Talent management: don’t lose focus as the economy grows


Unemployment is down and business performance is healthier than it has been for some time. But employers need to ensure that their talent management strategies focus on engaging, developing and retaining staff, argues Lindsey Armstrong.

If you have read the statistics, you will probably have concluded that the UK economy is improving. GDP growth is looking healthy and unemployment is at its lowest rate since 2008.

Latest research from ORC International’s HR Reflections survey of more than 900 HR professionals supports these claims. More than half (52%) of organisations believe their performance is stronger than last year and 50% say their focus remains on growth.

Furthermore, one-third of organisations plan to increase staff numbers this year.

Threats to growth

But not all the statistics tell a positive story. If we drill into the data, we see there are some familiar bugbears that threaten to put a spanner in the works: namely talent attraction and retention, and skills gaps.

If we look back at the data over the past couple of years we see that unemployment has decreased, but turnover has become more of a challenge and employers are struggling to compete with one another to recruit the right talent.

So, more people may be in jobs, but the roles that really need filling are still sitting on recruitment agency books.

To exploit favourable market conditions, organisations need to have a full quota workforce equipped with the skills and motivation to drive their business forward.

Three-quarters of employers in the survey were concerned that there is a skills gap between their current employees’ competencies and what is needed for them to succeed in the future.

The ORC International Perspectives survey, also conducted this year, found that employee engagement among respondents’ organisations sat at 49%, eight points down on the previous survey. So where does this leave organisations?

Develop from within

When it comes to the skills gap, organisations are looking inwards when recruitment fails to find the right people. Developing current employees is Plan B, so learning and development programmes need to be strong.

Yet, as the International Perspectives survey found, only just over half of staff are satisfied with the training they receive. And less than half felt that the learning and development activities they have completed in the past 12 months have been successful in improving their performance.

This does not sound like the right way to address the talent crisis. Development and the opportunity to progress are not just tools to raise skill levels, they are also tools to retain key people.

Yet, despite the money that learning and development has thrown at it year after year, there is still something lacking. And until it is addressed, those three little bugbears are not going to disappear.

Focus on leaders

Leadership development is the second greatest challenge facing HR professionals this year, according to the research. Linked to this, line management capability becomes increasingly important.

The Engage for Success movement may wax lyrical about the importance of leadership and the strategic narrative, but it really is true. From strong leaders, high-calibre talent is born.

However, employees’ perceptions of their top managers have declined significantly over the past 12 months, emphasising just how critical it is that further investment is made.

Employees’ engagement wanes when their view of leadership falls, and we know that engaged employees are needed to drive business performance.

This year’s HR Reflections survey paints a positive picture of rising business confidence, but how can leaders use this to their advantage? Are they painting a strong and compelling vision for their future and using it to build passion through the ranks?

Strong organisational performance is not just dependent on economic stability, growth and favourable market conditions. A very real part of that performance is down to the people working in that business. If employees are not happy, and are not being led well or developed properly, organisations will not have what they need to capitalise on an improving UK economy on its way out of a recession.


About Lindsey Armstrong

Lindsey Armstrong is employee research consultant at ORC International.
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