Wave Goodbye To HR Owning Talent: 3 Ways To Empower Leaders


April 27, 2010

Do you ever have those moments where someone says something and immediately you KNOW it is important and will stick with you forever?  It doesn’t happen often, but I had one of those moments a few weeks ago.  I was listening to a presentation by John P. McMahon, from Aarow Electronics and he said:

“HR does not own talent.   HR only owns HR talent.  Leaders need to understand that they own the care, feeding, incenting, and development of talent.”

While this seems so simple and obvious, if I look back at my approach to HR, there are many times where I have felt like the owner of talent during my career.  I know if I were to ask many of my current and former colleagues, they would say they have had the same experience in their careers.  What is exciting to me about hearing this statement is that in the business environment today, we are seeing more and more HR departments take this stance of HR not owning talent. HR needs to wave goodbye to the idea of us owning talent.  (yes, I know it’s a stretch, but this isn’t Fantasy Island)

What are three ways to empower your leaders?

  1. Support leaders by encouraging them to lead- This means that we have to let go.  We have to act as advisors and coaches to our leaders, but be willing to let them go lead, even if it’s not the exact way we may handle a situation.  This also means that HR and recruiting pros need to support any efforts that leadership makes with regard to encouraging their staff to be more engaged.
  2. Encourage leadership contributions- Depending on your organizational culture, you may have to dig deep on this one.  Find ways to creatively coach your leaders to contribute ideas that will incent employees to work harder, more efficiently, and more proactively.  By asking leaders to roll up their sleeves and get involved in issues, you will get their buy in.  Once you have that, they are in the perfect position to truly incent their staff.  It’s fine as HR to make suggestions, but the leader really needs to take the ownership.
  3. Showcase leader driven talent development–  Leaders need to get beyond thinking “hey, my employee needs training, call HR.”  We can be educating our leaders on training opportunities that exist and working with them to evaluate the training and development needs of their staff.  Once they begin this habit, it will come much easier.

It’s all about empowering your leaders to manage the employees in their departments.  It’s also about elevating the role of the HR professional away from being the policy and fashion police to a more strategic role.  So, what are other ways you are empowering your leaders?  Share in the comments….


  • There is absolutely no other way to do it. In my book there are two things that are absolutely foundational for any department or team to have a hope of growth/ change.

    1. The leader must be FULLY DEVOTED to his personal growth and development as a leader. Without it, HR is fighting a loosing battle, because they can only assist the leader in the changes that HE wants to make.

    2. The leader must be FULLY DEVOTED to the growth and development of each and everyone on his team (or direct reports.) Without that HR doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.

    HR should be a resource for the leader, not a driving force.

  • HR may not literally own talent, but the very nature of successful leadership mandates that HR be a leader as well helping to empower every talent touchpoint in the organization. It’s not an either or proposition; companies need strong HR leadership on the leadership team.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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