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PhD Defence Arnold Brouwer

Systems-Oriented Talent Management, a design and validation study

Arnold Brouwer is an external PhD student in the Department of Research Methodology, Measurement and Data Analysis (OMD). His supervisors are T.J.H.M. Eggen and B.P. Veldkamp from the Faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social sciences (BMS).

Our ever more rapidly changing world demands a lot from organisations, and in particular their HRM specialists, to find, retain and promote the right people for the right positions. In their search for support, a growing number of organisations turn to talent management, a specialisation defined as the process of discovering, developing and retaining top talent. Talent management focuses on the recruitment and selection of the right people, helps employees develop in their professional roles and guides them to the next step in their careers. The aim is to be able to continuously anticipate the internal and external changes that all organisations face.

Within talent management, it is common to make use of assessments in order to select and appoint the best fitting human talent. Although the field is equipped with many reliable and valid test instruments, it is surprising that the majority of these measures solely map the human characteristics side of the match between the organisation and its worker. There is no known psychometric test instrument available that links the talents and motives of (potential) employees to the strategy and purpose of the organisation within one and the same underlying model.

Consequently, HR consultants and other assessors have to depend on their own knowledge and expertise in psychology and business administration to make this connection. In practice, this is a difficult task which often results in reliable and valid measures of a person’s qualities and potentials, but a limited match between those characteristics and the organisation. Vice versa, HR consultants also face difficulties in indicating exactly what the organisation is looking for in terms of human qualities. Not rarely this leads to broad, and sometimes contradictory, organisational strategy and culture models and individual function and competence profiles. Who doesn’t know the mission statements or demonstrations of core values in which both staff and clients hardly recognise themselves? And who hasn’t seen the vacancies in which the preferred candidate is a result-oriented go getter who is independent, but also works well in teams, and is not only flexible but also meticulous?

In 2012, Brouwer introduced the initial systems-oriented talent management (STM) model, as a method to align business purpose and human talent both from a psychological and managerial perspective. It is based on the fundamental conviction that investing in a person’s unique character and talents (or natural disposition) is exactly what contributes to the development of his or her full potential, and that this is the only thing he or she will be able to maintain in the long term. In the same line of thinking, the organisation’s rationale or purpose, executed in continuously changing processes and procedures, represents the common thread of its mission in the long term. Therefore, within the STM model, building a sustainable match between an organisation and its employees is about aligning on the level of business purpose and human talent, instead of on the level of the present way of working and behaving.

The STM model was elaborated into an online assessment instrument, named STM-scan. The test instrument generates three diagrams on the relationship between business purpose and human talent. The diagrams are complemented with the results of a five factor personality test and an universal values test. The different human qualities then are arranged in a business model in which four central steps in the primary business process are visualised. This results in a representation of the match between personal qualities and the working environment.

The initial STM-scan has been used over 1,000 times as a talent management instrument. Multiple intermediate evaluations affirmed that clients and candidates are satisfied with both the application possibilities and the insights provided by the instrument. However, an assessment instrument design based solely on practice, raises a couple of questions. First, there is the question of whether the composition and configuration of the STM can also be scientifically proven. This so called evidence-based scientific substantiation requires a thorough understanding of the context, preconditions and critical success factors found in the best-practice oriented design. Second, it brings up the question of whether the initial version supports two of the key criteria of the COTAN review system: reliability and validity. Finally, it raises the question of what can be asserted about STM’s utility. Consequently, this dissertation is a design and validation study of the initial systems-oriented talent management model. In order to evaluate the best-practice oriented model and to design and validate an evidence-based version of the initial STM-scan, the current study used both qualitative and quantitative research methods. The three STM diagrams were dealt with successively.

Firstly, lexical-semantic analyses were conducted to study the relationship between organisational effectiveness and personality traits (attributes) and the relationship between organisational climate and work values (attitudes). Lexical-semantic analyses address the collection of words in a language and can be used to study the meanings and relationships between (groups of) words and sentences. By doing so, this dissertation further elaborated the connection between human talent and business purpose via both personality facets and work values. This resulted in a renewed version of the first (the alignment between organisational structure and human talent) and second (the alignment between organisational culture and human talent) STM-scan diagram. Secondly, multiple linear regression analysis and moderation analysis were used to study the associations between attributes and attitudes. In order to make the renewed STM more applicable for HRM practices concerning sustainable employability, the influence of age on these associations was studied as well. Then, another set of lexical-semantic analyses was executed to study how organisational structure and organisational culture jointly shape business strategy. Subsequently, by using a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods and expert interviews, it was examined in what way the associations between attributes and attitudes can be combined into competences and team roles, which together form the abilities of a (potential) employee, and how these can be linked to business strategy. This led to the renewed third STM diagram (the alignment between business strategy and human talent). Together, these three paths of structure, culture and strategy result in the renewed evidence-based STM model.

The improved STM and its elaboration into three renewed diagrams, contributes to the future bridging of the gap between psychological questionnaires for testing human characteristics and models for unravelling managerial building blocks. The different design and validation studies in this dissertation confirmed that this contributes to achieving a more sustainable and age-dependent match between the organisation’s rationale and a person’s innate individual character. Therewith, the study joined the debate on how an adaptive enterprise ought to be organised these days and how to give shape to the corresponding upscaling that is required of their talent management experts.