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When the going gets tough, talent management gets going


Talent management: The clock's tickingIn these uncertain times, the ability of an HR department to properly orchestrate talent management can mean the difference between becoming a value-adding, prized business function and a back office process on the cost chopping-block. Matt Henkes reports.

It’s increasingly important in times of economic hardship for an organisation to be able to recognise and hang on to its most promising employees. But in order to uncover the diamonds in your workforce, you’re going to have to get to know them.

This is where line managers come in. There has to be some kind of incentive for a line manager to recommend a member of their team for a talent scheme, after all, they risk losing one of their best players. But make no mistake, communicating your strategy effectively to middle management and getting their buy-in will grease the fast-track gears nicely, so make this a priority.

Whoa there!

Before you hare off to get your talent management strategy rolling, you need to define exactly what it’s all about. When you say you want to identify and nurture your talented individuals, does this mean the small number of elite potential execs or the numerous members of your workforce who can remember to turn up in the morning?

“If you have poor data then you’re going to make poor decisions.”

Robert Myatt, Kaisen Consulting

Elite schemes concentrate on a small number of high potential employees in ‘talent pools’, focusing on specific competencies and often earmarked for succession to a small number of roles. It’s where talent management and succession planning begin to merge.

Alternatively there’s the option to throw the scheme open to the entire company; no small undertaking but perhaps more worthwhile in the long-run. Talent management in this form becomes a close bedfellow of your regular learning and development programmes. Having up-to-date information on the broad skills and knowledge currently in the organisation has any number of obvious benefits.

A visible company-wide staff development strategy lets the workforce know the company cares about their personal improvement. It can also bolster engagement and get your workforce to buy into the aims of the organisation in a way that simply singling out a handful of high potential individuals will not.

“Individual career management needs to be championed within the organisation,” advises Sue Young, a talent management consultant at the Berkshire consultancy. “It’s critical to manage confidence and to encourage individuals to take a more professional approach to their own development and career path.”

A key factor is the level and application of data you’re able to capture on your employees. “If you have poor data then you’re going to make poor decisions,” says business psychologist Robert Myatt, who also argues that psychological assessment, as well as performance data, has a large part to play.

He typically uses a combination of interviews, including a biographical interview to look at the early life of the individual and how they have developed as a person. This also considers their influences, their parents and how their experiences have shaped them into the person they are today. In this way, you can build up a clear picture of the person.

Fast facts

  • Cost of recruiting a middle manager is 33%-65% of annual salary
  • 77% of organisations experience retention problems
  • 53% of employees leave their job for development opportunities
  • From a work perspective, rather than their manager measuring their ability to do a certain job, you can gain insight into the patterns and motivations that have and will continue to be relevant to this person for virtually their entire life. “People may change over the years; they may dress differently, drive a different car, but essentially they are still the same person underneath,” Myatt adds.

    When the going gets tough

    The knee jerk reaction of many companies with lean times on the horizon is to start trimming off extraneous or problematic costs. However, this reflex can actually damage your talent pool.

    Judith Germain, managing director of leadership specialists Dynamic Transitions, warns that the group of employees she has tagged ‘troublesome talent’, make up around 20% of top performers in an organisation but account for around 80% of the problems.

    “Many employees prefer to keep their head down and follow rules and procedures that don’t work simply because it is easier and acceptable to do so,” she explains. “These talented individuals, however, are prepared to stand up for what they believe in and will tell managers the flaws in the company’s policies and the issues they face.”

    The majority of these individuals fall into the ‘Generation Y’ category and can often become disconnected from the typically older senior managers. Despite being generally more entrepreneurial and extrovert, these employees are often labelled as trouble-makers and thus lined up first for the chop when belt-tightening time comes.

    “These employees do not believe in the nine to five and are more focused on themselves and their development,” adds Germain. “Organisations need to realise that traditional command and control management techniques just will not work with them.”

    “Continually ask yourself whether what you set out to do a year or two years ago is still relevant to where the business is heading now.”

    James Underhay, Chiumento

    Young agrees that senior management can take younger employees’ potential for granted and neglect the fact these subordinates don’t have the same captain’s-eye-view of the company. “Given the opportunity, most people at a variety of levels are hungry to be involved and want to make a contribution,” she says.

    But while it’s still a fact that a woeful percentage of UK companies still have no form of talent management (over 50% last year), those that do need to steer clear of the classic error of inflexibility. Remember, it’s an iterative process that you need to keep revisiting.

    “You should be looking at people on a regular basis rather than identifying your talent list and letting it remain that way for a number of years,” warns James Underhay, commercial director at HR specialist Ciumento. “Continually ask yourself whether what you set out to do a year or two ago is still relevant to where the business is heading now. Is it still relevant to that community of people that you’ve identified?”

    HR needs to own this process, too. It’s a long term strategy which, executed well, should be guaranteed to add value to the organisation and help keep their own heads off the chopping block.

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