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Clare McCartney

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What does it feel like to be talent managed?


We’re looking at retention and what makes people ‘happy to be stuck with you’. Talent management programmes often play a big part in this retention strategy. But how does it feel to be part of it – or ignored by it? Claire McCartney, adviser for resourcing and talent planning, shares the CIPD’s latest findings drawing on the ‘talent perspective’.

The ‘Talent Perspective’ report, undertaken for CIPD by Capgemini Consulting, builds on a series of CIPD talent-themed insights. The research looks specifically at what it feels like to be talent managed and the organisational lessons that can be drawn from those experiences. It also touches on the unsuccessful candidates’ perspective.

We think it is important for the following reasons:

Firstly, research on talent management programmes usually focuses on the employer’s perspective, with seemingly few focused on the employee perspective. This research therefore offers us a fresh viewpoint and a new way of evaluating talent management activities.

Secondly, the majority of participants in this survey are already senior managers or leaders and are part of a talent pool aimed at developing their skills and capability further. Senior leaders have been deliberately selected because of the level of investment often targeted at them, and their importance in leading the organisation and establishing success and future sustainability.

So what do the findings tell us?

Well, the research is useful because it provides us with clear evidence from senior talent participants to support some of our working assumptions. Namely, that participants on talent programmes have high engagement levels and are more likely to see a future with their organisation. They value personal development such as coaching and mentoring over more formal offerings and believe that the talent activities will help them to both perform better in their current roles and prepare them for potential future positions. While it might be assumed that talent management programmes distort employees’ work/life balance, there is little evidence to suggest its challenges put undue pressure on people. Many respondents agreed  the programme had provided significant new challenges, but that also they were given the right level of support and encouragement. 

However, there are also a number of insights that bring a fresh lens to talent management activities. First of all there is good news for HR, which is viewed as playing a critical role in facilitating talent pools and programmes and maintaining momentum. Where HR is seen as centrally owning talent development activity, this positively affects how well the programme is run and its effectiveness in the business.

While leadership support and sponsorship of talent initiatives was found to be strong across all the organisations, support across divisions and between line managers was inconsistent which could compromise the effectiveness of programmes. HR’s role in communication and raising awareness, and at times, educating line managers will help address this.

The findings also show that the existence of structured selection processes serve to increase talent programmes’ perceived value and the motivation of participants to perform.

A real concern for any organisation in pursuing selective talent management strategies is the impact this may have on those excluded from programmes. The negative effects of being ‘passed over’ are not as detrimental as might be feared, with employees’ overall happiness and pride in their organisation not being impacted. This is particularly the case if individuals are provided with sensitive and practical feedback.

Finally, one of the most interesting findings relates to the keenness of peer groups represented on talent programmes – often the highest-performing employees across the business – to continue to meet and network beyond the programme. Organisations, and especially HR, need to develop ways to manage this and get the most out of groups that have participated in talent programmes, harnessing their energy and creativity for business success.

Insights for running a talent programme

  • Clearly communicate the core objectives. Set expectations at the start and manage them throughout.
  • While the business sponsors talent activities, it is beneficial to have a central HR/talent function running the programme. Be visible – this is crucial in maintaining credibility and consistency.
  • Review the structure of the talent programme/pool with the  business sponsor. Coaching, mentoring and networking are most valued by senior talent pool members.
  • Consider implementing a selection process for the top talent programme. It can increase its perceived value as well as motivation to perform. Make the selection process a learning event in itself and ensure all applicants have constructive feedback.
  • Develop ways of harnessing the peer group created as part of the talent programme by creating opportunities beyond the lifespan of the programme.

Claire McCartney is adviser for resourcing and talent planning at the CIPD.

One Response

  1. No harm in being passed over… I strongly disagree…

     "A real concern for any organisation in pursuing selective talent management strategies is the impact this may have on those excluded from programmes. The negative effects of being ‘passed over’ are not as detrimental as might be feared, with employees’ overall happiness and pride in their organisation not being impacted. "

    I can only speak from my personal experience, but this statement just doesn’t ring true to me at all. This kind of system reminds me of ‘forced ranking’ systems that pit employees against each other, or back in school where people were typecast based on what level of academic program each student was streamed into (based on some arbitrary level of academic achievement).  Did this change the level of engagement and outcome for each student, absolutely?

    Perhaps no ‘happiness and pride shift’ was measured because high performing individuals passed over by the program simply left the organization. 

    Organizations should strive to create talent management programs that all individuals can be involved in, because every one of them is there to advance the goals of the company, and ‘talent’ is such a varied and individual topic.  Having a ‘talent management‘ stream just provides a scapegoat to absolve managers of their key role in this area.




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