Practical guide – Growth towards strategic talent management

The 4 maturity phases of your HR department

— 15 minute read.

Over the past years the role of HR in an organisation has changed dramatically. A shift is made from monitoring and controlling old fashioned performance management processes to personal development and emphasising on talent management.

What is talent management and why should you want it?

At Learned, we define talent management as the arranging of organisational processes with the aim of enhancing the performance of your employees and retaining them longer to the organisation. In short, this is what we propose to achieve:
1. Save time: modernise existing performance management processes and reduce the time spent with up to 28%.
2. Enhance performance: upgrade your talent management and increase employee performance with up to 26%.
3. Increase retention: enable career perspectives and increase retention with up to 14%.


The 4 maturity phases of your HR department

After speaking with over 500 organisations we have seen that HR departments throughout various organisations differ in their level of maturity towards their emphasis on talent management. Therefore, we have defined 4 different phases of talent management based on several organisational processes and ways of working. These 4 phases are increasingly oriented towards talent management and it is therefore our aim to guide any organisation towards the final phase. However, in order to accomplish this you must first find out in which phase your organisation currently operates. For each phase we have mapped out the corresponding ways of working, what we want you to achieve and how to get started.


Phase 1: Modernise performance reviews: implement 360° performance reviews and upgrade your conversation cycle.
Phase 2: Provide employees with a structure to independently work on personal development: give your employees their own personal development plan that they can use to take control of their performance in this rapidly changing labour market.
Phase 3: Increase retention by discussing career perspectives: build a talent marketplace and stimulate internal career development.
Phase 4: Become a strategic HR partner: start with skill management and implement HR Analytics to make strategic organisational decisions.


Phase 1: Modernise performance reviews

The first phase is the one that any organisation has come across at one point in time and is concerned with the way in which employees are assessed: performance reviews. In most cases HR capacity is limited and conducting these reviews is just 1 of the many tasks that needs to be done. This type of organisation conducts either 1 or 2 performance reviews each year, which is often based on a Word/Excel template that was created many years ago. That’s right, time to shake things up.


What are the main challenges?

1. No fixed process for conducting reviews: it is often the case that reviews are conducted in a non-digital way resulting in a lack of standard procedure in terms of preparation, planning and follow-up, causing frustration and high time expenditure.
2. Outdated questionnaires: there is no personalisation in assessing employees. Assessments are not based on employee roles and use the same questions and skills for everyone.
3. Unilateral assessments: current assessments are top-down oriented instead of incorporating 360° feedback.
4. Lack of 1-1 conversations: insufficient follow-up on the formal conversations from the bi-yearly performance reviews.


What do we want to achieve?

1. Save time by creating a clear review procedure: digitise and thereby standardise the process of planning and conducting performance reviews for all parties involved.
2. Make performance reviews personal: create personalised questionnaires based on the role profiles of employees.
3. Make feedback meaningful by creating a 360° feedback culture: provide employees with the opportunity to rate themselves as well as ask colleagues and external clients for feedback.
4. Give meaning to feedback by following up with regular 1-1 conversations: by conducting frequent coaching 1-1 conversations you can reflect on agreements made in the performance reviews and steer on experiences from daily operations more easily.


How to get started?

Step 1.
Nowadays we spend most of our time looking at either our phone or a computer screen. Everything is digital. However, for organisations in this phase the performance review process is still conducted by means of Word/Excel templates. We want help organisations make the transition to conducting performance reviews with the help of an HR tool. Therefore, we start with modernising the performance review by digitising the entire process from planning to follow-up.


Step 2.
Then we shift towards the employee. Within Learned every employee is assigned with 1 or more personal role profiles that match their position within the organisation. The organisation determines a minimum structure of assessments by planning 1 or more 360​​° feedback rounds. As a result the employees see a standard set of feedback related tasks, such as a personal or peer evaluation.


Step 3.
Finally, the actual evaluation. Providing an evaluation consists out of feedback that is given on skills. To help employees make sense of what is meant by a skill, we provide them with several behavioural indicators (focus areas) which are divided into levels based on expertise. An employee is either assigned to a certain level of a skill based on their role profile, or they can assign themselves to a level based on the focus areas they identify themselves with.


Subsequently, the actual feedback consists of a rating on that particular level which is based on a four-point scale. The four-point scale relates to observable behaviour (I rarely see this – I always see this). We make use of a four-point scale in order to prevent neutral outcomes. By letting the feedback provider either give positive or negative feedback, you force them to critically think about their feedback and come up with constructive points of improvement. In the end resulting in a personal feedback report per employee based on a 360​​° evaluation that actually says something about the performance.


Step 4.
In most organisations after the performance review is completed all feedback is discussed during a formal conversation. These conversations are part of the regular performance management cycle and can be of great added value. However, most organisations now only conduct 1 or 2 of these conversations each year. As a result, there is lot of time in between the conversations leading to few moments to actually reflect on and discuss the feedback. Therefore, we propose to map out your organisational conversation cycle and increase the amount of coaching 1-1’s to up to 4 conversations per year.


Fact: Providing employees with frequent feedback is one of the top drivers of employee engagement and can increase loyalty by up to 17%.

Phase 2: Provide employees with a structure to independently work on personal development

For those organisations that already have a 360​​° performance review cycle in place, that’s great! But remember, we are not there yet. Although performance reviews can lead to important insights, there are certain steps that need to be taken to actually act on these insights in order to improve the performance of your employees. This phase is concerned with organisations that struggle to create a consistent structure in which to facilitate employees to perform well. Employees are not provided with the means to actively work on their development. There is no process in place for translating organisational objectives to individual employee goals. Next to that, the goals that are set are not evaluated on often enough. In short, there is still some work to be done.

What are the main challenges?

1. No concrete follow-up on feedback: the resulting insights from the received feedback are discussed and perhaps even result in new goals, However, there are no concrete tools to evaluate on the goals and determine next steps.
2. No clear expectations for employees: employee goals are not aligned and pushed top-down causing expectations and individual contributions to the organisational objectives to be unclear.
3. Insufficient feedback moments: employees are not facilitated and encouraged to exchange feedback on their goals and accomplishments throughout the year by themselves.


What do we want to achieve?

1. Provide employees with the tools to independently work on their development: every employee is facilitated with their own personal development plan in which they can get started with their received feedback.
2. Offer employees a Learning Academy: build your own organisational library of relevant learning resources to help employees to make their goals concrete.
3. Stimulate employee engagement by making expectations and individual contributions clear: by involving employees in the process of translating organisational objectives to employee goals they will actually see how their daily input affects the overall results.
4. Create continuous learning opportunities: encouraging employees to frequently exchange feedback on their daily activities increases their moments of reflection and allows for quick and easy adjustments in behaviour.

How to get started?

Step 1.

The ideal starting point in this phase is to provide your employees with their own personal development plan in which they can work on their current role in a structured way. Within the personal development plan employees keep track of all their received feedback and can easily set up learning goals to develop missing skills. These learning goals consist of smaller actionable learning activities that help achieve that goal. You can aggregate learning activities in the Learned library of your organisation. Subsequently, Learned will make personalised suggestions based on the skill profile of your employees.


Step 2.

Developing skills is a great starting point but in most organisations employee performance is also determined by reaching targets and KPI’s. Within Learned you can set business goals and for this we were inspired by Google’s OKR methodology.. This stands for Objectives and Key Results and it basically means that you set a global and ambitious objective and then you create a number of quantifiable Key Results that will help reach that objective. Subsequently, larger organisational objectives are broken down into objectives for teams and individual employees. This creates clear expectations for the employee and a shared responsibility.


Step 3.

Now that your employees have their goals to work on it’s nice to know that they are enabled to reflect on their progress by asking for feedback. We call this real-time feedback which means that at any point in time an employees can ask or give instant feedback on goals or completed tasks. This feedback allows for flexible adjustments in the course of action, but also provides great input for the next coaching 1-1. Ultimately, by implementing these practical ways of working you can provide your employees with a clear structure to work in and with frequent praises to increase their engagement and performance.


Fact: Employees who strongly agree they can link their goals to the organisational goals are 3.5 times more likely to be engaged, while simultaneously show an increase in performance of over 14%.

Phase 3: Increase retention by discussing career perspectives

Up until now the role of the HR department and the resulting ways of working have been oriented towards employee performance in their current role and how to stimulate this. Despite the fact that this is important, a vital element is left out: employee ambitions. This phase is for organisations that find it hard to implement a process for discussing the career perspectives of their employees and subsequently acting on the stated ambitions by facilitating career plans and skill development. So how can we make sure that employees that perform well now will also do so in the future?

What are the main challenges?

1. Lack of insight into all organisational roles and skills: many organisations fall short in making the available roles of the organisation transparent, possibly causing employees to look elsewhere for a role they like.
2. Lack of structure and learning resources to develop to a role: even if employees find a role they like it is often unclear how they should develop in order to match the description of the role.
3. Insufficient opportunities to discuss future ambitions: career perspectives and ambitions are often not discussed because managers are afraid of requests they cannot comply with. Causing them to find out about employee ambitions during exit interviews.


What do we want to achieve?

1. Create an internal talent marketplace: let your employees map out their ambitions. Move on to a new role, or gain seniority in the current role. Search as HR for candidates and communicate with them whenever a new vacancy opens up.
2. Enable employees to create long term career plans: you can stimulate internal career development by giving your employees the tools to create their own plan. Let them learn the skills required by facilitating relevant learning resources.
3. Make career perspectives a frequent conversational topic: do not longer avoid the topic of employee ambitions. Proactively discuss internal career opportunities to make sure that both you and your employees are aware of possible matches and thereby prevent you from looking for candidates outside of the organisation.

How to get started?

Step 1.

By working with Learned every employee is provided with their own skill profile, also called a skill passport. Within this skill passport they can keep track of the skills they find important and those relevant for their current role within the organisation. Every organisation creates their very own role library compiled of all internal roles and underlying skills. The employees can subsequently browse through all available roles and HR can browse through all employee skill passports. A truly interactive talent marketplace.


Step 2.

Subsequently employees can express their interest in the roles they like and even create a career plan for the role they hope to acquire. Within this career plan the employee skill profile is matched with the desired role providing them with insight into which skills to develop. Based on this insight employees can immediately get started with asking for feedback and setting up new learning goals with relevant learning resources.


Step 3.

Letting your employees browse through interesting roles and create career plans is a great way for them to gain insight into internal opportunities. However, this is only the beginning. As HR and management you should incorporate the discussion of these ambitions in the coaching 1-1’s. You have insight into the reachability of these ambitions and possible open vacancies. Together you can finetune your employees’ career plans and help them reach their next step.


Fact: Over ⅔ of all employees who have left their employers would have been willing to stay if properly guided by management towards their next step.

Phase 4: Become a strategic HR partner

The final phase is where it should all come together. There is a proper structure for performance reviews, conversations, goal setting and career plans. What more can you do as HR? Well, after you have created this structure your employees and managers can get started and actually conduct conversations, reach goals and develop skills. All this activity results in valuable data, on for instance the available skills within your organisation, that can you use to improve processes and make strategic decisions. Therefore, we consider your organisation to be of phase 4 HR maturity when all basic performance and talent management processes are installed and you start using data to become even better. How can we put this into practise?

What are the main challenges?

1. Lack of insight by HR into the available skills within the organisation: it is still too often the case that project teams are formed based on the feeling or opinion of a few individuals instead of looking at facts and data. The same problem occurs when decisions have to be made regarding the allocation of training and learning programs.
2. Lack of insight by HR into employee performance on an organisational level: even though installed performance management processes lead to great insights into individual employee performance, there is often no comparison and insight into the aggregate organisational performance. The top performers within the organisation are too often determined based on liking and gut feeling.

What do we want to achieve?

1. Become future proof and gain knowledge of all organisational skills: visualise all skills within the organisation and their average level and use this knowledge to make informed decisions on setting up project teams and training programs.
2. Apply knowledge for strategic personnel and succession planning: implement HR Analytics and use the data from career plans and available skills to discover your high potential employees. Assess which roles are required now and in the future and how you can contribute to shaping these roles.

How to get started?

Step 1.

In order to be able to make strategic HR decisions and work towards becoming future proof as an organisation you need a lot of input on roles and skills. As a result from all the interactions in the talent marketplace you can gather valuable input. Based on this input you can ask questions such as: which roles require which skills? and, is our current skill set still relevant, or do we have to innovate and augment it with future skills? Within Learned you have elaborate insight into who possesses which skill at what level. Use this insight to determine which employees should work on what project. If you see there are important future skills missing you can make grounded decisions on which new training and learning programs to set up.


Step 2.

When you have the right person for the right project and training program you can take it 1 step further and use these insights to assess the role distribution and top performers of the organisation. Future leaders require future roles. It’s relatively easy to stick with your current roles and keep working in the same pattern, but change is constant and that is also how it should work for your organisational roles. Which direction is your organisation headed towards? Are there new vacancies or roles to be created to meet future organisational needs?

To help you with these challenges you can best start with the available skills in your organisation. Sometimes employees with different backgrounds in terms of work experience possess skills and show interest to work in a different field entirely. Therefore, new roles can be formed based on new variations of skills coming from new employees. Our advice, use these insights to become flexible in creating roles and truly become a future proof organisation.


Fact: If employers actively contribute to the development of future skills, 46% of employees are willing to stay with that employer for more than 5 years, compared to 28% if the employer does not.

In which phase is your talent management model?

After reading this we hope that you have identified your organisation with 1 of our 4 phases. Regardless of the maturity phase in which you are right now, take some time to reflect on whether you have checked all the boxes. Remember, it is our aim to help any organisation build their talent management to phase 4, but this is impossible if you have not fixed the basics first.

Are you interested in taking the first step to talent management? Or do you want help on how to move to the next phase? With a simple and fast implementation you can get started with the first step immediately. You will then work together with one of our customer success managers to expand your talent management process step by step. Together we will make sure that it succeeds. Feel free to contact us for a demonstration and introduction.

Curious how Learned can help?


Padualaan 8, 3584 CH, Utrecht. Nederland

(085) 0250097

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