Efforts to Manage Critical Talent Fall Short

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September/October 2014

Efforts to Manage Critical Talent Fall Short

efforts to manage critical talent fall short


Nearly two-thirds (64%) of North American employers believe that managing critical talent is essential to success, but fewer than a third (30%) say their programs for managing it are extremely effective, according to Mercer’s Critical Talent Practices Survey. The survey, conducted earlier this year, included responses from 124 employers across the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors in the US and Canada.

Mercer’s talent management experts note that companies are not capitalizing on all of the approaches and resources available, such as monitoring talent through workforce analytics. Although companies spend a good deal of time and money identifying and rewarding top employees, they put much less effort into formally tracking and communicating the development of talent — areas that can make talent strategies more effective.

According to Mercer’s survey findings, three-quarters (75%) of organizations employ processes to identify critical talent, with approximately 2%–5% of the workforce categorized as critical. However, less than half (49%) of organizations notify critical talent of their status and just 34% track the status of their critical talent in their HR systems. (See Figure 1.)

Although companies believe that managing critical employees is necessary to execute a successful talent strategy, most do not take time to forecast critical talent needs and develop employees for these roles that could positively impact retention and engagement efforts.

In fact, high performers are most often identified by how well they performed in the past. (See Figure 2.) Since future needs and current performance both play a role, companies may be overlooking employees for critical roles.

One of the most effective ways to retain critical talent is to ensure transparency so that critical performers understand their status. This can be the foundation to understand such performers’ career aspirations and to find ways to enrich the employee experience. According to the Mercer survey, the ability to make a difference in the job function leads the list, reported by 59% of organizations. Other noncash rewards identified include career progression (53%), healthy living/wellness (49%), and recognition (45%). Interestingly, just 27% of organizations incorporate pay into their employment brand to attract and retain top talent.

More than half (56%) of participating organizations believe it is important to build an employment brand, whether formal or informal, for attracting, retaining, and engaging critical talent. 

Given companies’ focus on employment branding and the prevalence of noncash rewards, better communication with critical talent along with greater transparency regarding critical talent status are two worthy considerations to further differentiate the employee experience.


Learn more and download the Critical Talent Practices Survey results.



Loree Griffith (New York)
Principal, Talent
+1 212 345 5616
Mary Ann Sardone (Atlanta)
Partner, Talent
+1 404 442 3502
Matthew Stevenson, PhD (Washington, DC)
North America Workforce Analytics and
Planning Practice Leader
+1 202 331 5291

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