How to tame the top talent

talent management systems help grab the lion’s share of top performers. John
Charlton reports

Successful organisations and teams will always include top performers in
their ranks. Team sports are an obvious example of this tenet. But how can
organisations be sure that they’re attracting, recruiting, nurturing and
developing the best performers?

The answer is to develop and apply effective talent management systems.
These can be complex and they must be flexible. Issues such as demographic
changes, short product life cycles, flatter organisational structures and more
customer-centric approaches demand more of organisations and those who manage
them. Thus the need for organisations to develop their ‘A’ types, which every
company wants.

The landmark 1997 McKinsey & Company study identified the "war for
talent" as a strategic business challenge and a key driver of corporate
and organisational performance. This brought talent management to the forefront
of innovative and effective HR thinking and prompted its systematic application
in some organisations. But what should talent management comprise?

Build a brand and mind your As, Bs and Cs

Branding is core to talent management. Organisations should have brands that
encapsulate people, processes, premises and supply chains as well as products.
The brand should be built on common corporate beliefs based on shared vision,
goals, aspirations, behaviour and practice. It should help project the
self-esteem, confidence and pride that staff have in their organisation.

This has a positive impact on how they deal with issues and encourages
innovative and creative responses to challenges.

The McKinsey consultants, who wrote The War for Talent, identified five
imperatives organisations should act on if they want the best managerial talent
and strive to make talent a competitive advantage:

– Create an employee value proposition that will make your company uniquely
attractive to talented people

– Build a long-term recruiting strategy

– Use job experiences, coaching and mentoring to cultivate managers’

– Strengthen your talent pool by investing in A players, developing B
players and acting decisively on C players

– Have a talent mindset that pervades the organisation – a conviction shared
by leaders throughout the company that competitive advantage comes from having
better talent at all levels.

What motivates winners?

Individuals with the will to win will create organisations that win. How can
human resources help create an environment where that will happen? Principally
through the development of a ‘buzzing’ and enjoyable working environment where
creativity, diversity and innovation are championed.

HR can help by developing and implementing systems which include and
encourage loyalty, informality, support when needed, challenge, honest
feedback, coaching and empowerment.

Remember, innovative and creative people often crave management and reward
and recognition systems that transcend those typical of hierarchies.

Research by the Talent Management Guide’s authors shows they like to see
risk-taking encouraged, for example, and rewards based on contribution to ideas
and results rather than on grades and targets alone.

Coaching, training and wisdom

Training is key to workforce development.

It is especially pertinent and attractive to very good performers, but not
if it is provided in an ad hoc fashion. Research indicates they want clearly
structured training programmes and coaching.

The latter incorporates honest, open and regular feedback and also creates a
role for mentors – often senior and experienced staff are able to give relevant
and valuable knowledge, advice and motivation. Individuals should be encouraged
to understand that they need to play a significant part in originating and
developing their own training and coaching paths.

Coaching from the top level down – as highlighted in Daniel Goleman’s work
The New Leaders – will help unleash individual and corporate potential.

Talent spotting

Talent identification processes are notoriously unreliable and too often
based on intuition and hearsay. Personnel Today’s One Stop Guide to Talent
Management gives cogent advice on how to identify talent and future potential.
A sound system should:

– Assess people against high competence and performance standards

– Identify and allocate development opportunities to advance people

– Provide feedback to the organisation on the breadth and depth of the
talent pool

– Help identify talent weaknesses and shortfalls in specific business areas.

Spotting people with future potential is notoriously hit and miss. But there
are various approaches and structural conditions which help. Just ask yourself
if your organisation’s assessment process is viewed as negative or positive,
whether your company espouses openness and honesty, and if your line managers
have the nous and skills needed to assess talent in their areas. The answers to
these and other issues will help in implementing an effective system for
identifying those with true and relevant potential.

Action points…

Get senior management involved in talent management.
Success depends upon everyone from the chief exec to line managers believing
talent is a top priority

Set in place talent review processes which can
accurately identify A, B, and C performers and develop them accordingly

Review your training and coaching arrangements and make
sure they’re structured to meet continuing individual development needs, rather
than events which happen on an ad hoc basis

Encourage and develop diversity within your workforce

Try to create an honest, positive, thinking and innovative
working environment

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