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Recruiting talent: Practical advice


John PopeManagement consultant John Pope gives some practical tips for managing and developing talent within your organisation.



So you want more talented people? The sort that make things happen better, make new things happen, get your organisation to stand out from your competitors?

Where do you start? Recruit new staff who have something other than the basic abilities needed for the post. Look for something 'extra' which shows such qualities as significant achievement despite difficulties, some extra commercial instinct, some quality which distinguishes them from others and above all characteristics which show them as having initiative, of using their innate talents to do something extraordinary.

How do you identify their latent talents once you've got them?
Set them to work. Proper briefing, worthwhile jobs, not dogsbody stuff. Don't put them under the sort of managers who will dampen their enthusiasm unless you really want to know how tough they are and how they can stand disillusion. Observe, get views of managers and those they work with, review and record their special abilities. Make sure they know you are interested in how they perform.

The time slot in which you can change unfortunate habits is pretty short. Make sure that they work for someone who has high standards and high expectations.


"The time slot in which you can change unfortunate habits is pretty short. Make sure that they work for someone who has high standards and high expectations."


Try them out, individually or in small groups, on projects outside their normal work; make sure that you find out what they achieve and how they have got the results. Find out what special abilities they showed – and record those findings.

But what about the people you’ve already got?
Have you ground them down over the years? Could there be some spark left? Discover what they have done, what they feel they could do, whether they would like a change. Find something new in their existing job or extend the job in a direction you both feel they could tackle so that they can do something different. Make sure that it is possible for them to make some change or a significant difference which others will recognise.

Try job-swaps, involve them on study groups, working parties where their uncorrupted instincts can encourage them to challenge the existing ways of looking at things or doing things. But observe, record the results, identify strengths and potential for further development. Don't make this an extra assessment where you identify the weaknesses and the corrective action. Concentrate on their strengths.

What do you know about them, and is it up-to-date?
Your people, their abilities, their achievements, what they can do? No don’t just buy a talent management software package. It might be good, but do you really want to add an extra level of complexity and delay progress? It doesn't solve the real problems of knowing your people. It could help you with being informed, but only if you keep it up-to-date which many organisations find difficult enough for the routine personnel records. What else they can do and what they would like to do. Identify and record any special talents, experience and qualifications and keep that up-to-date. Keep those records of experience and excellent performance and review them (and make sure your managers do the same for their people).

What do their managers know about them?
Their managers will have some views; some of these views may be valid. If their managers don't know much about them you have a problem – yes, your managers! Make them aware that it is their job to identify and foster talent in all their staff – and regularly, not just at annual appraisal time.


"Make sure that it is possible for them to make some change or a significant difference which others will recognise."


Are they up to their jobs? Are their jobs up to them?
Get them to find something new in their jobs. Widen their scope, find development opportunities for them and then move them towards finding their own opportunities. But make sure help is around – not too close, it can feel threatening – to give some guidance, and eventually to identify what helper has learned about them.

How do you decide whom to promote?
What do your people believe gets them that step up the ladder – long service, reliable results, predictability, safety, contacts? Internal recruiting as first choice for every job can be a very powerful tool for encouraging individuals to review their capability and progress – especially when you show that people who bring in new ideas, who have a drive to improve things get the chance to put those ideas into practice. Get them to write up their CVs and give them the chance to discuss it with some mentor. And what about widening the choice so that you select from a much wider internal field. It reduces departmental inbreeding, increases sense of fairness and, for some, increases competition.

How do you start your new people off?
Attend the new employee or new manager induction programme yourself. Yes, attend, not just read the programme scripts. Does it impress you, does it fill you with hope? Do 'they' tell you in detail about the pension scheme immediately after lunch? Just check that the messages about opportunities, growth, progress, come through strongly. Dangerous of course because you will have to deliver – but worth it.

Are your values sound and consistent?
Of course you know what your values are, of course everyone else does, and of course it is fully reflected in all your official statements – Sure? Just look at the language used in the statements to staff, re-read the staff handbook with a fresh eye, look at the review or appraisal system too. Does it really encourage personal development, does it focus on the future enough. Know which of your managers really look for, exploit and encourage talent. Know which of your managers makes the effort and which do not.


"The time slot in which you can change unfortunate habits is pretty short. Make sure that they work for someone who has high standards and high expectations."


Where do you stand?
Well there is much which most organisations could do to improve, and you can’t do it all at once. But you could make a start. Dangerous of course because once you start down that route you have to keep it up. For a start you will have to keep on finding new opportunities which will keep your talented, ambitious people going forward – but don’t get too worried about that – if they are that good they will be hot on your heels.

At the end of it all
As you will have noticed, I have not said much about the record systems and processes. Some are necessary. They need to be good, but they do not solve the problems which many organisations face – of making the best use of the talent which is available, the talent which wastes away unless used well and to good effect. It is bigger and more difficult than the task of managing performance, it needs sustained effort and in many organisations it needs a substantial increase in emphasis. You want more talented people? They are there, somewhere in your organisation: Find them, use them or lose them.

John Pope can be contacted at [email protected]


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