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How to win the war for talent

Your team is tight. Your productivity is good. In all respects you’re a high performing organisation. But as everyone knows, a successful business is made by its people. And your competitors want yours. So how do you ensure your talent sticks with you, today and tomorrow?

Some organisations know that if they don't protect their assets in terms of people, others will tempt them away with larger salaries, bigger cars and the promise of abundant opportunities. Of course material rewards will only go so far in maintaining someone's commitment, but no one wants to run the risk of a tempting offer being taken up. So, how do organisations keep their talented people and stop them from being lured elsewhere?

Tailor support to the individual

An organisation that partners universities to design, build and manage student accommodation, the Investors in People accredited [link to accreditation] University Partnerships Programme (UPP), recently recognised the need to tackle this issue. Employing over 700 people, they decided to introduce a more structured talent management scheme to nurture the employees that make their business what it is. Their talent project will support a programme of ongoing development while using tools to help them differentiate their offer and what they can do for each of their employees individually. 

Going hand in hand with talent management, performance management programmes can really help people to shine. Although some organisations shy away from overtly managing performance, it can be a valuable way of identifying the achievements and gaps your people have in skills, knowledge and behaviours so you can recognise their needs and support them in a specific way. Without performance management, people’s impression of how well they do their job can also be skewed because they have nothing to measure against. By using performance management programmes to offer clarity around what is expected of talented individuals, you can encourage employees to achieve more, providing a clear picture of what success looks like and what support can be offered to help make that happen. 

Know what you’ve got

For many organisations, supporting talent isn’t just about keeping employees happy. It’s business critical. R G Carter Ltd, an East Anglian construction firm that as a group (Investors in People accredited at Bronze to Gold standard across the group) employs over 1,500 staff, is all too aware of this. “The investment made in developing staff to the levels we need, with specific technical and operational skill sets is vast,” explains Saul Humphrey, Regional Director for R G Carter Ltd. “It’s not only in terms of qualifications and accreditations, but also the cost of licenses to operate plant and equipment, time invested in bringing people on and providing them with opportunities to work across the business.” With this amount of investment organisations like R G Carter should certainly be considering how to protect their assets. Especially in an industry where talent poaching is common place. So how can businesses like these ensure their people stay? 

The similar characteristics of organisations with high levels of talent retention can tell us a lot. They all:

 - Have excellent employee engagement

 - Have productive support for learning at a variety of levels

 - Demonstrate effective situational management

Without a doubt, working on people strategies like these will bring about more reasons for people to stick around. 

And that’s exactly what R G Carter has done. Across the group they’ve built a culture of ‘bringing on’, where people from a trade or technical background have been encouraged and supported to develop their careers to middle and senior levels. They also offer apprenticeships, which are driven by the internally managed-and-run ‘Carter Academy’. They’ve refined new professes to provide a more consistent means for feedback and opportunities to discuss careers, as well as introducing and communicating a common set of values stated in people terms, which have been translated into every operation business.

Grow your own

Getting the right talent to take your business forward isn’t always about recruiting. A good talent management scheme should include a 'grow your own' approach so that promotion and progression comes from within. More than a written strategy, these approaches manifest themselves in the way that managers nurture their own staff, spot talent and bring on people with a view to progressing them as soon as they can.

An example of this is found right across the company at Hughes, an electrical retailer in East Anglia employing over 1000 staff, who recently achieved Investors in People Gold accreditation and are working towards Champion status. “The best investment we can make is to plow our effort in continually upskilling our staff,” explains HR Director Nick Heffer. “This includes everything from managing them positively and constructively and providing a range of methods for them to learn and develop, to extending individuals’ responsibilities so they can opt into a higher level of contribution.”

Giving employees increased freedom and encouraging them to seek out challenges and solve problems can not only help develop skills, but also increase a sense of motivation, loyalty and ownership in an organisation’s success. “We find many staff want to provide ideas and make suggestions,” he continues “and where possible we want them to take the opportunity of putting these into practice'.

Succession planning and filling the talent gaps

Of course you want your talent to want to stay with you, but sometimes they will leave. What’s important is that when they do, you’re all set up to handle it. If you’ve done your job well your team will cope and new talents will step up to the plate.

If you haven't thought about what you'd do if a talented team member left, now’s the time. Identify the key job roles and the people holding them. Think about what you’d need to put in place to ensure things keep running smoothly. It could be an opportunity to develop and nurture other talented individuals in the team.

In this instance, a succession plan could come in useful, helping you plot out in logistical terms future capability and capacity so you have intelligence about who in real terms is 'stepping up', in the process of and in readiness for their next opportunity.

I have met several strong and effective leaders who say, “If someone makes the decision that they want to leave, and they are one of the best workers I have, I've got to let them go. Offering them more money or material rewards will only delay the inevitable.” In an effective organisation where staff members feel valued and invested, talented individuals will often move in, out and in again. Often these individuals find they have learnt from their experiences in other places and want to ‘come back’, with fresh perspective and skills to bring into the mix.

Whether its spotting skills in people you didn’t know they had, encouraging ambition, tailoring support to individual needs or staying in touch, it's always worth remembering that if you execute talent management properly and treat all your people well from day one, they’ll pay back your investment tenfold. And their loyalty to your business could even surprise you.


Take this further:

Find out how your competitors are keeping their talent happy, what you’re doing right and how you could improve with our free online benchmarking tool.

Talk to us today about making the most of the talent in your business.


Gwen Carter Powell is a Senior Practitioner with Investors in People Central England. She specialises in organisational development, dynamics and behaviour/culture mapping.