Four Top Trends in Talent Management – From SIOP and Beyond

By Lyn Turknett

Co-founder and Co-chair, TLG


I’m a fan of SIOP, the nickname for both the organization and the yearly conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. I am not an I-O psychologist myself, but I am married to a licensed psychologist, I’ve hired a lot of I-O psychologists to support our firm’s consulting, and I’ve been an associate member of SIOP for years. I think I might like to be an I-O psychologist when I grow up. The yearly SIOP conference is, to me, one of the best places to really understand where talent management is going. Broad themes in talent management and beyond were reflected in spades at SIOP this year – one being the generative AI trend that’s impossible to ignore anywhere.


It’s hard to believe I’m now in my 80th year. My body is increasingly flaky and undependable, but I’d love to keep it going just to see what will happen next. I wish I could count how many times I’ve written the phrase, “We’re in a time of unprecedented change,” but it’s got to be in the thousands. I’m writing it again, and I think I may be more right than I’ve ever been. Generative AI is a revolution.

First big trend: AI, especially large language models like ChatGPT, will change talent management – and our world.

At SIOP this year, the largest number of sessions and the most buzz seemed to be around artificial intelligence, especially the rise of large language models. We all know that the world seems to have changed since OpenAI introduced ChatGPT to the public on November 30, 2022. This year there were 61 sessions around AI topics at SIOP – many around legal and ethical issues when using AI for selection and promotion. Presenters emphasized that practitioners need to be particularly careful in Europe and in New York and California in the US – places where there are increased regulations and employee protections.

I am an eternal optimist, but I also believe that AI can probably also help us overcome bias. There’s a good HBR article from pre-ChatGPT release days on using AI to eliminate bias from hiring. I’m seeing further progress too. I was reading an article in the recent HBR on recognizing your bias as a leader – Stop Playing Favorites – and just after that read that Center for Creative Leadership researchers Dr. Andy Loignon and Dr. Diane Bergeron had presented at SIOP on using AI to monitor and measure inclusion in meetings. How many meetings have you been in where you wished you could have that technology?

AI coaching was a big topic at SIOP, and that topic is close to my heart. Our company began nearly forty years ago as an executive assessment and coaching firm. I’m thinking they may be great partners and aids for human coaches – right now because they aren’t human.

Leader Levels

The models are already supporting coaching at scale, but I had an experience about a year ago that made me realize there is potential I’d never thought of. Dr. Karl Kuhnert, now a professor of practice at the Emory Business School and an expert in adult/vertical development, shared an exercise he did with his students that was mind-blowing. Dr. Kuhnert is an expert in adult (often described as “vertical” development) and has worked with executives through our firm. This article, co-authored by Karl and Sarah Strang and using data from our clients, describes leader levels/stages of consciousness.

The whole idea of adult development is that we keep growing and changing as adults, and hopefully, we grow mentally, morally, and emotionally. We come into the world enmeshed in our needs and feelings, then become enmeshed in our goals as we grow to older childhood. Usually, as young adults, we can take a perspective on our goals and are enmeshed in and subject to our roles and relationships. The best leaders are at level four (enmeshed in values and able to take a perspective on roles and relationships) or perhaps even at level five. Robert Kegan terms these stages of consciousness; Karl terms them Leader Levels.

Often, though, when ego and emotions are triggered, even leaders who function at a higher level most of the time move back to much lower levels.

Karl gave his MBA students this case:

You are a department Manager. You have an employee who is very bright and highly productive. However, the employee is pretty ambitious and impatient and often shares ideas with your boss, a director first, rather than sharing them with you. In this case, the employee has “pitched” their idea to your boss, who loves it! The boss has sent you a note indicating that he wants to implement the idea immediately, sharing highlights of the concept and suggesting that you contact the employee for details. You realize this is an idea the employee shared with you about a month ago, and you explained that it was not feasible and why. How do you react in this situation? Do you speak with the employee? If so, what do you say? Do you talk to your boss? If not, why, and what do you say if you do? What do you hope to achieve? What are the costs of not speaking up and for speaking up?

Karl says that he is still waiting for a student to give above a “Level Two” response – and these are working leaders. The response below is an emotionally mature, emotionally untriggered, egoless response – probably because it is not human!

ChatGPT Response:

In this situation, it’s essential to remain professional and handle the matter with diplomacy. Firstly, you should thank your boss for sharing the idea and expressing excitement about it. You can acknowledge that it is indeed a great idea, but also indicate that you had discussed it with the employee a month ago and had explained why it was not feasible. Then, you should reach out to the employee and thank them for sharing their idea. Reiterate the fact that you had discussed it with them a month ago and explain the reasons why it was not feasible at that time. However, you should also ask the employee to share any new information or insights that they may have that could make the idea workable. Once you have a better understanding of the employee’s perspective and have gathered any new information, you can discuss with your boss the idea’s feasibility. If it is still not feasible, you can explain the reasons why and offer alternative solutions. If it is now feasible, you can work with the employee to implement the idea and give them credit for their contribution. The key is to handle the situation professionally, acknowledging the employee’s contribution and ensuring that your boss understands the history of the idea and any previous discussions. By doing so, you can maintain a positive working relationship with both your boss and the employee while also ensuring that any decisions are made with a thorough understanding of the situation.

There are many times in my life when I could have used a coach like that!!

Second Trend: Skills-Based Talent Management and Competencies to Skills

Another trend fully on display at SIOP – and everywhere else – is the move to skills-based talent management.

A pre-conference workshop on the skills-based revolution, presented by Sara Gutierrez, Chief Science Officer of SHL, and Tiffany Poeppelman, Director of Career Development at LinkedIn, began with an exercise asking the audience to select the “skills” from a list that included things like database management, collaboration, programming, and decision-making.

Many of those in the audience (including me) would have listed database management and programming as skills and would have termed collaboration and decision-making competencies or capabilities. The term “skills” is used much more broadly now. Everything is a skill – and the “hard” skills versus “soft” skills dichotomy is gone. And skills are thought of as durable or perishable.

Skills now are

  1. Perishable (think Excel, Python, HTML for web design, knowledge of specialized organization processes)
  2. Semi-Durable (Design principles for web design, knowledge of regulatory environments)
  3. Durable (Broad skills/capabilities that are foundational and long-lasting – adaptability, design thinking, learning agility, critical thinking)

Skills-based job descriptions can be used throughout the talent management cycle, from hiring to development, to managing internal talent mobility, to high potential identification, to succession planning.

Skills-based approaches benefit both the job holder and the employer. Birth rates are down, and will likely continue to be, meaning that talent is increasingly scarce. One thing that skills-based approaches do immediately is expand the talent pool. HR isn’t looking for specific degrees or a specific work history – they are simply looking for needed skills. In hiring, McKinsey reports that just changing to a skills-based job description from a traditional one can increase the number of applicants four times.

Skills-based approaches boost engagement, save time, and promote fairness and better job fit. While a traditional job description for an engineer might begin with qualifications like a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a certain number of years of experience, a skills-based approach lists skills actually needed on the job – often exponentially expanding available applicants.

Often it is extraordinarily difficult to move up or over within your own organization – companies spend most of their time traditionally recruiting from outside. Creating internal talent markets – based on skills-based approaches – can increase employee satisfaction and engagement by providing career development and opportunity. Schneider Electric has created an internal talent market that has created big benefits. They’ve even created a “gig economy” internally, and often workers volunteer for side projects that are advertised in order to build skills.

Third Trend: Top Leadership Skills are Changing

Earlier this year, Forbes published a list, drawn from research, of the top leadership skills needed across industries. The first skill listed wouldn’t have made it anywhere on the list two years ago, and it’s not hard to guess what it is. Forbes puts Artificial Intelligence at the top of the list, followed by capabilities that allow the agility to manage rapid change, “collegiality” with a new and strange intelligence, and the ability to leverage human intelligence.

The top five are:

  1. Artificial Intelligence
  2. Emotional Intelligence
  3. Innovation
  4. Agility and Adaptability
  5. Employee Engagement

Training Magazine conducts a yearly study of leadership skills and leadership development using a survey of Learning and Development professionals. More than 870 responded this year. A standard list of skills is used and there’s overlap in my opinion, but the results are interesting. “Using Emerging Technologies” appeared on the list for the first time and was listed at number 13.

The top five were:

  1. Coaching/Developing Others
  2. Communication Skill
  3. Team Leadership
  4. Emotional Intelligence
  5. Strategy Development and Alignment

The top three remained the same, and Providing Feedback moved up five places, from number 13 to number 8.

A part of the yearly study that I find particularly interesting is the report on highly effective leadership development practices. Organizations are ranked by results – those that are tops in effective leadership development are defined by such indicators as:

  • Leadership is a source of competitive advantage as acknowledged by senior executives
  • Leaders are best in class as evidenced by recruitment efforts from other firms
  • High-potentials are attracted from other organizations
  • There is sufficient bench strength – the company is satisfied that they can replace departing or retiring leaders.

They found that top-performing companies:

  1. Support leaders as they grow and move through their careers. They identify and develop high-potential leaders and provide coaching and support during transitions.
  2. Involve executives in leadership development. Executives model and communicate the organization’s leadership philosophy and are involved in teaching. Leaders are teachers.
  3. Expect new leaders to take responsibility for personal development. They are supported with stretch assignments and 360-degree feedback to guide development choices.
  4. Develop Leadership Character at the individual and organizational level. More on this in the next section.

Trend Four: Character and Ethics are Key, and a Lack of Character Can Kill a Company

I am a fan of Businessweek and I read most issues. In February of 2018, though, I was really troubled by the cover and the lead story and couldn’t throw the issue away. The cover featured Dennis Muilenburg, then CEO of Boeing, lauding the change in culture from slow and careful to aggressive and hard-nosed. The lead article was entitled: Boeing is Killing It By Squeezing Its Suppliers: Under CEO Dennis Muilenburg, the Industrial Giant Has Turned Unapologetically Hard-Nosed.

It felt like the storied, proud, careful engineering culture at Boeing had lost its way, and regulatory agencies now agree – a bit late.

I know the research indicating that often new CEOs shouldn’t match the culture but should balance the tendency of the culture. Overly tough, task-oriented cultures should select a leader who is more people-focused, and more internally-focused, people-oriented cultures should pick a more hard-nosed leader, but this seemed way out of line, and I not only worried about the company and the people in it, but I also didn’t feel great about flying in a Boeing plane. Now 346 people are dead.

I think that openness, psychological safety, and the ability of any employee to bring up important concerns is good for the bottom line in any company. But in high-reliability companies – places where lives can be lost – safety matters, leadership character matters, and employee voice matters at a whole other level.

And where do employees want to work – where is engagement high and retention high? Where character is important at the individual level and the organizational level – and especially in senior leaders. There is nothing more important in any company.