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Living a ‘Make do & mend’ approach to Human Capital/Talent Management?

The handbrake on the mobility of talent created by the Great Recession is coming off, is your organisation’s talent management programme prepared? 

Here are three key challenges for HRDs at a time of emergent growth:

  • Robust linkage of organisational growth targets, embedded models of talent management and clear ROI of the Talent / Human Capital strategy
  • That very low staff turnover doesn’t result in the stagnation of organisational creativity
  • That high-potential candidates are successfully promoted across divisional silos

Robust linkage of organisational growth targets, embedded models of talent management and clear ROI of the Talent / Human Capital strategy

Stretching company growth targets can require rapid staff attraction and selection rates.  Often there is limited time at this point for HR to do more than operationalise the Board’s request.  By contrast HR re-positions itself when it engages with the tricky Shareholder’s question of:

‘How does your talent strategy help realise the stretching financial targets of the company and create a ROI?’ 

This requires HR to align revenue growth targets with increased leadership effectiveness and additional staff who in turn need to be managed and led well to achieve financial goals.  Defining the strategy that will deliver these results is the Board level discussion HRDs need to be engaging with.  This will result in integrated discussions with the FD to showcase the strategic investment in considering how new leaders are brought onboard in such a way as to lead to inevitable success in achieving revenue targets. 

Through these conversations more consideration is given to selecting and appropriately onboarding leaders to new roles so that desired outcomes are gained.  Without this end-to-end thinking targets are often missed or just met.  What doesn’t consistently occur is exceeding targets, something associated with exceptional leaders.  Most HRDs avoid the discussion of how effective their talent strategy is due to the difficulty of measurement but this doesn’t need to be an excuse anymore.  Both leadership and aligned team performance can be measured over time.  If we focused upon putting in a strong system of focused feedback and support the ROI would be much clearer.

Overall, we need to go beyond the traditional talent model of looking for generic leadership in candidates, which focuses upon the Values, Capability, Potential and Aspirations of the individual.  Whilst this identifies strategic thinking, etc. how well does it capture the more abstract leadership character traits, such as courage, humility and drive (Fernadez-Araoz, Groysberg & Nohria, 2009)?  Are we settling for mediocrity because we are not prepared to persuade the Board to stretch for something more?

In reviewing how fit for purpose your talent strategy is for the competitive market over the next three years consider: How flexible is your Human Capital strategy to locate and develop exceptional leaders?  How effective is your talent strategy in identifying, assessing and developing these leaders?  Are you making use of best practice research, which highlights the importance of broader leadership characteristics, such as IQ, Emotional Intelligence (EQ), Ethics, Social Intelligence (SQ), Strengths, Learning Agility, Motivation and Personality Preferences suitable to the role?   Do you have a systematic approach to coaching your leaders to realise their potential impact upon the organisation?

Are very low staff turnover rates causing a stagnation of organisational creativity?

Ironically, many businesses with the recession have successfully retained their staff but now need to create more mobility to avoid the downsides of a stagnating workforce with low levels of staff turnover.  We have found that staff may be fearful of moving on to new roles and HRDs are providing Career Management workshops and coaching to re-inspire staff to look at developing opportunities across and outside of the business.  

New talent from outside the business is required to ensure that business keeps pace with external competitors.  Getting a blend of staff who are able to inject creativity and drive is important.  This requires both a customer focused and competitor informed approach to ensure sustained innovation.  Moving staff across divisions and providing cross functional projects aligned to holistic organisational needs is a great way of overcoming the dangers of stagnation. 

Promotion of high-potential candidates across divisional silos

Strangely many people find it easier to leave an organisation and join a new division than it is to move across divisional silos within a company.  Enhancing the mobility of talent within your organisation so that it isn’t an exceptional event remains a tricky challenge for HRDs and individuals alike.  This is where a more robust assessment of leadership talent, particularly with a focus on learning agility, can assist.  In addition, the provision of appropriate transition coaching and mentoring can also help people gain opportunities and succeed as they engage with stretch projects or onboard into new roles.

So many organisations leave the success of a stretch project down to chance.  Letting the individual and the respective line managers involved work it out for themselves.  This relies upon all parties knowing what good practice and support looks like – whilst the theory may be known translating it into practice remains a rare occurrence for most organisations.  When was the last time a best practice good news story was written up in your organisation about the support, sponsorship and success of a stretch project? 

Due to the very nature of the stretch project new and unforeseen challenges are likely to emerge.  The people involved may be facing these novel issues for the first time and can struggle.  Particularly when they are asked to carry on their day job responsibilities at the same time.  Providing timely support and encouraging its use as part of a structured process, rather than reactive crisis, is a part of many best practice projects.

Author: Peter Fennah

Peter Fennah is Director of Career Synergy, a partner with Ashridge Business School providing strategic executive coaching and agile leadership development solutions to organisations engaged in change.

Ashridge Business School

For over 50 years, Ashridge has contributed to the success of thousands of individuals, teams and organisations by helping to develop their leadership capabilities. We understand that every customer is different, so all of our learning approaches are designed to help you address your specific challenges and achieve tangible results. To find out more please contact Maddie at

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