In the business management literature, there is no unanimous definition of talent exists (Thunnissen et al., 2013a, p.1754; Thunnissen et al., 2013b, p.327; McDonnell et al., 2017, p.109; Golubovskaya et al., 2019, p.4109; Harsch and Festing, 2020, p.45). When firms’ perceptions on the meaning and scope of talent are examined, it is observed that their considerations on this issue are shaped and varied according to their own organizational dynamics, inherently, this situation makes it difficult to develop a de facto definition (Iles et al., 2010, p.180; Tansley, 2011, p.266; Latukha, 2015, p.1061; Chung and D’Annunzio-Green, 2018, p.104; Bagheri et al., 2020, p.88). Yet, there are some important attempts regarding to the characterization of the talent phenomenon (see Table 2 in Appendix 1).
When the concept of talent is examined, four main well-established comparative trend of approaches, utilized to determine its meaning and scope, draw attention. These are: object vs. subject; innate vs. acquired; input vs. output; transferable vs. context-dependent (Dries, 2013, p.272; Meyers and van Woerkom, 2014, p.193; Bolander et al., 2017, p.1525: Cui et al., 2018, p.11; Marinakou and Giousmpasoglou, 2019, p.3858; Kravariti and Johnston, 2020, p.80).
Object vs. subject approach is regarded to the classification between; talent as employees (subject approach) and talent as characteristics of employees such as KSAs (object approach) (Thunnissen et al., 2013b, p.327; Mensah, 2015, p.548; Bolander et al., 2017, p.1525). The subject approach refers: rare, valuable, inimitable and difficult to replace employees, it reflects the basic assumptions of human capital theory (Lepak and Snell, 2002, p.519; Thunnissen et al., 2013b, p.327; Mensah 2015, p.548), and resource based view (Barney 1991, p.102; Dries, 2013, p.279). On the other side, object approach represents qualifications (e.g. knowledge, skill and abilities, competencies, capabilities) of an employee which drives his/her potential, performance and contribution.
Innate vs. acquired approach is related with nature-nurture debate, which contemplates whether talent is inborn (innate approach), or something can be nurtured with adequate learning and training (acquired approach) (Meyers et al., 2013, p.305; Meyers and van Woerkom, 2014, p.194; Bolander et al., 2017, p.1525; Marinakou and Giousmpasoglou, 2019, p.3858; Meyers et al., 2020, p.563). The innate approach, evaluates talent as a stable and fixed entity and identifies it as a natural ability that cannot be taught (Meyers et al., 2013, p.306; Pantouvakis and Karakasnaki, 2018, p.651). According to the acquired approach, talent is a combination of distinct competencies that each employee can accumulate through a sequence of education, training and experiences. This approach handles talent as, something could be developed and managed (Tarique and Schuler, 2010, p.127; Chabault et al., 2012, p.329; Dries, 2013, p.279; Latukha, 2015, p.1062; Golubovskaya et al., 2019, p.4118).
Input vs. output perspective is focuses on whether talent depends on employees’ motivation (input approach) or capability (output approach) (Dries 2013, p.280; Mensah 2015, p.548; Sparrow and Makram, 2015, p.254; Bolander et al., 2017, p.1525). Input approach, identifies talent as the effort, ambition, interest and values of an employee, while, output approach, qualifies it as an employee’s performance, achievement and contribution to the company (Dries, 2013, p.280; Mensah, 2015, p.548; Bolander et al., 2017, p.1525).
Finally, transferable vs. context-dependent view, relies on the discussion, if talent can be seen as a qualification that maintains unaltered during the transfer between contexts, or as a harmony which grows just in specific contexts (Dries, 2013, p.280; Bolander et al., 2017, p.1525). Context-dependent view suggests that talent is conditional on its environment, however, transferable view assumes that talented people can demonstrate their talent regardless of the working environment (Dries, 2013, p.280).
Talent management has emerged as a remedy to the problem of talent shortages in world-wide business environment (Chambers et al., 1998, p.46; Axelrod et al., 2001, p.9). However, there is still no uniform understanding regarding to the definition of talent management in business management literature exists (Lewis and Heckman, 2006, p.139; Collings and Mellahi, 2009, p.304; Iles et al., 2010, p.185; Scullion et al., 2010, p.106; Valverde et al., 2013, p.1833–1834; Al Ariss et al., 2014, p.173; Ewerlin and Süß, 2016, p.144). Efforts to create a general definition of talent management will be futile, because each business creates the scope and meaning of talent according to its own dynamics, and naturally their understanding and approach to talent management also differ. As a result of this fact, trying to form common expressions in an area where subjectivity is so intense can be considered as an almost impossible action (Burbach and Royle, 2010, p.415; McDonnell et al., 2011, p.178; Jones et al., 2012, p.402; Pandita and Ray, 2018, p.187; Bagheri et al., 2020, p.88). Nevertheless, there are important attempts of academic researchers related with the definition of talent management (see Table 3 in Appendix 2), which can be sufficiently suited to the academic need to stimulate theory development while reflecting the interests of practitioners (Garrow and Hirsh, 2008, p.390; Thunnissen et al., 2013a, p.1749–1750; Cappelli and Keller, 2014, p.307; Tafti et al., 2017, p.16).
In the process of reviewing the literature on talent management, two prominent disputes stand out. While the first of these concerns is regarding to the form of the relationship between talent management and human resources management; the second one pays attention to feature and context of the employee group on which talent management should focus (inclusive vs. exclusive approach).
In the discussion on the relationship between talent management and human resources management, one party sees talent management as a part of human resources management and describes it as a garnishing of what currently exists (old wine in the new bottle), not being different from traditional HRM practices or disciplines (Lewis and Heckman, 2006, p.140; Iles et al., 2010, p.180; Al Ariss et al., 2014, p.173; Cooke et al., 2014, p.226; Festing and Schäfer, 2014, p.263). By contrast with that, the other side refers talent management as a differentiated management systematic, by its, focal point (talent in an exclusive and/or inclusive way); integration with all business dynamics (e.g. corporate culture, business objectives, business strategies etc.); design and implementation (e.g. unique, valuable and inimitable functions, strategies and practices); and contribution (e.g. enhanced firm performance and sustained competitive advantage etc.) (Chuai et al., 2008, p.901; Iles et al., 2010, p.180; Dries, 2013, p.274; Cui et al., 2018, p.16).
As mentioned earlier, talent management sprout in a condition where classic human resources management system failed to meet the requirements of global business environment. Following the doctrines of resource based view (Barney 1991), and with the contribution of important researchers in the academic field (e.g. Chambers et al., 1998, p.45; Lepak and Snell, 1999, p.45; Axelrod et al., 2001, p.11; Axelrod et al., 2002, p.2; Collings and Mellahi, 2009, p.304; Bethke-Langenegger et al., 2011, p.527; McDonnell et al., 2011, p.177; Jones et al., 2012, p.413; Dries, 2013, p.273; Ewerlin, 2013, p.281; Valverde et al., 2013, p.1834; Sparrow and Makram, 2015, p.251; Gallardo-Gallardo and Thunnissen, 2016, p.44; Latukha, 2018, p.83–84; Meyers et al., 2020, p.580), we refer talent management as a more complex, sophisticated, systematic, and value-driven concept than classical human resources management, with its performance-oriented and differentiated structure.
The second dispute is related to the focal interest area of the talent management, whether it should be the whole workforce of the firm (inclusive approach), or just an elite group of high-potential, high-performing employees with superior contribution to business performance (Dries, 2013, p.279; Festing et al., 2013, p.1885; Bolander et al., 2017, p.1526; Tlaiss et al., 2017, p.428; Chung and D’Annunzio-Green, 2018, p.104; Crowley-Henry and Al Ariss, 2018, p.2066; Golubovskaya et al., 2019, p.4109). While exclusive TM concentrates on employees who take part in a selected, unique group identified as talents, inclusive TM considers talent as a thing that owned by all employees which could be discovered and developed with the help of necessary practices and processes (Gelens et al., 2013, p.348; Thunnissen and Buttiens, 2017, p.393; Kravariti and Johnston, 2020, p.82; De Vos and Dries, 2013, p.1817; Thunnissen, 2016, p.60; McDonnell et al., 2017, p.97; Crowley-Henry and Al Ariss, 2018, p.2065).
Al Ariss et al. (2014, p.176), claims that TM processes and programs could be better implemented on a target group as they able to receive the objectives as intended, accordingly, exclusive TM strategies are more competent in generating a congruous pool of employees. On the other hand, Iles et al. (2010, p.182) asserts that, in an ideal company every employee has a role to play and something to contribute, so inclusive TM approach is necessary in the revelation of the unique talents in all employees and improving the performance of whole workforce. In light of these discussions, a third option seems more reasonable. Stahl et al. (2012, p.26), revealed that the two approaches of TM are not mutually a single thing, many of the companies use a combination of both. The hybrid approach of the TM can be identified as a holistic perspective to talent management, in which the two distinct processes proceed simultaneously: a) labelling the entire workforce as organizational talent and assigning them as the focus of the developmental activities in line with inclusive approach; b) identifying the key and pivotal positions which pre-eminently make contribution to the company’s sustained competitive advantage and filling them with high-potential, high-performance, competent employees congruent with exclusive approach (Thunnissen et al., 2013a, p.1750; King and Vaiman, 2019, p.196; Marinakou and Giousmpasoglou, 2019, p.3866; Meyers et al., 2020, p.581). Stahl et al. (2012, p.26), also mentions that, by implementing a hybrid approach companies can differentiate and distinguished from their competitors and skirt the controversial issue of whether some employee groups are more valuable than others or not.
Talent management in the context of Turkey
According to Tatoglu et al. (2016) context specific TM research has focused on a limited number of different countries (e.g. China, India, Oman, Vietnam, Spain, Poland, France, Germany etc.) and despite these numerous studies, there is a need to examine further the contextual nature of TM. And they highlight the lacuna existing in the general understanding of TM by emerging markets perspective. Turkey is the 19th biggest economy in the world and it is a labour-intensive market. According to the ownership of world fleet Turkey is ranked 16th by carrying capacity in deadweight tons. And it is also ranked 20th in Top 25 ship-owning economies (UNCTAD 2020). As an emerging market, Turkey hosts so many foreign direct investments and especially global shipping companies make extensive ventures for their branches in this country. In addition, as a nation with an organizational culture that synthesizes both western and eastern belongings, it attracts attention among other emerging countries. Organizational culture plays a fundamental role in shaping the TM structure, it limits and shapes the scope of the representative organizations’ TM system (Tatoglu et al., 2016). Demirbag et al. (2014) state that, Turkey is not just and emerging market, but also it is a country that where TM is becoming of prime importance in the national business environment which is in the seek for skilled labour and leadership talent. Confirming this information, The Talent Shortage Survey of 2018, conducted by ManpowerGroup, an U.S.-based human resources consulting company, involving six different industries and 39,195 employers, has pointed Turkey as the second most talent deficient country in the world after Japan with a talent shortage percentage of 66%.
Demirbag et al. (2016) assert that, multinational companies (MNCs) play a substantial role in the evolution of talent management concept in Turkey. Local companies do form international partnerships in order to extent their knowledge related to TM oriented tools and techniques. Often these western-style HRM practices are transferred to the country through multinational companies, even if they compete with local firms for the same talent (Wasti, 1998, p.625; Demirbag et al., 2016; Tatoglu et al., 2016). Tatoglu et al. (2016) claim that, there is evidence that Western HRM practices have been embraced amongst local firms in Turkey but this development remains in a nascent state. However, some opposing views claim that local Turkish firms are mostly family-run businesses, and therefore a tribal approach and a system of placing family members at key points is adopted instead of modern approaches such as talent management (Kaya, 2006). Moreover, it is claimed that even if these companies try to implement modern HR systems with the pressure of the developing and changing business environment and the influence of their external stakeholders, these initiatives are not gone beyond trying to imitate Western-style systems without considering their own organizational dynamics (organizational culture, employee portfolio etc.) (Tuzuner, 2014, p.448; Tatoglu et al., 2016). Correlatively, Tatoglu et al. (2016) have alleged that, it is necessary to examine whether there is a culturally specific and relevant meaning for talent and talent management concepts among Turkish HR executives, and then further assess whether these meanings are consistent with practice. In addition, they have claimed that the examination of talent and talent management concepts together with general approaches and debates, within a combined sample of local Turkish companies and multinational companies, could show if there is a difference between their views and interpretations regarding these issues and they have argued that this could be an answer to the previously mentioned discussions. Taking these arguments into account, the sample of the study has been organized as a combination of overseas-based multinational, Turkish multinational, Turkish large-scale, Turkish medium-sized and joint venture container shipping companies operating in Turkey (see Table 4 in Appendix 3).
Talent management in shipping
Meyers et al. (2020) claim that, empirically investigating the existence and handling of talent management related approaches and debates from different country and industry contexts is a necessary step in understanding the concept as a practical phenomenon more thoroughly. Pantouvakis and Karakasnaki (2018), have taken notice this inducement and they have investigated talent related approaches in the shipping industry for the first time. In this pioneer study they have investigated innate vs acquired and inclusive vs. exclusive approaches within the shipping sector. However, there are other streams in the talent management literature that are considered among the main comparative trends of talent oriented approaches (object vs. subject, input vs. output, transferable vs. context-dependent). Furthermore, a major debate centring the relationship between human resources management and talent management is still questioning by the researchers. Accordingly, following the referral of Meyers et al. (2020), it is thought that researching these issues in the container shipping industry from an emerging market perspective could bring a newer view and create interesting insights.
Despite the shift towards the capital-intensive paradigm, the human capital is still recognized as one of the most valuable and unique assets in the shipping industry. When it comes to the container shipping industry, the key role of valuable and rare human capital is undeniable (Parola and Satta, 2012; Haralambides, 2019; Notteboom et al., 2019). The dynamic and competitive nature of the container shipping leads companies to recognize the importance of having qualified, valuable, competent and unique human capital to enable them sustaining excellence in the provision of customer-focused services and accomplishing business objectives within the industry (Ng et al., 2009, p.257; Pantouvakis and Karakasnaki, 2019, p.277). Progoulaki and Theotokas (2010) consider the differentiated and distinctive management of human capital as the primary requirement for sustainable competitive advantage, taking into account the firm’s resource-based view. Chambers et al. (1998: 44) defines talent as the unique and valuable human capital of a firm and also talent management is defined as a concept directly related to the specific and exclusive management of talent (Iles et al., 2010, p.135; Bethke-Langenegger et al., 2011, p.527). In this context, talent management (TM) can be considered as an important factor contributing to the achievement of corporate goals in the shipping industry and effectively influencing the successful implementation of business strategies through the way of sustained competitive advantage (Pantouvakis and Karakasnaki, 2018, p.649). According to the Pantouvakis and Karakasnaki (2018), defining talent and TM and further investigating related approaches and contradictions within shipping industry is vital because it is a sector that requires high human competencies and skills.
Even a simple web search will show that talent management has been identified as one of the strategic priorities in industry-leading shipping companies and their talent management related knowledge and expertise is recognized and remunerated in the global scale. One of the research aims of our study is to examine the details of this priority by analysing and synthesising the regarding opinions of human resources officials acting in the sector leading companies, in order to establish a working-definition of talent and talent management concepts which will create an insight for and will guide companies that will enter the sector or try to strengthen their existing positions. For example, Maersk Line which is also a participant within the sample of our research was named by The Association of Talent Development (ATD), as “world’s best organization for talent development” and won the 2015 and 2016 BEST Awards consecutively thanks to the success of their talent management system which is very high on the Maersk agenda. In addition, another participant within the sample of our study, DHL, which is also a company functioning within the container shipping industry that highly notices talent management, has been certified as “Top Employer Europe” and “Top Employer Turkey” in 2020 by The Top Employers Institute which is a certification programme that enables organisations to assess and improve the workplace environment. These developments reveal that the actors in the container shipping industry directing the field of practice in the context of talent management and have the potential to substantially contribute to the development of the concept.