The mounting fluidity with which goods, services, information, and people now move across the borders of nation-states has generated unprecedented competition within the global marketplace. Consequently, organisations across all industry lines have been charged to seek out ways in which competitive advantage can be both garnered and sustained within a dynamic and unpredictable environment. Strategic talent management has emerged prominently within human resource management (HRM) discourse as a means of optimally allocating and positioning talent resources in order to support consistently high performance. In addition to talent management, the theme of sustainability strategy has become a common focus within the literature, with sustainability bound to both social consciousness as well as environmental stewardship in globally operating organisations. The study proposed herein seeks to address the linkages between sustainability and strategic talent management, filling a gap within the existing literature by highlighting to what extent sustainable organisations manage their talent according to sustainability goals. The undergirding research question guiding this study is as follows: Within firms adopting a sustainability agenda, how is talent managed through sustainable HRM strategy? In essence, this study will extent which indicators exist of sustainable, strategic, talent management.
Strategic Talent Management
Significant empirical and theoretical research exists with respect to both strategic talent management and sustainability agendas. Boudreau cites that the mounting alignment of HRM with organisational strategy has promoted the emergence of strategic talent management, with all HRM decisions aimed at bolstering firm performance. Talent is framed as the most essential resource embodied by an organisation within recent HRM literature. Widening the gap between research and practice, however, is the absence of a universally applicable definition for talent and talent management. Kehinde cites the following issues challenges talent management research:
"Some organization regards some few strategic staff as the talent of the firm while others believe that all their staff is talent of the firm. Thus talent management is an off-short of the human resources management scheme of the firm...."
Talent management represents a HRM tool which diverges from workforce planning, with the central, distinguishing factor of talent management being the opportunities of positioning key talent most optimally. Kehinde concludes that "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/operation-critical roles." The breadth of the definition permits a wide spectrum of related research to be conducted, with an emerging challenge in strategic talent management research being the complexity of globally relevant talent.
Importantly, variation in perspectives exists with respect to strategic talent management; this has significant implications when framing this present study with respect to sustainability strategy. The process perspective highlights that the future of the firm is ultimately shaped by the management and cultivation of talent through all organisational processes, while the cultural perspective asserts the importance of a firm-wide mindset, reinforced through policies, practices, and values, that embeds talent management within the culture. The competitive perspective contends that talent management is shaped by the need to accelerate the development of key workers with the highest potential. The HR planning perspective, alternatively, posits that talent management is entirely undergirded by positioning the optimal people within the right jobs and precisely the right time, tasking them with the right things. Finally, the change management perspective frames talent management processes as change-drivers which are particularly crucial if the organisation is undergoing widespread shifts. Ultimately, forces within the global marketplace have implications for the extent to which these five talent management perspectives pertain to globally operating organisations.
Trends in Strategic Talent Management and Sustainability
Emerging trends in strategic talent management serve as the rationale for this study. Frank and Taylor cite that the most important trends in the field are as follows: greater emphasis on workplace learning, contending with higher rates of turnover for the most talented individuals, talent become more scarce within the technology industry, and mounting emphasis on recruiting and retaining globally relevant leaders. Garrow and Hirsch cite that the primary concern within strategic talent management is how to position talent to contend with the challenges of the dynamic, global marketplace; these include greater diversity, calls for equality and social responsibility, and cultural competency.
Importantly, the sustainability literature generally cites one, common definition for the term; it is meeting the needs of those living within the human community today without jeopardising future generations. Emerging from sustainability discourse is corporate social responsibility (CSR) agendas which cite the importance of balancing financial impact with environmental and social impact through business operations. Wirtenberg et al. explored the linkages between HRM and sustainability agendas within globally operating firms, citing that common HRM strategies supporting sustainability manifest in the following areas: leadership development, organisational performance assessment, and talent management. Sourcing the Global 100 Sustainable Corporations, Wirtenberg et al. examined the strategic governance and HRM practices of Eastman Kodak, Royal Phillips, Unilever, and six other firms ranking high on the list of globally operating, sustainable corporations. The study was purely qualitative in nature, where top executives of these firms were interviewed using a semi-structured protocol emphasising the connectivity between sustainability strategy and HRM. Wirtenberg et al. concluded that the shared qualities among these firms were strong values, strategic position, top management support and involvement with HRM, systems alignment, metrics, stakeholder engagement, and holistic integration: "We found that values related to sustainability clearly were deeply ingrained in the "DNA" of these companies, typically embedded by founders, and they were especially evident among all the European-based companies in the sample."
The connection between HRM and the top leadership of the firms was markedly evident, as was the proactive role played by HRM in supporting a sustainability agenda; this, according to Wirtenberg et al., exists in contrast to non-sustainable firms which play a reactive or consultative role in sustainability initiatives.
The interconnectivity between sustainability and talent management is critical, with the literature suggesting that leadership development opportunities is a key attribute of sustainable HRM as is diversity, ethics, and training (Wirtenberg et al.). Wirtenberg et al. cites that the sustainability of an organisation plays a key role during recruiting and retaining talent, as those with strong intrinsic values matching those of the firm will be an optimal fit for the company; this aligns closely with the conclusions drawn by Garrow and Hirsch which cite that the fit of an individual with the values of a firm is a dominant trend within talent management.
Sustainability discourse has created a permanent transformation within the global marketplace. Consequently, the need to integrate a sustainability agenda within HRM goals and supporting objectives is crucial, with strategic talent management representing a critical function of firms seeking to garner competitive advantage. The rationale for this study is, by extension, three-fold; primarily, while a wealth of literature exists with respect to strategic talent management and sustainability agendas, a wide gap within the literature exists with respect to sustainable HRM practices. Additionally, both sustainability agendas and strategic talent management are necessary in order for a firm to remain viable within the twenty-first century. Finally, the breadth of definitions for both sustainability and strategic talent management have precluded concrete recommendations for implementing either agenda; this study will yield recommendations for how globally operating firms can unite sustainability and strategic talent management.
The proposed methodology will apply a qualitative, multiple case study approach to the aforementioned research question. Sourcing the list of Global 100 Sustainable corporations, three firms will be selected for study participation. The Global 100 list applies a twelve-indicator methodology for ranking the firms according to their environmental, social, and financial responsibility as it manifests practically in firm performance. Global100 describes its methodology as follows:
"All companies from the Global 100 starting universe that make the Global 100 Shortlist are scored on (a maximum of) 12 KPIs. In essence, these 12 KPIs serve as selection criteria for the Global 100 Index. As explained elsewhere, companies are only scored on those KPIs that have been determined to be "priority indicators" for their respective GICS Industry Group."
Specific indicators include carbon emissions, water conservation, ratio of CEO to average worker pay, leadership diversity, and employee turnover. The Global 100 emphasises that its indicators are quantitative and replicable.
Organisations selected for the case study will be three-fold, with four top-level executives interviewed from each organisation; in total, twelve semi-structured interviews will be conducted. The interview protocol will be undergirded by the following research question: Within firms adopting a sustainability agenda, how is talent managed through sustainable HRM strategy? Interview questions will seek to link talent management to the sustainability indicators outlined by the Global 100. Additionally, document analysis will be used for the firm's CSR reports in order to ascertain how sustainability manifests within the corporate culture as well as through interstakeholder communication.
The research will be conducted in three phases (Table I). Phase I will be the document analysis, literature review, and creation of the research protocol (especially useful in implementation of Internet safety tools). Interview participants will also be identified during this first phase of research. During Phase II, the interviews will be conducted, digitally recorded, transcribed, and assessed for dominant themes according to the research question. Finally, Phase III represents the stage during which conclusions will be drawn and the final research writing prepared. Letters of gratitude will also be sent to all interview participants during this final stage of research.
Table I. Timetable for Research
Phase Duration Primary Activities
I. 6 weeks, Complete by 3/1/15 Literature Review, Document Analysis, Identification of Research Participants
II. 8 weeks, Complete by 5/1/15 Data Collection
III. 4 weeks, Complete by 6/1/15 Conclusions and Final Study Prepared
Both sustainability and strategic talent management agendas have emerged prominently within business research. This study will fill a wide gap in the literature by ascertaining various indicators of sustainable, strategic talent management as applied within three firms ranking highly on the Global 100 Sustainable Corporations list. This research is particularly crucial as organisations seek out competitive advantage through both CSR and talent management in the twenty-first century.
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