Tapping talent

Talent management isn’t just about creating thought leaders and senior managers. It’s about letting your stores of skills pour forth

Tapping talent

Traditionally, talent management has been concerned more with shortfalls in leadership than skill vacuums further down the organisation. “I think there has been a tendency to focus on what I would call ‘elite talent management’,” comments Dr John McGurk, adviser in learning and talent development at HR and development professional body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). Planning for succession or high-level promotions may be a vital part of future-proofing an enterprise but that isn’t any good if a skill shortage ends up causing some major subsidence. “They really do have to develop the talent and the capabilities of the entire workforce if they’re to be as successful as an entire organisation,” adds McGurk. 

Fortunately, this is an attitude that’s gradually shifting. In the recent report McGurk authored for the CIPD, the annual Learning and Talent Development survey 2013, it was demonstrated that the gap between the number of ‘high potential’ staff and the number of staff from across the business involved in talent management schemes was gradually narrowing. On average 39% of high potential staff were actively engaged in skills development, just 2% more than the 37% for staff company-wide. 

“You can see quite a convergence on talent management being a universal issue for organisations,” says McGurk. And understandably so, given the fact that, because more firms are looking to hire new staff, the glut of talent on the market is starting to clear. The days of talent on any terms are very much a thing of the past. “Organisations are also recognising that they’re having to be more resourceful in how they hire people,” says McGurk. “A lot of that is about bringing employees across in transitions from different parts of the organisation.” 

The time invested in training staff may seem like a lot to stump up, especially given it’s easy to assume that the skill set you require must already exist out on the market, but McGurk believes businesses need to be wary of creating these false economies. He makes reference to an everyday example: colleges must employ people to manage and evaluate apprenticeships, something that requires a good deal of audit training as well as a lot of knowledge of the inner mechanisms of the environment in which they’re working. 

“It’s very difficult to recruit without getting people in who don’t understand the organisation enough and have a steep learning curve,” McGurk says. In these cases, it’s preferable to allow staff who may already have a knowledge of these areas to move sideways, and introduce measures to ensure there is a path in place that supports that. He continues: “If you put a career path in place that allows secretarial, support and some instructor staff who don’t want to be in the classroom to go into that, then you can hopefully have a talent pipeline for that particular skill.” 

But what are the most effective ways of managing and maintaining talent? According to the findings of McGurk’s report, coaching is by far and away the most prevalent training option. However, if you’re trying to do something more practical than instil ‘blue sky thinking’, then it might not be the most practical option. “Coaching quite often will be very much about the possibilities and how we can go forward in the future, but it won’t often provide staff with the capability to do so,” he explains. 

Mentoring isn’t quite as widely used as coaching but for certain applications, particularly imparting on-the-job skills, it can prove to be more efficacious than a coaching programme. McGurk draws a comparison to the BBC Two show The Chef’s Protege, where established chefs take a fresh face under their wing and give hands- on knowledge. “Mentoring on that basis is all about skills and sponsorship and my view is that if you’re looking at talent programmes, apprenticeships, development programmes, that’s the kind of supportive programme you should have,” he says. 

It’s obvious mentoring won’t be right in every circumstance, however. Particularly with large-scale skill management, there are more practicable ways to train up specific skill-sets. E-learning can divide opinion in training circles. “People can end up sitting dulled at their desktop,” comments McGurk. “It’s part of their normal day job, they work at a call centre, they have to do some e-learning on financial services warnings and they just switch on and switch off.” And he feels this ultimately leads to poor compliance behaviours. 

However, as a part of a wider integrated approach to training and talent management, its value cannot be overlooked. “The answer is to blend it properly, make sure it’s stimulating and ensure it’s supported by mentoring and discussions,” McGurk comments. Not only does it allow a cost-effective method of reviewing and refining skills but it comes packaged with other benefits usually attached to digital media. Something that a lean and limber SME cannot afford to ignore. 

“E-learning can encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing,” says McGurk. “And it allows people to do that across the nation.” He admits in this area, e-learning is still in its infancy but it has the potential to open up skills-sharing and make talent management a more integrated part of a business. The use of the real-time data and integrated analytics that have become the norm in things like social networks can also allow a more granular picture. “It’s going to get us away from this fixation on ROI without a baseline and capture the real value of learning.” 

Ultimately, investing in and nurturing the talent you have at your disposal can be the best form of economy. Making sure you have the skills you require ahead of time adds a value that cannot be underestimated. 

Josh Russell
Josh Russell

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