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Feature: Spotting future leaders

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Tim Bradley


By Tim Bradley, managing director of Pecaso UK


In the past, many companies, usually driven by shareholder demand or company re-structure, scouted for new leaders outside their own organisations. They look for industry troubleshooters, who swoop in, enforce organisational reform and swoop out again. What effect this leadership strategy has on staff morale, no one has really measured. But companies are beginning to realise that it can be unsettling; Tim Bradley looks at the issues.

Talent spotting potential managerial staff and leaders from an early stage in their careers and nurturing them to become home grown captains of the company is becoming increasingly prevalent. A survey published in August that researched HR directors in financial services companies showed that 88% believed talent is an important contributory factor to business performance. This means that it is creeping up the boardroom agenda, but still falling short of becoming a key issue for organisations. The same survey reported that 61% of respondents thought their firms failed to develop talent.

Seeking leadership potential in employees lies in the domain of HR. Other HR processes, such as recruitment and training are key, but spending too much time on these processes to the neglect of good talent management and succession strategy, could be to the detriment of the business. Sony Europe recently took an unusual approach to revamp its talent management and generate new definitions of leadership.

Sending senior HR professionals on an Alpine trek, where they endured arduous physical challenges, was meant to kick start a change in attitude towards spotting leadership potential within the company. As strange as these tactics seem, the team emerged from their experience with the intention of making talent development half the organisations department’s job.

If anything the Sony experience hammered home the idea that in order to have a seismic effect on the positive development of their company, nurturing talent is the key factor for HR professionals. It is easy to get waylaid by the administration and everyday operational necessities of HR, but having strategic input into company strategy lies with locating and retaining the best people.

Alpine treks and other adventuresome breaks may not be within your company’s budget and not necessarily what you need to kick start a positive mindset towards talent. However, there are certain steps that any company can follow that impact in a positive way on talent management and spotting the leaders of the future.

Wake up and listen to employees
Some research conducted this summer revealed a frightening trend amongst young high fliers: the quarter-life crisis. It showed that employees between the age of 25 – 35 fear being caught in career traps and are leaving their jobs in search of more fulfilling work. Many blamed debt and other problems, but 82% of respondents believed that organisations risk losing high fliers through failing to listen to their life ambitions as well as their career ambitions.

Employers have to realise that work is an inextricable part of an employee’s life. HR is the function that bridges the gap between employees and organisations and it is HR’s responsibility to fathom why employees are not happy at work. The quarter-life crisis is a real threat to companies – they are at risk of losing future leaders because they are not listening to them.

Frequent mistakes
• Sidelining talent management – make it a priority
• Assuming all talented individuals are the ones with the highest profiles – take time to get to know all employees
• Having set ideas of leadership – qualities are dependent on the organisation and how it changes. Certain attributes are relevant for certain times of a company’s development.

Structuring talent management
Have a set strategy in place and remember that it’s not simply a matter of setting up a process and identifying the people that will sit within the talent pool – follow-ups and on-going assessment is vital. Ownership of the talent management process should be driven by HR but also have involvement from relevant departments and the board of directors through to the CEO. Regular communication is vital to the smooth and consistent running of the process.

Talent management systems
The technology to back up talent management is core to its success. Integrating a talent management system with the appraisal system and career planning system ensures that nothing slips through the net. Tying talent management to the HR process is vital – it means that HR can have an eagle-eye insight into future leaders of its organisation.

Assessment and analysis
Of the talent pool is vital. Measures such as: retention; how many vacancies have been filled using the process; performance of those employees in the talent pool are all important.

Taking a step back and looking at the talent management process is vital in identifying its flaws and gauging its success. Missing out on future leaders simply because an organisation does not have the correct procedures in place is a huge wasted opportunity. It’s time for HR to take ownership of talent management and wake their companies up to the fact that this process could make or break the future of the organisation.

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Annie Hayes

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