Talent wars: beating the pack

by 19 Aug 2008

Organisations need to consider how they can use recruitment, development and retention strategies to effectively manage their talent, while keeping these strategies in line with overall business strategy, Michael Potter writes

Talent management has risen to become a global issue, affecting more organisations than ever before. The world around us is changing, particularly through the significant technological advancements of recent years. As a result,the global market is changing along with the requirements to meet market demands: global economies are becoming intellectually based rather than commodity-based.

It is essential for organisations to adapt to the changing demands of the market, which requires dynamic strategic planning and a flexible workforce. Thus, the skills of the workforce must be high-level and flexible in to meet these demands. For employees, a narrow set of skills and a single career path are no longer sustainable in today’s business world. For organisations, it is essential they possess the most talented personnel in order to meet the market demands.

Who needs talent?

More and more global organisations today are beginning to understand what it means to have talented personnel. The benefits include having personnel who drive a disproportionate share of their company’s business performance while generating greater-than-average value for their customers and shareholders,as well as highly developed skills and deep knowledge of how to make things happen to achieve business strategies. These people are not necessarily the big players or senior executives in the organisation.

Today’s most successful organisations realise that talent pools are shrinking and that talented personnel are in high demand and positively influence the success of their business. To remain ahead in the war for talent,there are three key strategies that are being undertaken.

Getting ahead in the war for talent

Recruitment, development and retention are the three important key areas of focus.

First, organisations need to ensure that they are hiring talented personnel with the underlying attributes,qualities and competencies to add value to the business. Second, they need to ensure that talented personnel are developed and trained in skills that will meet with the market demands, and this must be ongoing as market demands change. Third, they need to ensure that measures are taken so that talented personnel are retained, and that the time and money invested in them is not lost.

Recruiting talent

Employing talented personnel begins at the recruitment stage and there are several issues to consider. It is important to recruit individuals with the right competencies that fall in line with future objectives.

Many organisations have found that selling a job in an advert resulted in mismatched applicants. Therefore competency modelling has become a tool increasingly used in recruitment processes. To identify the right competencies at interviews, we can ask behavioural questions rather than hypothetical questions. For example: “How did you deal with x?” rather than “How would you deal with x?”

Assessment centres are now increasingly being used because they allow employers to assess and review exactly how an individual would behave in given tasks that measure competencies associated with the job.

Many of us have preconceived ideas of where talent comes from. For example, a good education or a privileged upbringing can lead us to believe that they are the origins of talent. However, when recruiting we need to be more open than this, and not allow our preconceived ideas to influence our judgment.

Talent is something that can remain hidden in the wrong role, but it can also be transferable into the right role. With talent pools decreasing, we need to start thinking laterally about our sources of talent. We also need to be open to a more diverse workforce: talent can come in all shapes and sizes and is not determined by age, gender, ethnicity or disability.

To encourage wider recruitment of talented personnel, we need to broaden the talent pools further on a global scale. Organisations such as Infosys and Hewlett Packard are already setting up research centres in countries such as India and China in order to broaden their talent pools.

However, broadening talent pools on a global scale may require immigration of employees, or virtual working flexibility. But due to recent advances in technology, recruitment via talent pools on a global scale could be the way forward.

Developing talent

Once an organisation has recruited its personnel, it is important that development activity links strategically with the selection and promotion decisions. With decreasing talent pools, it may mean that an organisation has to take on someone less capable (who lacks skills and experience), but is a good learner, meaning they will respond to development opportunities and have the potential to become talented personnel.

However, organisations should be careful not to make false assumptions about individual potential. By offering opportunities to everyone, it may be those that you least expect who embrace the opportunity and flourish.

When managing succession, organisations need to ensure that all or most personnel gain the necessary skills and competencies to succeed managers when they leave. Organisations can go so far as to prepare all staff to be leaders. This allows the organisation to be more strategic in who they choose to succeed managers in particular departments.

People often welcome support in making their career choices. It can be helpful to encourage younger employees to broaden their perspective of possible career choices and future roles, for example opening career paths, moving upwards and sideways.

We cannot assume that senior roles will always remain the same, and organisations need to be prepared for these changes. Ideally, personnel should be allowed to grow and develop into a role that suits them and that capitalises on their competencies.

Organisations can go further to develop the skills of their personnel by enlarging and enriching job roles. They can increase the number of roles, responsibilities and level of autonomy, to make them a more well rounded and competent employee.

Retaining talent

The last thing an organisation wants is to invest time and money on developing their talent base, only for those individuals to join competing organisations. Organisations need to think about how they can retain their talent.

Culture fit is an important issue to consider. Many organisations have found that simply by filling their organisation with the best and brightest performers led to corruption, malpractice and illegal attitudes when the individuals did not fit the culture and values of the organisation.

Individuals who fit into the culture are more likely to be dedicated to the organisation and work hard to perform. You will actually see personnel realising their full potential. It also creates a sense of “organisational citizenship” where personnel feel committed and will “go the extra mile” for the greater good of the organisation.

The way in which organisations are structured and designed can have an impact on retention. Individuals need to be able to develop and move ahead in the organisation. If talented personnel are unable to see a development pathway, they are more likely to progress their career within another organisation. Organisations also need to allow talented personnel a level of autonomy and empowerment over their work. This may mean moving away from hierarchical structures towards a flatter organisational structure.

Financial rewards such as salary promotion and bonuses can be beneficial to the satisfaction of talented personnel. However rewards can be more than financial. Making an individual feel valued for their contributions, allowing them more responsibility,praising their efforts and providing social support,can all give messages that the organisation truly values that individual as a member of the organisation. These psychological rewards can also add to satisfaction and prevent talented personnel from leaving.

Organisations need to create a working environment and culture where the positive aspects of working for the organisation outweigh the pulling factors that tempt personnel to move to rivals. The more satisfied talented personnel are with the organisation and their job, the less motivated they will be to leave.

What can organisations do?

When it comes to managing talent, there is no “one size fits all” approach. To be successful, each organisation needs to consider how they can use recruitment, development and retention strategies to effectively manage their talent while ensuring that these strategies fall in line with their overall business strategy and organisational objectives.

There are often many choices, trade-offs and strategic conversations made that are appropriate to the organisational culture and future business objectives.

Michael Potter is an international management development trainer and CEO of MPA Consulting