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Nigel Povah



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Talent Identification – a never ending evolution


For the first time in nearly a decade the issues of retention, engagement and attraction of talent will rise to the top of the talent management agenda and unsurprisingly the demands for top quality leadership will feature strongly in the mix.

With global economies showing signs of growth, opportunities for employees to move on are improving and the power in the recruitment process is shifting to the employee, with one pundit quipping: ‘The war for talent is over, and the talent won.’

Whilst there will still be pockets of unemployment, the general trend going forward will see people’s expectations rising and many may seek more stimulating and rewarding work.

But how does this trend balance against the requirements of organisations? And how can HR professionals attract and retain top talent in an ever-competitive talent market?

Don’t just take a global approach

The demand for talent has never diminished but one thing’s for sure – the way in which organisations view and define talent is evolving. A key reason for this can be attributed to the widely accepted view that we are living in a VUCA world, in which Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity are becoming the norm.

In this fast-paced dynamic world, organisations are looking for individuals who can operate both globally and locally. This pursuit of global talent is nothing new and the demand for such talent is unlikely to abate, but there is a growing recognition that identification should not focus on the elite global talents alone and the need for local talent suggests the adoption of a twin-track approach. Assessment activities will therefore often need to take account of both candidate pools within a single assessment process, in which different skills and abilities are sought.

One organisation that has taken action on this issue is Grundfos, the world’s leading pump manufacturer. They developed a series of Talent Development Centres, which aimed at identifying global talents who fell into one of three categories: Leaders, Specialists (technicians) and Innovators. Over the last four years these centres have successfully identified and developed a number of such individuals, many of whom are now being deployed locally as well as globally, as Grundfos recognise the need to grow talent universally. As testament to the success of the initiative, a recent utility analysis has shown an estimated ROI in excess of £3M over the period of the project to date.

Focus on the critical skills required to cope with fast-paced change

Another facet of the redefinition of talent within the VUCA context relates to the qualities required to succeed in this dynamically changing world. No longer can organisations afford to recruit based solely on a candidate’s strong track-record, as the demands of the future may bear little resemblance to the challenges of the past. Indeed there is a distinct danger in being too obsessed about recruiting people who tightly fit the prevailing organisational culture, as this inclination for cloning may result in stifling the opportunity for the organisation to adapt, develop and grow.

As a consequence, the types of competencies featuring on the business wish list should include those qualities that will facilitate managing and coping with change – such as Learning Agility, Innovation and Resilience – and we are seeing more and more assessment tools and processes focusing on these critical qualities. Indeed there is also a strong argument for using behavioural simulations, in which candidates need to manage a rapidly developing crisis and their ability to cope under pressure is assessed, as there is no better way of assessing genuine leadership potential. 

Make your employer brand come alive

The talent acquisition market is another area in which we are seeing rapid change, with social recruiting, talent networks, Big Data and recruitment platforms incorporating online assessment becoming more commonplace, with the obvious implication that an organisation’s employer brand is more critical than ever. Conveying this brand to potential incoming employees should be tackled throughout the recruitment process, starting at the very outset with the attraction process, which nowadays is likely to incorporate slick social media. However, it’s even more critical through the selection process itself, as this can say a great deal about the organisation and the opportunity on offer.

It’s self-evident that a highly professional selection process reflects well on employer brand, but it’s perhaps less obvious that the process is much enhanced by the use of ‘behavioural’ assessment techniques. It’s understandable that organisations will want to use online assessment tools to save on travel time and associated costs, but the limitations of many of these is that they are questionnaire-based and rely heavily on self-reported evidence or measures of cognitive ability and little else. What is missing in this process is the overt display of behaviour, in which the candidate can actually demonstrate their potential ability. The inclusion of behavioural simulations in the assessment process ensures that organisations can recruit people who don’t just ‘talk the talk’ but who can ‘walk the walk.’ Not only does this provide more robust evidence to recruiters who can see what they are going to get, but it also affords more of an insight about the organisation and the role to the candidate, thus providing another opportunity to promote the employer brand.

Ensure you attract and engage multiple generations

Another issue in the identification of talent is recognising the impact of the generational changes within the workforce at present. For the first time ever, organisations are going to have to cope with managing three, and in some cases four, distinctly different generations: the ‘Traditionalists’ (born before 1946), the ‘Baby Boomers’ (born 1946-1964), some of whom are working beyond their anticipated retirement age, ‘Generation X’ (born 1966-1979) and the ‘Millenials’ (born 1980-2000). Each of these generations has distinctly different perceptions and expectations of the working world and recruiting and retaining them requires a wide array of approaches. The younger Millienials pose the greatest challenge for organisations, as they expect a new and integrated approach to employee engagement which provides exciting and rewarding opportunities for career development. Attracting Millenials also involves making extensive use of social media to engage their interest and to expedite their applications through the recruitment and onboarding processes.

Collectively these challenges all point to the fact that the process of Talent Identification is continually evolving and the organisations most likely to succeed here will be those who are alert to the need to blend professionalism and rigour with an agile, cutting edge approach.  


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