Approximate reading time: 5 minutes

Must You Really Go?

Are you ready for the talent exodus? It may seem early to be contemplating a post recession era, but for some companies this is now the reality. For others, better times seem within reach or at least on their radar.

This is exactly when the unwelcome talent exodus may hit.

Retaining your most useful people is an essential part of the talent management job. No one likes to lose high potentials, those identified as possible leaders of the organisation.

Yet there is a real danger as recession eases of some of your best people literally walking out the door, taking their talent with them.

Many companies are well aware that they could be vulnerable to a sudden loss of talent and one foresighted reaction has been to invest more heavily in talent management activities.

Despite the adverse economic climate the proportion of employers undertaking taking talent management activities has actually increased, with nearly three in five organisations now undertaking these. [1] The proportion is even higher in those operating in the private sector.

Companies are therefore continuing to spend resources on for instance coaching, in-house development programmes and focused high potential schemes. 360 degree feedback also remains strongly in favour for investing in talent development

This spending pattern, despite a general reduction in funds for learning and development in the last 12 months, confirms the earlier findings from our own study [2] in 2009. This found some of the best practitioners of talent management narrowing their spending focus rather than just slashing it.

Continued spending on high potentials does not occur out of corporate altruism. Organisations want leaders who will have a strong impact on individual, team and organisational performance.

These are the people about whom others in effect say “That is someone I really want to work with or for.”

Only half the companies in the recent CIPD survey though, regarded talent management practices as effective and a significant proportion regarded them as ineffective.

So it is fair to conclude that where some of your most talented people have been locked into your organisation and unable to vote with their feet, sooner rather than later the greener grass will start to beckon. As the recent CIPD report on Learning and Development warns, somewhat melodramatically:

“The war for talent may have abated and talent may be waiting in the trenches for that war to resume, but even with the slow climb out of recession talent development will be essential.” [3]

So, what will stop the exodus of your best and brightest who, up till now may have either gone into hibernation, simply got on with the job, or sat in silent frustration at the lack of job opportunities coming their way?

Performance Management

One of the most important actions you can take is also possibly one of the hardest. It is actively pursuing performance management. This is a long standing talent management practice that has proved tricky to turn to good account.

Even experienced managers for example, seem to dislike undertaking performance management actions such as appraisals.

Indeed looking more closely at leadership skills, the main gaps identified by employers is the ability to set standards for performance and how to deal with under performance.

Ingredients of successful performance management include:

·         Follow a sequential approach: adopt a series of activities that when completed move the individual to the next level of performance management.

·         Focus on alignment: make sure people are collaborating, support business goals through their actions, and reflect the values of the organisation through their behaviour

·         Use metrics: without hard facts it is hard to turn performance management into anything useful; make sure your talent knows exactly how it will be assessed. However do not rush into measurement, make sure the basis is a sound one.

·         Accountability: make sure people understand what they are accountable for and how they can demonstrate they have delivered on this requirement

·         Address cultural issues: a major reason why performance management often fails is from cultural resistance within organizations to performance measurement.

For example, lack of collaboration and sharing is often a result of the resistance to measurement, which creates difficulties in obtaining the right information.

·         Ensure there is top management support: it is insufficient for senior execs to encourage performance management they must show the way, set an example.

·         Don’t leave anyone out: Horizontally and vertically, it’s important to get all levels of employees and every department within the organization involved with your performance management efforts.

The superstructure of many performance management systems simply overwhelm with their demands for analytical dashboards, scorecards, KPIs, workflows, submissions, approvals, reports and annotations.

Being on the receiving end of this kind of management excess is a sure way to drive your high potentials to distraction and encourage a case of itchy feet.

Instead, performance management should concentrate on creating a meaningful dialogue in which stretch goals are self selected, there is an agreed way to monitor progress towards those goals, feedback is invited and activities that help achieve goals are identified.

In such an approach under performance simply becomes yet another leveraged learning opportunity.

Well being

To hold onto your talent pay careful attention to people’s well being. This is obvious yet it is surprising how often talent walks out the door through feeling the exact opposite, rather than just an urge for higher pay.

This can encompass a large territory that includes career development, personal development, personal productivity, and leadership development.

It may also involve a focus on such wide ranging issues as diversity management, wellness, preventing bullying, and even spirituality in the workplace.

In other words, what will it take to keep your talent happy, stimulated and engaged? There is no single formula for this, though we have found the VIDI framework in which people come to feel valued, involved, developed and inspired a useful guide.

Stay Ahead of the game

Great talent managers are usually well ahead of the game. They anticipate what the next steps will be, long before those steps are needed.

In the case of retaining talent this means getting sufficiently close to your high potentials to predict what they will need next to stay engaged and fully committed.

If you do not know what your high potentials will want next you may find out the hard way. Instead use both performance management and a focus on well being to discover the hidden drivers, the unspoken needs of your people.

A good example of staying ahead of the game is not waiting for someone to walk through the door and ask for a pay rise. Tactically it may seem sensible to sit tight until someone feels compelled to push for a raise, but in practice this is a sure way to under value your most talented people.

Instead, be ahead of the game and make the first move whenever possible. Often the most talented people are the most reluctant to focus on money and when they start doing so it may be too late.

Similarly, be ready with the next project, the next learning opportunity, the next area of responsibility. Even where you cannot offer a precise description of what it looks like right now have some options ready.


[2] Talent Management at the Cross Roads, Maynard Leigh Associates, 2009

[3] See note 1, page 1.31