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Companies need to be bold about how they tackle talent. In order to identify the weak links, high performers and future stars, there has to be more joined-up thinking between HR, the executive team and beyond. There is a strong argument for organisations to have flatter structures which allow for better integration, alignment and a greater understanding of the diverse range of skills needed to drive success.

Finding the right people is continuing to prove difficult in competitive and fast-changing markets. “While it sounds simple, often businesses get themselves into situations where they have to react very quickly because they haven’t properly planned for those emerging yet necessary skills, which requires some good insight and analytics,” says Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). 

Gareth Jones, Group HR Director at institutional and retail fund manager M&G Investments, comments: “The challenge is in recognising that you don’t always know what the future looks like that you are preparing people for. Therefore, adaptability is one of the key things we’ll look for in people, which we also look to nurture through our leadership and talent programmes and the mentoring process…  
“The whole aspect of people management has become far more critical. If you talk to our senior fund managers they will tell you that a key part of their role is to develop talent, so the ownership has shifted away from something that HR initially took a lead on, to being embedded within the way the business thinks about what it needs to succeed.”

Companies need to be smarter about how resources are deployed. Catherine West, Head of Global Reward and Organisation Design at World Duty Free, says:  “A simpler solution is required that enables line management to practically take ownership of talent management as well as HR… [while] also finding a way to influence managers to be open about relinquishing their own high performers to somewhere else for the greater good of the company.”
A more open and organic approach is needed. Ursula Morgenstern, CEO of IT provider Atos UK, comments: “While we make sure we focus on hiring tomorrow’s talent through our graduate programme, we complement that by bringing in specialists or working with our partner suppliers, because you cannot always get the right talent internally. Working with experts in this way helps us while we are re-skilling our own organisation, because there will be talent available in those niche suppliers, small development houses and consultancies which we can hire in for projects and our internal staff can learn from them.”
Dominic Emery, Chief Development Officer at BP Alternative Energy, says: “We need to be in a position to react to changes in the market. Within our corporate venturing area, for example, the main change we are progressing is to move away from pure cleantech technology venturing, given current IPO and general market performance. We are now securing capable people into our team who know more about venture capital and corporate venturing in the core BP businesses: oil and gas.”
“By having people with transferable financial and commercial capabilities, such individuals are able to move within the team as our investment strategy changes to support one technology over another.”
Forward thinking
Planning for the future can be problematic when you’re unsure what’s going to happen next week in your industry, but it’s imperative that the skills required for a business to be successful in the years ahead are thought-out.
Ian Wright, Corporate Relations Director at Diageo, says: “You want the right talent for the future, rather than the talent that’s necessarily got you to where you are. This is a particularly tough challenge for smaller companies because the need to modulate and change has to be balanced against the disruption of making that change, and the potential lost experience of those that move aside in order to create those opportunities…

"There’s also the very real fear of getting it wrong. That’s why you can’t do this on instinct and you must have a really cold-eyed assessment of what you think you will need over a three to five-year time horizon.”
Ursula says that the company is obsessive about examining what skills will be needed as technology evolves over the next five, ten or 20 years as it helps to make informed decisions about how to map out where to specialise and what is likely to become obsolete. “That’s something we constantly monitor in our organisation,” she says. “While it’s never an easy thing to achieve, the art of talent management is to do it continuously.”
Without question, there has to be some hard analysis. David Turner, CEO of Webhelp TSC, an outsourced contact centre company, says: “We plot our management talent on a version of the Boston Matrix, which looks on one scale at performance and on another scale at potential… we’re looking for those that fall into the top boxes as forming our talent pool, which makes up about 15 per cent of our people.
“But we’re always looking at the bottom quintile of our business too, which makes up about 20 per cent, and the norm is that about a quarter of the people in that quintile just never make it. You have to be honest with those people and admit that, while you can coach and mentor them, you’ve probably not got the right behaviours in that bottom quintile to be able to move them on.”
Gary Kildare, Chief HR Officer at IBM's Global Technology Services in New York, says: “Growing talent has to be deliberate, considered and planned. It doesn't work if it's random or ad hoc. Retraining and re-skilling of current resources also has a role to play and, if done well, in time and in the right way, an investment in retraining can help engagement and keep recruitment costs in check.”
When it comes to identifying the high performers within the organisation, there has to be involvement from the top. Lucy Dimes, UK CEO of telecoms concern Alcatel-Lucent, comments: “Companies can often be quite mechanistic about talent identification and management. I’ve found it’s as much about making sure you’re spotting the right people and personally engaging with them to enhance their emotional engagement.
“In my experience, having come through a talent pool myself, it’s rarely about money and more about feeling that the company has plans for you and that your ambitions are more likely to be realised by staying than going.”
It’s why retention plans and development programmes help to keep people if their ambitions aren’t going to be realised as quickly as they would like. “People need to feel it’s worth the commitment,” adds Lucy. “You do this on a personal level by talking with them, sponsoring them and through active mentoring.”
Moving target 

Businesses are struggling to get their talent strategies right because to do so is complex and the answers are constantly changing. For smaller companies, it can require an enormous gamble and for larger ones there will invariably be years of cankerous legacy issues to clear away. 
And yet, the question of effective talent management is going to haunt businesses until they are more creative and innovative when engaging and developing their employees (this includes succession planning for the top team).
“As chief executive, you need to decide whether you see people development as a cost or an investment. I have always felt it is an investment… but you must also have a culture that commits investment toward growing and managing talent,” comments David.
Peter says: “If we can’t recruit oven-ready employees then we’ve got to do a much better job of building the skills we need inside the organisation and this is a critical area of strategic focus for businesses in the future.”
I hope to see you soon.