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Carole Laithwaite


Chief Operations Officer

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Talent pools: a secret society?

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When somebody is told they are in a talent pool they are likely to feel positive, motivated and valued by their organisation. But knowing you are in a talent pool can raise some difficult issues too.

Should you or shouldn’t you tell your colleagues? How are they going to feel about this news if a), they hear this from you and b) they have not also been chosen to be in a talent pool? While some team members will be genuinely pleased for you, others may feel that they have been unfairly left out in the cold which could lead to resentment, disengagement and demotivation.

While there is always a risk that an open policy for high-potential talent could upset the apple cart, shrouding talent management programmes in secrecy can be even more damaging for a business.

"Segregated from their colleagues."

People who cannot talk freely about the fact they are in a talent pool can feel segregated from their colleagues and this can impact collaboration, teamwork and ultimately innovation. And worse still, if a high-potential employee chooses not to tell his or her peers or feels unable to do so, and that individual then subsequently finds out from another source, all that hard earned trust could be irreparably lost.  

Arguably, there is an element of risk within any business that those individuals who have been chosen as part of the talent pool could develop an air of arrogance and a sense of belonging to an elite and ‘secret society’ where the sky is the limit and they can do no wrong. However, in today’s competitive workplace where talent retention has become a far greater challenge than in previous years, the benefits of investing in a dedicated talent programme to offset future skills shortages far outweigh the negatives.

Building robust dynamic talent pools is not a ‘nice-to-have’, but a necessity for business success. The proportion of employers reporting a 'war for talent' has risen from 20% in 2009 to 62% in 2013 according to the CIPD/Hays Resourcing and Talent Planning survey. The survey also found that six out of ten organisations have experienced difficulties filling vacancies in the past year, highlighting the importance of retaining and growing talent from within.

Clearly, the creation of talent pools raises a host of challenges for employers and employees alike. However, all too often the debate focuses on how best to define those talent pools rather than on what communication strategies should be deployed at both the individual and company-wide level. How an organisation conveys what it actually means for an employee to be in a talent pool, and how it engages with those individuals who might feel like they have failed to ‘make the grade’ or have been sidetracked or passed over, surely deserves equal consideration.

"Transparent and effective."

Open and honest dialogue is essential for making talent management and succession planning a much more transparent and effective process. It can also help avoid the creation of a secret society and reduce a divide in your workforce between the haves and have-nots.

There are indeed many advantages in ensuring that talent pools become more transparent. Resources can be more effectively directed to developing those individuals who have the potential to make the greatest difference to the business in challenging times. Greater transparency also gives managers throughout the business a better understanding of emerging talent, which is particularly important for succession planning, finding the right candidate for a new internal position or knowing which high-potentials might be at risk of leaving the business for greener pastures.

"The right culture."

Making talent management and succession planning a much more open and transparent process does however require an organisation to have the right culture in place: one that supports, nurtures and values all individuals, not just those who are deemed to be high-potential and that embraces talent management as a core business process. Open dialogue should be encouraged with clear lines of communication to ensure that everybody knows what they need to do to progress to the next level, regardless of whether they are in the talent pool or not.  

Can your business afford to keep its talent pool a secret? Isn’t it better to let your most valuable assets know that you are committed to investing in their career progression and to make sure every employee feels valued. As the HR function’s role continues to evolve to meet today’s and tomorrow’s talent challenges and deliver value to the business, HR professionals have a key role to play in  managing talent pools and the communications surrounding them.

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Carole Laithwaite

Chief Operations Officer

Read more from Carole Laithwaite

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