Guide to Talent Management for Business Schools

How do business schools help MBAs be the talent that stands out from the crowd?

Talent management is a catch-all term that includes everything from rewards and incentivisation schemes and the recruitment and development of high potentials to performance management and employee engagement.

Pinning down a definition of talent is difficult. Every employer has a different take on the subject. More enlightened and inclusive organisations tend to regard everyone as having talent which can be nurtured through careful management and continuous professional development. They encourage their people to ‘go the extra mile’ or ‘be the best they can be’. Some sectors - investment banking is an obvious example - are profit driven and take an elitist approach where talent is identified, segregated and rewarded by huge bonuses.

An employers’ view

MBAs at the start of their job search need to be aware that whatever their chosen sector employers are looking for individuals who are a good fit. In other words they are looking to hire someone whose ethos, values and beliefs coincide with their own. The assessment centre is often designed with this in mind. Self-awareness is therefore vital for any MBA student and business schools can help by incorporating self-assessment tools into careers modules.

Careers advice

In this recession, employability as much as rankings is becoming a deciding factor behind student applications. Every business school has its own strategy for helping MBAs be the talent that stands out from the crowd. LBS and Cranfield University School of Management, for example, offer personal careers coaching.

Cranfield’s technique is to invite former MBA students to mentor the current cohort, offering one to one careers advice through to internships. “It’s a virtuous circle,” explains Vivien Harrington, Cranfield director of alumni relations and development. “ Our alumni want to give something back to the university so many of them are happy to share their experiences. Alumni get the chance to meet the new talent and to offer internships – in some cases buddying a student. It’s a great learning experience for both sides.”

Relevant – right now

There is no doubt talent management is moving up the business school agenda. In December 2011 Audencia Business School in Nantes, France published a survey of MBA directors at 60 of the world’s top business schools. One of the survey’s most significant findings was the extent to which salary is no longer the major motivator for MBAs. Personal development – the acquisition of soft skills and self insight - is regarded by course directors as the overriding reason individuals decide to study an MBA.

While just over half of MBA directors feel their courses provide the springboard for a salary hike, the majority recognise that in turbulent times self-development is more important. This is a classic talent management approach as Professor Emmanuel Dion of Audencia Business School explains. “The MBA is about creating leaders. Professional experience plus personality is what forms you as a leader and enables you to deliver results for your company.”

IMD in Lausanne runs a full-time MBA of 90 students and an executive MBA of 60 to 70 students. “The reason people study our MBA is to develop themselves as leaders. They are interested in making a bigger contribution and changing two or three out of the major factors that govern their working lives – industry, geography or business function,” says Martha Maznevski, academic director of the MBA.

Changing times

Not so long ago, talent management would have been the undisputed preserve of the human resources department. But in progressive companies senior executives now see their role as combining leadership with a mission to identify and nurture talent.

Business schools have been slow to adapt to this new commercial imperative. Instead of adopting a joined up approach, they touch on talent management in core modules like business strategy (gaining competitive advantage through human capital) but also through human resources (motivating employees to go the extra mile) and in soft skills such as communication.

The fact that talent management transcends silo disciplines has led to confusion about where it should sit. Nowhere is this more apparent than in business schools’ careers services. Careers managers are most effective when they speak the same language as employers when it comes to talent management.

To sum up, MBA students need to take a long hard look at their skills and experience and use their time at business school to prepare themselves for that all important change of career direction and for a job that can develop their talent not just their pay packet.

Stephen Hoare is a business education journalist and Director of Linden Lea, where he helps public sector, not-for-profit and blue chip organisations with media and communications.

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