Board Involvement in Talent Management Processes

Board Engagement in Talent Management Processes

William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., SPHR, Honorary Member CPLP

I often hear complaints from HR experts that the board or senior managers are not engaging in talent management programs. And available research confirms this opinion.

In this article, I present five tips for building and maintaining engagement.

Tip 1: Managers support what aligns with business needs

Talent management programs should not be implemented just because everyone else is doing them. It’s important that they stem from current or upcoming business needs.

Let’s take a simple example. If managers are concerned that many of their supervisors or experts are approaching retirement age, talent management becomes a term used to take specific actions. It’s necessary to determine how many people are eligible for retirement and then take systematic actions to prepare individuals for promotion. If five people are eligible for retirement this year, and previous years indicate that probably 4 out of those 5 will retire, the talent management program focuses on preparing at least 4 (and possibly more) individuals for promotion. At the same time, promotions will create vacancies at lower levels in the organizational structure, which in the next stage requires talent management actions for the development or recruitment of needed staff.

There are many business reasons to implement a talent management program. Retirement is just one reason. Dynamic business growth is another reason. Retaining the best talent in the organization is a third reason. It’s crucial to identify the business challenges related to human capital management in the organization, and then a talent management program can be started to address those issues.

Tip 2: Senior Management Supports What They Are Rewarded For

A litmus test for the engagement of senior management or boards of companies is whether they reward talent development. Rewarding talent development can significantly contribute to building a culture where managers at every level are engaged in this process.

There’s an old saying, “you get what you reward.” If you don’t plan, measure, and evaluate people’s development, you won’t achieve it. Managers need to understand why they should do this.


Tip 3: Managers Support What Benefits Them

Some organizations have a policy where managers cannot advance unless they have prepared their successors. I’m not a fan of every policy, but I would say that such an approach serves to make every manager aware that they have a personal interest in developing talent in their team.

Tip 4: Managers Support Consistent Actions

Managers are similar to other employees. They observe what happens with their colleagues and direct superiors. If they see that the organization is making a significant effort in an area such as recruitment, development, and retention of top talent, and financial resources are aligned with this policy, they feel that the board is taking action to provide resources for implementation, they take it seriously. If they don’t see this, they know it’s just a “fad.”

Tip 5: Managers Support What They Feel Is Valued by Their Board

Managers are not foolish. They will do what they anticipate their board will appreciate.

Once I was asked by a CEO what he could do to have the greatest impact on talent management every day. I told him that at the beginning of each meeting, he should walk around the office and ask each of his direct reports what they did that day to attract, develop, or retain talent. I also suggested he ask them what he could do to support their efforts. I warned him that on the first day, everyone would be surprised and silent. But if he continued, they would be prepared, and this would compel them to focus on this issue. They would start doing the same with their own direct reports. He agreed to my request, and the results were simply astounding.


Building and maintaining board engagement remains a significant challenge for the success of any talent management program.

I have one last piece of advice. It’s a simple but profound one. Organizations often launch talent management programs to address a business problem, such as approaching retirements, business growth, retaining high-potential talent, or another current issue. If the program is launched and effectively mitigates the impact of the problem, managers tend to lose interest and engagement in this effort. In other words, the success of the program actually weakens board engagement. To counteract this problem, those responsible for talent management programs should adjust the goals of the programs at least once a year to ensure that the programs remain aligned with existing business needs.

William J. Rothwell, Ph.D.