This post is part of a series based on the research report Mastering Talent Planning by the National Center for the Middle Market in partnership with Vistage. Download the full report here.

If your business wants to successfully compete for the best talent on the market, then it needs a plan. According the National Center for the Middle Market’s latest research, that plan works best when it’s both formalized and comprehensive in nature. It other words, middle market firms can benefit from a systemic framework for performing multiple talent planning activities—such as identifying high potential employees, identifying skills gaps, and bench strength analysis for key positions—in a coordinated way.

Using its latest research findings, the Center developed such a framework in order to guide middle market businesses in talent planning activities. Dubbed the ABLE Framework, it is based on findings that show clear links between process formalization, implementing a variety of talent planning activities, greater talent planning success, and better company performance overall. The ABLE Framework helps middle market businesses structure their talent planning efforts around four key focus areas:

  1. Aligning talent strategy with corporate strategy
  2. Building sufficient processes around talent
  3. Leadership involvement
  4. Engaging employees

Align talent strategy with corporate strategy.

The “A” in ABLE stands for alignment, and for good reason. For companies to meet their strategic goals and objectives, they need people in place with the right skill sets and capabilities to achieve those goals. Put another way, businesses need to understand the human capital implications of their strategic and tactical objectives. And then they need a plan for making sure they have the right people to get the job done.

To do this, companies need to identify critical positions within the firm as well as future and current skills gaps. Then they need to talk openly and frequently about how to keep those positions filled with people who have the expertise to do the jobs. Those companies that do actively plan for the people they need to fulfill their corporate mission are more likely to count themselves among the fastest-growing middle market firms.

Build processes to enable successful talent planning.

Talent planning is too complex and important to be done on an ad hoc basis. Companies need formal processes and procedures in place for activities such as succession planning, identifying internal and external talent pools, career mapping, and conducting performance reviews.

Formalized processes ensure that companies follow best practices and that they don’t let important aspects of talent planning fall through the cracks. In addition, the fastest-growing middle market firms are much more likely than their slower-growing peers to have written rules and guidelines in place for talent planning purposes.

Lead by example.

Beyond formalization of processes, another hallmark of talent planning success is C-suite involvement. While the ultimate responsibility for talent planning rests with HR in most middle market companies, in the fastest-growing, best-performing businesses, senior leadership is likely to be involved in talent planning decisions. These rapid growing companies are also more apt than weaker performing businesses to engage both senior management and line management in talent discussions, and they hold regular meetings where executives are involved in debating the firm’s talent issues.

Engage the workforce.

The final component of a good talent planning framework is a method for getting the rank and file on board with talent planning efforts. The research shows that when employees are committed to talent planning processes, companies perform better on talent planning overall.

One way to increase engagement is to be sure to recognize the best performing employees in the firm as well as those employees with the greatest potential to lead the business in the future. Remember that performance and potential are not one in the same thing. Understanding the difference between the two, and having plans in place for recognizing, rewarding, and developing both types of talent, can ensure that the employees who are capable of making the most significant contributions to your business today and in the future stay on board.

For more details on the ABLE Framework and how your business can improve its talent planning approach, see the Center’s full research report, Mastering Talent Planning: A Framework for Success.

Next in this series
Post 3: Identifying Potential: Does your business have a plan for recognizing future leaders?

Others in this series
Post 1: What is Talent Planning? And Why Does it Matter?
Post 4: Who's next in line: Does your organization have a well-defined succession plan?