Turning talent strategy inside out

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Tina Carrington, 20 December 2012

I know the importance of being able to identify, retain and develop talented people. We all do, right? A model enabling organisations to ‘grow their own talent’ promises numerous benefits – not least significant cost savings. Why then is there still an over-reliance on looking externally when hiring? Is this just seen as an easier option?

It's unrealistic for a large organisation to locate and recruit for all of its senior employee vacancies internally. I dare say though that, with the right processes in place, most businesses could and should be able to fill a far higher proportion of such vacancies with internal candidates than they currently do.

Finding the right people

In reality, it can sometimes be a struggle to find suitable external candidates that fit specific business requirements due to talent shortages - particularly for more specialist industry sectors and job roles. And even if the right candidate is found, they are unlikely to come cheap. Recruiting talent is a risky, as well as costly, business at the best of times. An organisation could spend tens of thousands of pounds recruiting and training an employee who then leaves after a couple of months.

Looking inside rather than outside

As such, there is a clear business case to turn talent strategy 'inside out' in order to better identify and develop talent from within the business. It's about being proactive rather than reactive. Don't wait for a key senior manager to leave before thinking about possible successors… Done well, this change of approach will enable organisations to build a strong talent pipeline. Future leaders will be more attuned with cultural values and more 'bought-in' to the business vision. With this in mind, the case for a change is pretty compelling.

Identifying and developing talent

The talent challenge runs deeper than this for many organisations though. An all too common problem is that many aren't even sure who their talent is. It is important to know exactly what talent 'looks like' in a particular organisation. This means thinking about what capabilities they need, what behaviours they should display and what values they embody. I suggest holding regular talent forums to identify key talent, flag retention risks and agree development opportunities for individuals. This also offers a good opportunity to discuss succession plans for critical roles. By establishing who your talent are and where there are talent gaps, an organisation can use a development programmes to address and start to close these gaps. Multi rater feedback is one tool that can help to highlight gaps in key behaviours and capabilities amongst the talent population. Such insights can be used to shape the content of development programmes for future leaders or high potentials.

Another familiar failing for organisations is not offering appropriate development opportunities at different levels or grades. I find that many organisations identify talent well at a junior level but then lose sight of these individuals as they progress into middle management. This can be addressed by tailoring a development programme for this population, which will improve their current performance whilst also preparing them for senior management positions.

Mentoring is another useful tactic. A few executives might need convincing as it does involve taking time out of key people's day jobs to offer guidance and advice to the next generation. However, it really helps talent to reach their full potential. It can be an equally beneficial experience for the mentor too as they learn how to interact with different levels and gain an insight into the challenges faced by more junior colleagues. This can prove a valuable developmental experience increasing their awareness of colleagues and improving their managerial skills.

There's no 'one size fits all'

There isn't a right or wrong answer or a 'one size fits all' approach when it comes to implementing a talent strategy. But putting these steps in place and being able to look inside your organisation rather than only outside can bring long term benefits in cost saving and ensuring you have an effective talent pipeline and succession plans in place.

Tina Carrington is senior business psychologist at ETS.