In today's incredibly connected, knowledge and skills-driven world, organizations are increasingly competing on talent. This is more so in the high-tech industry where technology is moving at an unprecedented pace, giving rise to a growing education and skills gap, which in turn is making talent sourcing and development a massive challenge . In this blog, I will first describe the concept of talent multiplication as the aim of modern organizations, setting the historical context and showing the evolutionary nature of the trend. I will then present competency models as a systematic way to identify talent needs rigorously, before putting forward an agile framework for the continuous development of talent within organizations. Following, I will highlight the role that educational institutions can play in talent multiplication. Finally, conclusions will be drawn.
Human Resource (HR) organizations developed over the decades from “Personnel” departments, focused on basic staff services such as payroll, to “strategic” HR departments in charge of a plethora of concerns including recruitment, learning and development, compensation, internal communications, and organizational design . In more recent times, HR organizations became more integrated with the business as they took on a wider talent management remit including competency management, succession planning, leadership development, and systems integration. This evolution is essentially shaped by business attitude to talent. As the latter became increasingly the most important asset of businesses, HR organizations took on more strategic functions and became more integrated with the core business. Figure 1 depicts this trend.
Figure 1. Evolution of talent management and human resource organizations 
Modern talent management is concerned not just with the individual but looks at developing the collective in order to obtain multiplicative talent effects that are larger than the sum of individual talents. It starts with a definition of the organization's talent needs. These should be tightly linked to the strategic objectives of the business. Once talent needs are clearly and rigorously defined, organizations should have a strategy to discover and source talent. A “supply chain” inspired approach is often used to diversify and monitor talent supplies, balance supply and demand, and maximize ROI. Once talent is sourced, it needs to be continuously developed to keep up with business needs, as well as individual and collective aspirations. Accelerated learning techniques can be deployed for this purpose . Finally, the right talent needs to be deployed in the right place at the right time. This is not as simple as it might seem since the choice of the talent, the place and timing of deployment is often fraught with political, economic, cultural and agency problems. Aligning the aspirations and interests of the individual, the collective and the business is what leads to talent multiplication ultimately, an environment whereby individual performance is multiplied by virtue of being part of a talented collective. The following section will present a formal framework for the identification of talent needs in organizations.
Job competencies are the set of knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors required from individuals in order to perform at an expected level. A competency model identifies, models and assesses the set of competencies required for a role, a group, a function, or a whole organization. At the organizational level, it identifies the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors that contribute directly to the success of the organization. It also defines and configures various activities and interventions by the HR organization (and wider business) around existing and sought competencies. Moreover, it identifies current and future competency gaps and ways to plug them. Figure 2 presents several activities that could benefit greatly from formal competency models. At the very minimum, talent acquisition (recruitment) and talent development should be informed by competency models e.g. from job advertisement and candidate sourcing strategy to training program development. One could also easily see how talent appraisal, compensation, performance management and succession planning would benefit greatly from a formal competency model. Change management including mergers & acquisitions, strategic business planning should also be informed by competency models.
Figure 2. A competency model in the context of the wider organization
It is important to note that competency models are not fixed. Their use in various activities would often lead to changes and improvements as more intelligence is assembled from the field. As such, an agile approach to competency model development is recommended whereby the model is constantly revised through practice. This is particularly important as jobs and related competencies are evolving at a very fast pace.
Developing a competency model starts from defining its purpose and scope. For instance, one could develop a competency model for a job role before advertising a job description, or for an entire organization in order to align better with strategic business objectives. Then, information needs to be collected systematically and rigorously. This can be done though observing high performing staff as they perform their role, interviewing staff, creating questionnaires for large surveys, and conducting focus groups. It can also be done by analyzing work using sources such as job descriptions, business plans and strategies, organizational values, customer and supplier requirements, and future market demands. In practice, a combination of some or all the above is required.
Gathering information about roles typically culminates into a set of competency statements including knowledge, skills, attitude and behavioral statements. These are attached to different levels of competency e.g. foundational, intermediate, advanced, and expert. The statements are then refined and grouped hierarchically to create higher level competency statements, which are then named appropriately. This process is iterative and very time consuming. It is very important to involve people from various parts of the organization, from different roles and different levels. It is both bottom-up and top-down, and at the end of it all, the top-level organizational model could look like the one shown in Figure 3. Note that at the top level, we often find core competencies which are broad and relevant across job groups. As we go further down the hierarchy, competencies are refined, detailed and contextualized to suit the specific needs of roles or groups.
Figure 3. An example of a high-level competency model
Throughout the above process, organizations could guide themselves by industry-wide competency models if they exist, which they then refine and adapt for the specific needs of the organization. The resulting competency model should then be tested in the field by communicating its findings transparently to stakeholders at every level and using it for its intended purpose and scope. This could be to inform training programs, talent acquisition strategy and plans, reward and compensation. It should be revised on a regular basis based on feedback from the field and iteration on the model development process.
Educational institutions are uniquely positioned to play a central role in talent multiplication. They are indeed the main source of talent throughout the lifelong education and talent pipeline (see Figure 4). To plug the education and skills gap, which perhaps should be called the competency gap, educational institutions should engage with organizations’ competency models and feed back into their curricula and pedagogy. I posit that educational institutions should also take more of a proactive role in the development of competency models for the professional market, whether by helping specific organizations or by developing industry-wide competency models. That way, competency models could effectively be the exchange mechanism between industry and educational institutions, with information flowing in both directions.
Figure 4. Education & talent pipeline
Industry-wide competency models could help organizations develop models specifically tailored to their needs more quickly. Here, educational institutions could use their enormous convening power to develop such industry-wide models in collaboration with industry. This would help both parties develop their own organizations better and address the growing competency gap in the wider economy.
Talent is the new golden asset of modern organizations, especially in the high-tech industry; and talent multiplication is the Holy Grail that every high performing organization should strive to achieve and maintain. Competency models should be developed as a matter of course by organizations in order to systematically understand their talent needs and gaps, develop talent sourcing, talent development and talent deployment strategies. The aim should always be to serve the strategic business objectives of the organization. Done properly, this will result into a multiplicative effect as the collective talent grows into much more than the sum of individual talents. Excellence is indeed contagious and multiplicative, the same as mediocrity though.
Modern HR organizations are fully integrated with the business strategy, and talent management activities are tightly linked with every aspect of organizational life. To do this, modern HR organizations are usually structured as depicted in Figure 5 . Shared services are focused on operational excellence, delivering services (e.g. payroll, recruitment and talent development logistics) at the desired quality for the lowest possible cost. Centers of expertise (COEs) design strategies, programs, policies, and processes e.g. for talent management, which are often executed efficiently by shared services. Business partners offer strategic liaison between COEs and the business. Their job is crucial in aligning HR activities to the strategic business objectives.
Figure 5. Modern HR organizations' structure
Educational institutions have a crucial role to play in talent multiplication as they are the default providers of raw talent to businesses. They can play an even more crucial role by collaborating more closely with HR organizations' COEs in order to develop competency models for discrete organizations or for the wider industry. This would feedback into educational institutions’ curricula and pedagogy and help shape the future of industry.
 Cheese P. et al., "The Talent Powered Organization: Strategies For Globalization, Talent Management And High Performance", Kogan Page 2007, ISBN-13: 978-0749449902
 Bersin J, "Talent Management: What Is It? Why Now?", 2006
 Shellenback, L., “HR Structures Today”, Mercer LLC, 2017