The People Bulletin
9 May 2007 From the publisher of The Personnel Manager's Yearbook  
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Content compiled by Alister Barclay, Lawrence Naman, Graham Simons.

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A route to talent management
by Barry Johnson and Mandy Geal

Our aim in this article is to explore an approach to laying a foundation for Talent Management. We start by considering what 'Talent' actually is and then suggest some key questions that require answers in order to execute a successful Talent Management strategy.

The steps

Let's start with three key issues:

What is Talent and why is Talent Management needed?

Where will the focus be?

Is your organisation ready?

1. Is the Board of your organisation clear what Talent is and why Talent Management is needed?

After searching for a definition we reached the following, 'A talented person consistently surpasses the performance of others doing a comparable job in similar conditions.' But, do you apply this simply to people within your organisation or across similar functions in similar organisations? With this question we are asking do you wish to be a leading organisation or just have a sprinkling of talented people within it?

The answer to such a question may be modified by the 'Why' question. Why have Talent Management?

Let's look at a simple example.

Imagine a jobbing welding shop with eight welders and a supervisor. Let's assume one of the welders is talented in that he consistently surpasses the performance of the other welders. Because he is a talented welder he usually gets the difficult or delicate jobs, or those that require his welding talent for valued customers. In short he is special. 

This begs some questions. Is he paid the same as the other welders? Is his special status recognised in other ways? Is he satisfied to remain a welder? What actions need to be taken to retain his valuable talent? How do you avoid other welders from becoming jealous of his status? 

Let's assume the supervisor retires. Do you promote the talented welder to the supervisor position?   Does he have the appropriate skills and abilities of Supervision? What about the loss of his talent from where he is so valuable to the organisation? If you donít promote him how do you handle his supposed disappointment? 

Clearly the whole issue of Talent raises issues that require thoughtful management.  

The shop described has only one talented welder, the rest are highly skilled craftsmen. If this shop is going to be the best and attract high paying regular work it needs more like him. The implication is a re-evaluation of the skills and application of the skills of the 'other seven'. That may mean five of them need to be replaced if the shop is going to be excellent. How do you do this? Where do you find talented replacements? The business payoff may be inestimable but the process to get there will be, without a doubt, ruthless.

There are no easy coconuts in the Talent Management coconut shy.

2. Where will the focus be?

Is your organisation looking at the executive group, the management group, a crucial business function, a particular work group, a mix of the above or the whole organisation? Talent Management requires some clear thinking and some executive decisions. 

3. Is your organisation ready for Talent Management?

Whatever the focus, a strategy to meet the requirements is the next logical step. This is fairly straightforward.

Who will manage Talent Management? What is the management team? What will the budget be? The standard questions that apply to any such initiative. However, there are some other issues. Who needs to be briefed and how will 'buy-in' be achieved? What are the elements of a systematic approach and who needs to be trained for each element?  

Getting Started

Having the decisions and agreements to the Talent Management infrastructure the next action is to lay the practical foundations. We recommend:

1. Actively involve the executives in developing their successors and the successors to their successors. 

2. Hands-on development actions give an organisation's executives a different perspective.
Introduce a series of Assessment Centres, using a behavioural-based competency framework to identify future executives, managers and future senior professionals.

3. Have a 'development through experience' process involving real jobs, mentors and coaches for identified talent.

4. When points 1 to 3 are in place, work on the key functions of the organisation.

A Systematic Approach

The executive decisions have been made. Your organisation is at the start point and now the systematic approach can be rolled out. Each element will require training of managers and other appropriate people.  Let's see the elements:

  • Identification
  • Recruitment
  • Selection
  • Training
  • Development
  • Deployment
  • Tracking 
  • Retention.

Identification is probably one of the most difficult issues, as it requires:

  • The organisation to clearly specify the skills, knowledge, attitude and experience necessary to do any particular job well and the more difficult specification of future jobs.
  • The managers to objectively measure those aspects of a person's current performance that would indicate future performance and the more difficult judgement of how the person would perform in a different job.

The Talented Organisation

A real danger is that the organisation assumes it has the processes necessary for each element or assumes traditional processes will suffice. The organisation is not just dealing with the skills and knowledge required, it is also looking for other elements. Special people need to be managed in a special way by special people who can get the best out of them. This means you may be exploring different organisational structures such as disorganisation and a virtual organisation.

We all know what talent is. We have heard of the talent, maybe genius, of Einstein, Pavlova, Picasso and Pavarotti. We also know the word 'talent' is widely used to mean some ordinary folk doing a highly skilful job. Being clear what your organisation means is essential.

We leave you with this thought: Annie Smith is the most talented brain surgeon the UK will ever produce. The only problem is, Annie is only six years old and has never even heard of a brain.

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