Talent management: look after your golden eggs

Allen & Overy

The traditional law firm structure does not offer many alternatives to the partnership track. But to benefit from the varied talents of a diverse workforce, Allen & Overy – an international legal practice with about 5,000 staff working in 27 major centres worldwide – realised it had to provide greater flexibility.

Recognising that it was the associates themselves who would hold the key to a successful retention plan, Allen & Overy’s management team spent a year working with them to come up with new approaches to retention and career progression.

The London Associate Award Plan, which took effect last May, addressed performance, career paths, career management and engagement. The scheme had five elements:

  • A company-wide competency framework – validated by associates and partners – defines the successful performance in an associate role.
  • Two new roles – senior associate and counsel – were created. A senior associate is a merit-based role that gives additional responsibility and enables high performers to develop key management skills, while the role of counsel offers a high status alternative to partnership.
  • The plan ensures that associates are fully informed of the various career options available to them and provides them with the personal insights to enable them to make informed decisions about longer-term career goals.
  • The inaugural 2007 senior associate conference (now a biannual event) provides an opportunity to recommend ways to improve associate engagement. The first winning idea was to co-opt a senior associate to the firm’s management team.
  • On the pay structure, the firm introduced an award plan linked to the value of a partner profit point, and a deferred bonus structure with rewards reflecting individual contribution and overall business performance, rather than level of qualification.

Since implementing the reward plan, the firm has seen close to a 10% decrease in London associate attrition.

HR director Genevieve Tennant says: “We recognise that we need to offer associates different options in their careers with us, and we believe everyone deserves to be appropriately rewarded for their individual performance.

“There is a real challenge in London to attract great people, and we believe our new structures and rewards will enable us to do that. These changes demonstrate our continued commitment to offering a compelling employment proposition,” she adds.➜

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Founded in 1966, MacIntyre is a £40m turnover, not-for-profit organisation, which provides care and support for more than 1,000 adults and children with learning difficulties via contracts with social services and learning and skills councils.

It employs 2,000 people at more than 120 care homes, special schools and further education colleges in England and Wales. The charity places significant emphasis on its values.

Some months ago, MacIntyre’s managing director Bill Mumford attended a strategic leadership course at Cranfield, where he learned the value and importance of assessing organisational culture.

Following on from the course, Mumford hired recruitment and retention specialist Kenexa to help the organisation create a ‘culture map’ of where it was today and where it wanted to be in five years’ time.


Liaising with the charity’s stakeholders, Kenexa devised an online survey comprised of 60 questions relating to aspects of the charity’s culture. The questionnaire was subsequently distributed to the client’s senior management team.

“We discovered that the team culture was very strong, as were our values both of which are important elements in a values-driven sector,” says Mumford.

The questionnaire identified that MacIntyre needed to sell its successes and achievements more forcefully to the government departments that award contracts, and the charity is now looking to recruit “people who are more confident in a customer-facing role”, he says.

A second Kenexa project was to help reduce the annual 15% staff turnover by pinning down the traits and behaviours that make an effective and high-performing support worker.

“A lot of people say a certain person is ‘a natural’ at this type of work or ‘born to do the job’, which isn’t very helpful when you are recruiting staff,” says Mumford. “One of Kenexa’s jobs was to help demystify this kind of approach and to be more specific about what we are looking for.”

Kenexa carried out an initial job analysis to identify the key attributes of the support worker role, and then administered a personality questionnaire to the organisation’s existing high performers.

“We believe we now know the cluster of skills necessary for this sort of work. Our challenge now is to go out and find them,” says Mumford.

“Having all our support workers at this high-performing level will not only enhance the quality of care for our patients, but will help reduce our staff turnover.”➜

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GE Healthcare

GE Healthcare is a medical technology company employing more than 46,000 people. An £8bn-plus business unit of the General Electric Company, it enables healthcare providers in more than 100 countries to better diagnose and treat cancer, heart disease, neurological diseases and other conditions.

The annual sales conference, which was held in Montreal this year, is seen as an opportunity for European and US employees to learn new skills.

This year’s event, which followed a new business acquisition, introduced sales staff to circus skills, such as juggling and tightrope-walking, in an effort to help the bonding process.

Rikke Rytter, GE’s head of global marketing, says: “The sales conference is always an important strategic event for us, but this year it was even more significant, representing the first opportunity for managers to communicate GE Health­care’s goals to the entire sales team, including the new employees. It was critical for us that the conference was a success.”

As with the past seven conferences, the company hired Spring Partnerships, a UK business consultancy specialising in ‘creative’ business conferences, to handle the entire event.

Spring’s director Stephen Archer was asked to devise a theme that would both focus on employee development and motivate the newly enlarged sales team.

Circus skills

Keen to add a new dimension, Archer hired a circus skills company to not only perform at the conference to create excitement and inspiration, but to teach delegates some circus skills for themselves. The idea was to “expand everyone’s horizons and to completely surprise them about their capability of learning new things”, he says.

“Although it might seem unrelated to the corporate world at first glance, the circus training worked on a number of levels,” adds Archer. “All 650 participants – from the most junior members of staff to senior management – were complete novices at the start of the course, so everyone shared the feeling of being in the same boat.

“With a whole new team present, no-one was an expert and nearly everyone needed to ask for help.

“The unique nature of the situation also meant that senior management were reminded how hard it is to learn new things, which helped create empathy with more junior people,” he adds.

Participants chose anything from trapeze skills to riding unicycles, and a large number of delegates opted to form large human pyramids. Delegates said they were amazed at how quickly they had mastered new talents.

Archer says: “The conference really engaged everyone, which was, after all, our ultimate goal. Learning strange new skills helped break down any social and cultural barriers that might have existed.”

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