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Talent management on choppy seas

In times of relentless strategic and organisational change it pays to focus on the quality of your managers to retain, engage and develop talent. They are one of your best and most cost effective talent management assets.

The latest PWC Annual Global CEO Survey shows talent is now at the top of the CEO agenda. Sixty six percent of CEOs say that a lack of the right skills is their biggest talent challenge and 83 percent of them intend to change their strategies for managing people. There is no pressure coming off the issue of talent in organisations even as unemployment continues to soar. Quite the opposite. In the classic cycle of attract, develop, retain and deploy every area is under pressure. All of those talent management components need to look different to respond to these challenging times. All of them are being impacted by globalisation and diversity and the need for new and different capabilities, while business plans and business models are being regularly transformed. Keeping talent strategies aligned to business strategies in this context is hugely challenging.

As the environment becomes ever more demanding and complex, as HR professionals we can be tempted to concoct more and more sophisticated and complex solutions that can often be irrelevant by the time they land, as the business has had to move on. Meanwhile the reality is that talented women are still dropping out of the seniority ranks, talented younger workers are leaving or disengaging, talented older people are wondering how to work longer and cross cultural misunderstandings are driving frustration and disengagement.

Within all of these groups we have swathes of unrealised potential and turned off discretionary effort. Being turned off by and leaving because of the calibre of the people they are being managed by. We have all heard the adage that great people join great organisations and leave bad managers. That has never been more important for us to understand and do something about than today. In talent management we need to answer the questions: Who do we need? Who do we have? How do we find them? How do we keep them? And how do we develop them? The answer to the last few questions is our managers. Managers can develop bench strength. Managers can create a shared purpose that drives engagement. Managers can have career conversations confidently and not duck them because they think there aren’t any promotional prospects. Managers are the ones who can grow their own. Managers can get good people to stick. Managers can make someone good, great. One of the primary sources of employee engagement, talent development and retention is the quality of your managers at every level.

Yet as spans of control grow and as we expect managers to do more and more with less, equipping and rewarding managers for their ability to engage and develop is often overlooked. Managers are the engine room not only in terms of task today but in terms of what they bring to our talent strategies. Developing managers is not only essential in its own right but also because we know the effect good managers have on developing and keeping the talent they touch. So the investment in the quality of our managers has a compounding effect. Managers are the seam of gold in an organisation that is rarely mined sufficiently in the war for talent. So when things are moving faster and faster and the fog refuses to lift, sometimes we need to ask ourselves ‘What is the one thing we could fix that would make a huge difference?’ Increasingly we are hearing – it is our managers. And then we need to ask, what would our investment in them need to look like to deliver the best return in the context of our talent goals?

Coaching and coaching skills is the place to start. Coaching skills remain one of the most powerful capabilities to equip our managers with. It has the double edged value of requiring them to build their own self-awareness so they can better manage and moderate their impact on those around them. While building skills that enable engagement and growth in the people they manage. In our pursuit of ever more sophisticated models for value creation we often overlook the value that sits as potential in the shadows of our organisations because we haven’t equipped our managers to identify strengths, as we focus on weaknesses and deficit. We haven’t equipped our managers sufficiently to have courageous conversations, to listen, to help their people solve problems, to synthesise, to stretch and challenge, to help people take responsibility for their performance and their careers. Equipping managers to turn our people on, and stop turning them off.

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