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Talent Management: are businesses fussy eaters?

The imperative to explore the untapped pool of talent that exists within many organisations

In the next ten years according to the CIPD, the UK will face a massive shortfall in available talent. 13.5m jobs will need to be filled but only 7 million people will be entering the workforce. We will need to refocus our understanding of how to build a highly capable workforce. And that refocusing needs to start now!

Even today, despite the recession and flat economic climate, many organisations perceive serious difficulties in recruiting the talent they need. In a recent survey of over 40,000 employers by Manpower, the US based recruitment giant, this problem was not just a feature of countries with ageing populations such as in the West but a major issue in the emerging economies like India and China, (e.g. India reported that employers reporting difficulty in filling key positions rose by 51% last year).

How are we going to respond, particularly when difficult economic times mean
that we have to expect more from less?

What won't work is an over narrow approach focused on creating an elite pool of thoroughbred super-stars leading battalions of worker bees. Seeing ‘talent management’ as referring to a small group of highly rewarded individuals cannot be sustainable, as the relative proportion of such people in the recruitment pool shrinks as supply declines.  It is easy to imagine the growth of an overpaid, self-regarding pool of people, whose loyalty and commitment has to be purchased by the minute.

We need to take a more 'open view' of talent strategies, aimed at optimising potential talent contribution in all roles across a business. This focusing on ‘best possible available’ is a more practical view than 'only the best in the market'. This would still be a massive challenge for most organisations.

It is vital we start with a rigorous search based on clear criteria, not subjective reputation of who is good and who is not so good. This is much more than a recruitment challenge – growing research suggests that high performance in one organisation is a poor predictor of high performance in another.  An 'open view' of talent assumes that within an organisation there is a resource of talented people who have been overlooked, ignored and supressed. The 'talent challenge' therefore becomes as much about mobilisation as selection.

There are several factors which suggest that an organisation may have more talent than it thinks it has.

Senior leadership needs to be aware of the subtle and not so subtle filters, such as ageism and sexism that distorts a view of talent. These filters are less overt than in the past but still insidiously undermining the talent available to an organisation.

It is also critical to remember the impact of leadership on talent. Never forget: Poor performers are very often led by poor leaders, (who, of course, blame their staff and not being able to get rid of them, for their own poor performance!)

Finally, in the search for talent we need to be mindful of the limitations we have in terms of understanding what talent is and where it fits and that it is limited by the volatility in which most organisations operate anyway. Senior leaders often have a rather naive view of roles - imagining that roles are detailed specifications to be filled by people who need to fit precisely to them.

The truth is, most employees, at least at management level, say that they constantly have to innovate around what they do in order to maintain pace with emerging conditions, often finding themselves having to work in ways that do not necessarily play to their obvious strengths. People are often called upon to either discover new strengths or find ways to work around weaknesses. Thus adaptability, self-awareness and capacity to learn become more critical than any specific capability. This suggests a much more dynamic view of talent would be more productive, in which both employer and employee seek ways to adapt role and contribution. It may be as much about helping people find the right seats to sit in as finding the right people.

In summary it is likely that 'talent strategies' will have to move away, if they are not doing so already, from a 'narrow view' which sees talent as being focused on recruiting from a limited global population of 'elite players', to a more open source model which seeks to discover hidden talent and 'regenerate' talent which has been lost through poor leadership.

Steve Carter is Senior Partner at Apter Development, who specialises in leadership and organisational development, top team and executive coaching and employee research and evaluation – including talent profiling. If you are interested in finding out any more about these areas of work then please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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