paauwe, 2004).

7 These considerations are kept in mind by the researcher in the following stages of the research.

8 As is the case in the subject approach of talent.

9 It can be linked with the Harvard-model of Beer et al. in which the HR-policy concentrates on the long term and is focused on three levels: the individual wellbeing, societal goals and the effectiveness of the organization.

10 When looking to the identified approaches of Lewis & Heckman (2006), the second approach seems closely related because of the emphasis on talent pools and an adequate flow of employees throughout the organization (Kesler, 2002; Pacsal, 2004 in Lewis & Heckman, 2006).

11 Paauwe (2009) refers to lower employee absence, higher satisfaction, greater willingness to stay with the organization and higher effort. These effects result from taking into account the relational rationality which refers to establishing sustainable and trustworthy relationships with both internal and external stakeholders based on criteria of fairness and legitimacy.

12 The selection base is thus the specific strengths of the employee but the HR-actions are naturally aimed at the employees with these strengths.

13 In Dutch: ‘Naar een talentenbeleid in de Vlaamse Overheid’

14 ‘Flanders in Action’ is partly included in the coalition agreement in the form of ‘breakthroughs’. One of the seven breakthroughs is titled ‘Decisive Government’ and focuses on the intern management of the Government. The multi-annual program ‘Decisive Government is developed within this framework. The vision nota on Modern HR-policy is the first output of the key project ‘Modern HR-policy’ within the multi-annual program.

15 Bach (2000) found that there is a tendency in the public sector (in the UK and the Netherlands) to become lean, provide high-quality services and meet the customer/client demands. Boselie (2010) states that public sector organizations are challenged to rebalance the organization towards economic goals. It is still important, tough, to pay attention to the presence of societal performance .

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Dorien Buttiens et Annie Hondeghem, « Talent management in the flemish public sector. Positioning the talent management approach of the Flemish government », Pyramides, 23 | 2012, 61-85.

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Dorien Buttiens et Annie Hondeghem, « Talent management in the flemish public sector. Positioning the talent management approach of the Flemish government », Pyramides [En ligne], 23 | 2012, mis en ligne le 10 février 2015, consulté le 22 novembre 2017. URL : http://pyramides.revues.org/885

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Auteurs

Dorien Buttiens

Researcher at the Public Management Institute, University of Leuven, Belgium dorien.buttiens@soc.kuleuven.be

Annie Hondeghem

Professor of Public Administration and Public Management at the Public Management Institute, University of Leuven, Belgium annie.hondeghem@soc.kuleuven.be

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