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Andrew Leigh

Maynard Leigh Associates


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Twelve creative routes to talent engagement


Having a low level of employee engagement in your organisation is a crime, says Andrew Leigh, who explains how to uncover high levels of talent engagement in the workplace.

Talent engagement goes beyond the basics of talent management. It deals with the two essential questions:  
  • What does this person need to make a high value contribution to our organisation?
  • What will most effectively unlock this person’s full potential?
A low level of employee engagement is a crime. Perhaps not a formal breach of the law of the land, or an imprisonable offence, yet in some ways it should be. CIPD research shows that only a third of British workers are fully engaged at work. That means that, even apart from those who are without a job, an extraordinary two out of three people are victims of this crime of wasted potential.
Whether in low productivity, inefficiency, or poor retention rates, companies pay dearly for wasted talent and commitment. And whether they know it or not, this explains why they often have difficulty in innovating in every corner of the enterprise. Equally, the damage caused to individuals by allowing them to waste their potential produces strains that ultimately surface in stress, conflict, and even ill health. 

Creative detective

During turbulent times it can be tempting to insist that any investment in talent should be focused on purely functional learning; that is, making sure job holders have what they need to be effective. That would include any learning needed to do new tasks and take on new responsibilities. Yet talent engagement looks beyond these basics and to answer the above two salient questions you may need to become a creative detective. As a creative detective you visit the scene(s) of the crime where people are disengaged or where you suspect the perpetration of the crime of non-engagement.
In your search for clues, it makes sense to invite the victims to describe what might be occurring to produce their low levels of engagement. Simply asking them often produces frank answers such as: "I can’t talk to my line manager, he never listens"; or "nobody seems to care if I do a really good job or not"; or even "what I do is boring".
As you gather the evidence and the clues, you will almost certainly start acquiring a strong idea about the likely solution to the low engagement crime.

Discover the solution 

Next you must become creative, helping others unravel the solution to higher levels of talent engagement. The Boston Consulting Group’s survey on talent for example, suggests that talent pre-occupies CEOs and other top executives, so your efforts in this area are likely to strike a chord in the corridors of power.
In your creative detective role you may need to encourage experiments that attempt to unleash talent and that inspire people to start performing at their best. While this may involve innovative solutions, it may just as easily come down to some prosaic ones, such as showing managers how to manage conflict, improving how teams operate, and encouraging line mangers to spend time talking to their staff to ensure they are fully stretched while also feeling well supported.
Some of the less obvious creative solutions to talent engagement include:

1. Stretch assignments: Make sure each person has at least one stretch assignment encouraging them to go beyond their present level of performance

2. Comprehensive feedback: Give line managers insightful feedback on the levels of engagement of their direct reports

3. Networking techniques: Use these to encourage professionals to meet others like themselves both internally and externally

4. Raise profiles: Help people build their profile across the organisation, showing them what it takes to develop a strong one

5. New forums: Generate new opportunities for your talent to shine or excel

6. Coaching: Ask everyone to become coaches to each other, not just managers, and give them help in developing their coaching role

7. Low-cost initiatives: Sponsor a low-cost talent development initiative in which leaders gain new experience across the organisation and share their learning

8. Postings: Ensure your talent can post details of their experience and aspirations so they can be accessed by a wide range managers and leaders in the organisation

9. Diaries: Ask people to keep a diary for a week on the best and the worst bits of their job and share these with colleagues

10. Inspiration: Since there is no ideal ‘end state’ of engagement, focus instead on identifying what inspires people, uncovering what literally gets their juices flowing and feeling that it is worth getting up in the morning to come to work

11. Health and wellbeing: Introduce or expand a range of health and wellbeing initiatives that can help make up for the absence of pay rises

12. Community initiatives: Develop community activities that both develop teams and local partnerships while also increases personal happiness and by extension engagement

So what exactly do we mean by both talent and engagement? Both can be confusingly vague.
With talent there are two versions. One views talent as inclusive and treats everyone at work as having the potential to make a special contribution. Or there is the narrow view that talent makes sense only when treated as limited to a select few.
With engagement there is the view, represented by author Peter Hutton (‘What Are Your Staff Trying to Tell You?’) that "no one has decided what engagement is, and surveys don’t ask what bosses want their staff to be engaged with. It‘s so woolly."
David Macleod and Nita Clark’s recent report to the UK government on engagement highlights different definitions but points out that at its core is the "blindingly obvious but nevertheless overlooked truth" that positively encouraging people to perform at their best should be placed at the heart of business strategy.
As we see it at Maynard Leigh, where our core mission is defined as ‘unlocking people’s potential’, we argue that talent engagement should be part of a company’s DNA. That is, it should be so firmly woven into the fabric of the culture that in essence it describes how the organisation functions. Or putting it slightly differently, the company’s bottom line depends entirely on finding creative ways to get the best from everyone it employs.
According to ORC International, organisations that succeed in making their employees feel engaged and positive about their work situation could see the difference between survival and administration. Woolly or not, talent engagement is probably here to stay.
In making the case for talent engagement HR professional must be willing to speak out about it and not shelter leaders and managers from uncomfortable facts. These might include disconcerting evidence about current low levels of engagement amongst the workforce. As one practitioner puts it bluntly: “HR needs to step up and be counted.” 
Andrew Leigh is a founder director of Maynard Leigh Associates and author a number of books on management, most recently ‘The Charisma Effect‘, currently being translated into eight languages
You can view his blogs on here

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