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4 talent management questions you need to ask

When it comes to managing your talent it’s not just a case of one size fits all. You need to think what, why, who and how.

Organisations are increasingly looking at different ways of defining and nurturing the people they want to recruit and the skills they’re looking for in their businesses. Whether it’s junior boards which shape and inform talent management programmes, leadership academies which emphasise talent development from within, or open and transparent learning cultures so people don’t feel the ‘talent pool’ is exclusive, businesses are adopting and shaping new models for ‘talent’ today that could change how we look to attract, develop and retain talent tomorrow.

So if you want to understand talent management and its role in your business, where do you start? IIP Practitioners Gwen Carter Powell and Alan Morris tell all…

Think "What"

Talent and talent management are terms that have been adopted and used by businesses in all sorts of ways over the years. But what do they actually refer to and what do they mean in action? 

Alan Morris (AM): In my experience, the term ‘talent management’ isn’t necessarily in peoples’ vocabulary yet unless they’re an HR specialist. What I have found is a growing awareness of the need to be more creative when it comes to thinking about attracting, motivating and retaining your people. That’s what talent management really is – retaining your people and keeping them motivated.

Gwen Carter-Powell (GCP): Yes, there can be negative connotations attached to the term ‘talent’. The danger is that people who aren’t in the ‘talent pool’ ask, “Well, what am I then, if I’m not ‘talent’”? They can feel excluded. Good ‘talent management’ needs to be open, transparent and inclusive, not exclusive. And it needs to be embedded at every level of the organisation.

There’s a danger that companies can put a huge amount of time and effort into attracting employees, but spend little time retaining and developing their people. Motivating and developing your people needs to be ingrained in the daily processes and running of your business.

Defining what talent management means for you

A good example of what successful talent management looks like is an East-London-based charity I work with called Positive East, which works with people with HIV. The charity is IIP accredited made up of full time staff and volunteers. Many of their volunteers are also service users, who are trained by clinicians in how to do HIV testing and then reach out into the community to carry out their work.

By empowering people to go into the community, the charity has increased its pool of volunteers and has become more embedded in the local culture. This helps to break down barriers, making the organisation more approachable and, in turn, attracts more volunteers. So it’s an ongoing process.

It’s a way of approaching ‘talent management’ (although they don’t call it that) that’s unique to their business. They’ve found their own ‘what’, their own definition of talent and talent management that works right across the organisation at all levels. And as a result they’ve already significantly increased their volunteer pool and have a goal to further grow it by another 5%.

Ask "Why"

Once you understand what talent means for your organisation, it’s worth questioning your motivation and need for a talent management programme. Being really clear on the ‘why’ behind your approach to talent is essential.

GCP: Sometimes there’s a tendency for businesses to think they ought to be providing learning and development for their people, but without clear reasoning behind it. If you’re thinking about investing time, resources and money into implementing a talent management model or scheme, it’s really important to understand why you want to do it and what you want to get out of it.

For example, one organisation that I work with through Investors in People had introduced a mentoring scheme in which staff automatically became mentors after three years working with the company. There weren’t any criteria for who became mentors, which meant that some people weren’t necessarily suited to the role or able to offer the support required. So they weren’t getting any meaningful results. By going back to the start with them and using the Investors in People Framework to interrogate why they had introduced a mentoring scheme we could look at how to make it work better, as well as the broader issues they needed to address.     

AM: I’ve seen that too. I’ve worked with some organisations where managers have been sent on training courses, but they can’t tell you why or how it fits in with the overall goals and objectives of the business. For example, an organisation introduced leadership training for all their managers, but many were already more than over qualified and competent in the areas being covered.

Because the training was pitched at the wrong level it ended up de-motivating people as they were expected to study things they already knew. It was counter-productive.  This was highlighted during an Investors in People review and from the feedback and recommendations the organisation was able to review its approach and introduce training that met individual needs, with far more success.

GCP: Exactly. Being clear on what change you want to see, and why, not just making changes for change’s sake, or out of a feeling that you ought to be doing it, is at the core of successful talent management.

Understand the "Who" and "How"

You know what talent means for your business and you’re clear on why you want it. Now you need to identify who’s got the talent you’re looking for and how you are going to support them to release it. And that hinges on making sure the approaches you use to attract, retain and develop talent are fit for purpose.

Graduate talents

AM: I work with an architectural firm and a building consultancy business, both fairly small organisations employing less than 50 people, who form strong links with universities by giving occasional lectures and linking to placement work. This allows them to build relationships with potential graduate employees.

With graduate talent, it’s about building up rapport. All graduates are going to have the right qualifications on paper, but having face-to-face time with students allows companies to really get to know individuals and gain a much better insight into who is going to fit in with the values and culture of their organisation.

Proactive talents

GCP: If you’re looking to support the talents of your proactive employees, a talent marketplace can help. It’s a space where an individual’s particular skillsets are identified and linked with particular tasks across the business, allowing productive employees to pick and choose projects that are ideally suited to them. I’ve seen talent marketplaces work really effectively for large organisations.

I’ve also seen successful apprenticeship schemes run by medium and large organisations I work with. These allow motivated, productive individuals to “fast track” their apprenticeship. When an apprentice shows a particular aptitude and interest in certain areas, they can choose to focus on these and progress quickly in that area of the business. These ‘fast track’ schemes run alongside the traditional apprenticeship model, so it accommodates people who want to develop at their own pace. 

Leader talents

AM: When it comes to leaders, it can often be a case of unlocking hidden talent. I’ve recently worked with a large national workwear rental company that wanted to recruit management from within rather than externally and was concerned about the opportunities and support for employees to step up to become managers. They introduced an internal academy to develop their people, based on a competency framework and a revised personal development review process. This has proved very effective.

Ultimately, it all comes down to knowing your business and knowing your people. If you understand where your business is now (try our benchmarking test now!) and what you’re trying to achieve, you can look for the right people to help you get there.

They might be in your business already, or you might want to bring them in from outside, but wherever you find them making sure you provide the support, encouragement and development opportunities they need to succeed will make all the difference – for them and for you.  

What, why, who and how at a glance

When it comes to talent management, Gwen and Alan’s advice is simple. Ask yourself four key questions and you’ll get off on the right foot…

1.  What? Think about what talent means in your business. Are you looking for particular skills and behaviours or do you need to develop a process that will work for everyone? It can help to start at the very beginning and understand where you are now and where you want to get to. Try our free benchmarking tool to help with this.

2.  Why? Understand the motivation behind your talent management programme. If you can identify exactly why you need it and how it relates to your business goals it’ll be far more likely to succeed.

3.  Who? Know who you’re looking for. Is it graduates you need? Or leaders? Or perhaps it’s individuals with certain skills or behaviours that will help you deliver a specific business objective. Understanding who has the talents you need is essential if you are going to create a talent management programme that supports them to grow.

4.  How? Different approaches will work for different talents. You need to find an approach that will work for your talents and for you. There are all sorts of different tacks you can take but the most important thing is that it’s tailored to the needs of your business. Take a look at our How To guide to defining your people’s needs and our How To guide to development planning to find out more.

Get started today

Talent management only works if it’s rooted in your wider business strategy. But knowing where to start can be a challenge. Which is where our Practitioners can help.

An IIP practitioner can help you: 

Look at the bigger picture
Understand the what, why, who and how of talent management for your business
Identify how your talent management fits with your business goals
Put a plan in place to develop and support your people to achieve those goals

To find out more about talking to an IIP Practitioner, get in touch.

Find out more about the Investors in People Framework and how it can help your business understand the what, why, who and how of talent management.