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Talent management: The secret of success

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Secret to successMany organisations seek to develop their ‘top talent’ only, yet Steve Short argues that HR must ensure every employee maximises their contribution to their organisation if the business is to maintain a competitive advantage.


In the current climate of financial uncertainty and with the risk of recession in the UK, the ability of all employees to increase their value to their organisation is fast becoming a key differentiator between employees who want be on the ‘talent register’.

For HR professionals, the issue is equally important. ‘Talent management’ is the buzzword of the day, but what exactly is talent management? There is a plethora of technology-based talent management solutions available, helping the hard-pressed HR manager to record, keep track of, store and report on information about talent in the organisation. However, as the economic background becomes increasingly complex and challenging, simply managing the information process isn’t enough.

“In the modern business world, a person’s value needs to be measured not by their position but by their contribution.”

Through ongoing research that started 30 years ago, Novations has developed the ‘Four Stages® of Contribution’ model (see table below). It provides a roadmap for employees on how to increase their impact and influence as they move through their career. The word ‘contribution’ is important. In the modern business world, a person’s value needs to be measured not by their position but by their contribution, i.e. the job assignments they complete and the results they deliver.

Our research has shown that this ‘job assignment’ is the key differentiator of a person’s value to their organisation. In other words, are they completing tasks and projects that are appropriate for their role and level of experience? If they are, then as they progress through the Stages, so their impact and influence increases.

In the current climate, it is becoming increasingly important that people develop beyond Stage one, while Stage two and Stage three capabilities must be developed to maintain a competitive edge. This not only enables the individual to increase the value of their contribution; it also frees others from some of the need to supervise and releases them to maximise their contribution too.

Many people get ‘stuck’ in Stage two, finding it difficult to make the transition into Stage three. Managers report that about 50% of their people tend to operate in Stage two, with only about 25% in stage three. Those same managers said they would rather each stage was more balanced. They would like to grow more people into Stage three contributions, where their impact and influence are much higher.

Fixed capacity vs. capacity building mindsets

So where should we direct our talent development energies? Often, organisations identify their ‘high potentials’ and develop them through the stages. High potentials should certainly be developed, but not to the exclusion of everyone else. This is demonstrated clearly by the ‘Model of Development’ diagram below.

The model shows two difficulties with the fixed capacity mindset. Firstly, it demotivates those who ‘failed’ to be recognised as having high potential. Secondly, it limits the organisation’s ability to get the best contribution from all employees. This hinders organisational performance. Remember, the four Stages model is all about contribution, not position, and people are capable of high value contribution in all stages of their career. To miss a development opportunity for someone who is in Stage one, for example, may slow their progress to the stages where a more valuable contribution is possible. By contrast, the capacity building mindset stretches and develops the whole organisation.

The secret of success

Enabling people to achieve high performance requires a partnership between the individual and the organisation. Individuals are challenged to apply their ‘discretionary effort’ towards job assignments that add value to the organisation. The organisation has a responsibility to ensure that policies and processes are in place to enable individuals to develop.

“The secret of success, then, is for all individuals to develop the potential of their contribution beyond excellent technical ability alone”

Too often, employees and managers tend to focus only on the mastery of technical skills, ignoring relationship and influencing skills. While their technical abilities may be strong, many employees lack skills around forging solid business partnerships and effectively influencing others. This can cause a person to get ‘stuck’ in Stage 2, where their contribution may be significant whilst not the best possible.

This is often because it’s the technical stuff that is easy to measure against organisational targets. However, relationship and influencing skills can also be measured against detailed behavioural standards. These standards should be part of any organisation’s competency framework and they can be measured through a 360-degree feedback process.

The secret of success, then, is for all individuals to develop the potential of their contribution beyond excellent technical ability alone. This can be achieved by following a five-step process:

1. Build a competency framework that mirrors the organisation’s values and objectives, and also reflect the behaviours that epitomise high value contribution for each of the four Stages.
2. Use 360-degree feedback to measure individual performance against the framework.
3. Implement a talent development programme that is capacity building, ensuring the talent within every individual is released.
4. Provide ongoing coaching support for all employees to ensure they continue to exceed all expectations.
5. Continually monitor and evaluate employee contribution.

A robust approach to talent management in your organisation won’t solve a worldwide economic crisis, but it will equip your organisation to cope with it, and perhaps even give you a competitive advantage.


Steve Short is a senior consultant at Novations UK, a UK talent management consultancy

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