Ever since McKinsey’s 1997 research and subsequent 2001 publication The War for Talent, this has been high on HR professionals’ priority lists. Identifying and developing talented employees can be incredibly crucial to an organisations’ success (see here for more information), and senior leaders are increasingly aware of this. PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey found that 61% of CEOs saw retention of skills and talent as a key issue over the next five years, with the ability to acquire and manage talent cited as the second most critical capability for tomorrow’s CEO.
Therefore, once you have decided to conceptualize your Talent Program for all the right reasons it is now time to start crystalizing it to a firm deliverable.
The process can be divided into three areas:
1. Talent Definition
2. Talent selection process
3. Development of the Talent Program
1. Talent Definition
At this stage, it is crucial to use sufficient amount of time to establish a clear and concise definition of how you will define talent within your business. Do not underestimate the influence of how you define things. It will greatly influence your Talent Management Program. If your talent definition is clear and simple it will help your organisation to be better able and find it easier to identify talents. They will also understand what Talent Management is all about. If you have too narrow a definition of talent then only a selected few will be seen as talents and developed accordingly. If it is too broad it will have little or no practical effect.
Some companies consider talent as something that all employees have. This very broad understanding of talent goes well in hand with a common definition of talent: “A natural ability to excel at a duty or action”. Webster's definition of talent; "any natural ability or power” is a very broad description and may not seem like much to go on, but it includes a word that is central and worth paingy attention to: “natural”. Talent reflects how you are hard-wired and that is what sets the concept apart from that of knowledge or skills. Talent cannot be eliminated. It is constant and enduring. That is what makes it talent.
Another perspective on talent, seen in a business context, is that in your company there are a group of employees that have a specific talent that your company can potentially benefit from. This group is often called High Potentials (HiPo’s). CEB (formerly Corporate Executive Board) has defined talent / HiPo’s as seen below:
• “Aspiration” means: Who will rise to positions that are more senior?
• “Ability” means: Who will be effective in more challenging roles?
• “Engagement” means: Who are committed to the organisation and will stay on?
Here are a number of different Talent Definitions:
• Example 1: “A talent is a person who possesses special skills, which are difficult to copy or imitate, who is a top performer with competencies of strategic importance which cannot be readily developed and the lack of these skills and competencies would affect the competitive advantage of the company.”
• Example 2: Talent can be defined as "a recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behaviour that can be productively applied."
• Example 3: “Personality - An extraordinary personality and attitude, Skills/ability - An extended knowledge and competence. Motivation - A strong ambition to be a part of the talent program”.
In all the above Talent Definitions, the classic discussion about performance and potential are missing. This discussion derives from the frequent use of the Nine Box Performance Matrix in the Talent selection process. The “nine-box grid” is a matrix tool that is used to evaluate and plot a company’s talent pool based on two factors, which most commonly are performance and potential. Typically on the horizontal axis is "performance" measured by performance reviews. On the vertical axis is typically "potential" referring to an individual's potential to grow one or more levels in a managerial or professional capacity.
No matter which definition you decide to go with it is important that it fits your organisation and that it is simple to work with. Professor of Management Practice at London Business School Lynda Gratton adds the caveat however, that companies should not become so obsessed with spotting potential talents inside their business that they go too far this way. They should not lose sight of the fact that, increasingly, talent may sit outside of a company.
2. The talent selection process
It is common to ask leaders from all parts of the organisation to identify Talents using the agreed Talent definition. Once the talent pool has been identified, it often comes down to qualifying the selected Talents. This normally happens by using some kind of Talent Assessment. This process is most common in large organisations where they develop or purchase a Talent Assessment solution e.g. an Assessment Center. The purpose of the Center is to assess the selected talent and subsequently minimize the number in the talent pool. Some of the most frequently used elements in Assessment Centers are both psychometrics and personal profile tests. These are very helpful in giving objective feedback. I have found that it is always important to have an exercise/test challenging the Talents to solve a difficult business related case. All the better if it is a live case and reflects the type of decisions and pressure they will face in senior leadership positions in the company. Some global organisations have used the “figure it out” approach to investigate the initiative and potential of their talents. Either no or very broad guidelines are given and the individuals need to team up and figure out what is needed to be done.
Below you see an example of a talent selection process that is often used in larger organisations:
Take note that the actual talent selection process is usually a local responsibility. It is the local managers who have the best knowledge about their local talents, but the Top Management Group makes the final consolidation of the talent list.
In smaller companies the talent selection process is often done by the top management group or HR using their knowledge about each employee and their knowledge about the future needs of the business.
It is good policy that you end up with a mix of talents from most parts of the business. This is a strong signal that spreads out very quickly to the entire organisation and supports one of the main goals - to attract and retain talents.
In many companies, there has been a tendency to focus exclusively on talents with potential to grow within their managerial role. However over the last few years, it is more common to focus also on other talent groups e.g. technical talents. This broader focus creates an enhanced complexity when developing an internal Talent Program.
3. Development of the Talent Program
Here are my thoughts from my experience concerning developing a Talent Program.
Overall responsibility and ownership
You may consider this to be an obvious point, but it is worth stating. Talent Management should be a responsibility for the Top Management Group and not HR. Having said that, HR should be the ones doing all the work. Management of your talent development program’s process rollout should therefore fall under your HR and organisational development teams, who should adopt any tools that you already have in place. If needed, you can seek third-party expertise for guidance to create the desired process.
Involve key management and leaders
Key management and leaders should be involved early in the process. Their interaction, involvement, and communication sharing are essential in embedding a successful talent development program in the organisation. Recognising their contributions in public meetings with their peers will keep them focused and engaged to continue driving the success of the program.
Even if you do not have the ‘how’ perfectly defined, it is important to start communicating what the company is trying to achieve and the process to get there. A successful talent development program requires your associates at all levels are engaged. Communicating with them early on will drive this needed engagement.
You should communicate about basically everything, why are we working with talents in our organisation, how to be selected to the talent pool, what does it mean to be selected, duration of the program and what’s in it for me etc.
Share relevant tools and approaches with leadership
Keep leadership up to speed, so that they, in turn, can keep their teams up to speed. Communication is key here and a good idea is to share tools and approaches with the leadership so that they can share the process with their teams and assist their local managers. The more tools and support they get the easier it is for them to understand and perform their role and be important local ambassadors.
A good idea is to use some form of module-based training as the main structure in your Talent Program. This has the benefit and attraction of enabling the talent to meet with each other several times and establish a priceless and long lasting network and relationship. It also gives you the opportunity to incorporate pre-work and by that ensure a good “pace” throughout the entire program.
Carefully consider what topics and elements you want to include in the program. In my experience a good piece of advice that I always follow is that content should be closely related to internal company processes and how you normally work with business challenges. Having said that, keep in mind that in order to make the Talent Program an exceptional experience in your organisation it simply needs some elements of extraordinariness. That means a lot of hard work and an appropriate budget.
A Talent Program is a unique opportunity to help talented individuals form and develop their potential and their career thinking. Given this I find it invaluable to have coaching done by external coaches because it adds a very important development enabler to the talents. In this relationship, the talent will get an opportunity to have a structured and supported focus on specific issues that are important for them at this very formative moment of their careers.
Individual development plan
This form of planning, documented and structured by each individual themselves, provides the tool for keeping track of commitments and plans. It is valuable for both HR and relevant key stakeholders as well as the talent themselves. This plan and its application should be an ongoing activity throughout the course of the program and is likely to be changed many times during the program.
Remember to incorporate the existing development plans or/and pay carefully attention to any existing appraisal interview conclusions.
The direct mangers role in the process
Once the talents have been selected and the program has started, the role of the direct managers becomes even more important. They need to be engaged directly in the development process. They are the ones who know the individual talent best and therefore can function as one of the key development enablers supporting and motivating throughout the entire Program.
I always find managing and delivering a successful talent program very pesonally rewarding. As well as having a role in helping to lay the ground work for young talented people to begin to realise their potential, it also provides the opportunity to make a sgnificant contribution to the business. In addition I always learn as no two programs and experiences are the same and with the competence present it always throws up new insights and ideas.
To find out more about how PPI can help your HR professionals step up to the challenges of successfully implementing talent management contact Gerry Buckley at the PPI Network at firstname.lastname@example.org