Do managers bear responsibility for talent management?

The key to talent management

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

Most talent management programs end up failing. In previous articles, I discussed two common reasons: first, the lack of clearly defined, measurable program goals that are accepted by all key stakeholders in the organization; second, the lack of clearly defined roles for all key individuals in the organization. There’s also a third reason why talent management programs fail: the lack of clear accountability from managers to assist in achieving goals and fulfilling their roles in this process.

This article focuses on accountability.

  • What does this really mean?
  • Why is it important?
  • Can managers be held accountable for assisting in achieving measurable talent management goals for the organization and for fulfilling their roles?

This article will address these incredibly important questions.


What is accountability and why is it important?

Accountability involves executing what has been agreed upon and planned. When managers are promoted to their positions, they assume responsibility for acting as representatives of the organization. What they do – and how they do it – reflects the organization’s image. Job descriptions specify the duties associated with a particular position. However, job descriptions are often incomplete. Managers have a duty to attract, develop, and retain talented individuals within their organizations. If they attempt to shift this responsibility – for example, onto the HR department – they are not fully accepting the responsibility associated with their positions. Responsibility carries a moral element. If managers accept the job, they also accept the obligations associated with it. If they fail to fulfill these obligations, they are not doing their job and are violating their contract with the employer.

How can managers be held accountable?

There are many ways to hold people accountable. One way is to reward individuals for achieving goals. Another approach is to penalize them if they fail to meet their objectives.

There are also creative ways to hold individuals accountable.

  1. In some organizations, measurable talent management goals are clearly communicated to managers, which they are expected to achieve. The bonus system is structured so that 80 percent of their annual bonus depends on achieving business goals, while 20 percent depends on meeting measurable talent management goals (within their areas of responsibility).
  2. Another way is to include talent goals as one of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
  3. Another way is to measure the percentage of completed Individual Development Plans, the turnover rate of high-potential employees (HiPos), and the success rate of promoted individuals. If managers fail to achieve these goals, their future advancement opportunities may be at risk. As an example, we can mention the British Civil Service, which once had a rule that no manager could be promoted unless they had a prepared successor.

Creative approaches to accountability are limited only by imagination. In one organization I know of, the management hired a Human Resources auditor. The role of this auditor was similar to that of an internal auditor, but focused on evaluating the performance of each manager in terms of their ability to attract, develop, and retain talent. In this organization, it was believed that managers have equal responsibility for financial and human resources and should be subject to audits accordingly.

About the Author

William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., SPHR, an Honorary CPLP Fellow, is the President of Rothwell & Associates, Inc. (see, a consulting firm specializing in innovative approaches to succession planning and talent management. The author or editor of 85 books, he is a frequent consultant, seminar leader, and conference speaker both in the United States and in many other countries. He can be reached at

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