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Transformation through talent

Phil Sproston

The way organisations manage talent in a changing world is crucial to their successful transformation. As part of our Certification Programme, we examined the HR policies, priorities and practices of over 1,500 leading employers around the world. Contributor Phil Sproston, Country Manager UK & Ireland – Top Employers Institute.

One thing that is immediately clear is that transformation is dominating HR thinking. All HR priorities for organisations are effectively serving the transformation agenda and the way in which talent is developed is crucial to underpinning change. The key to success for those who we have certified has been the increasingly active role that the executive team takes in the development of the talent strategy. Executive support goes some way to explaining why many organisations are significantly upping their game around the delivery of talent – objectives are one thing, but the key is to make objectives translate to outcomes.

Here the evidence is encouraging. For example, there is a clear link between business and talent strategies among over nine in ten (93 percent) according to our research of Top Employers, a significant increase from 81 percent in 2015. Suzanne Hughes, Chief HR Operating Officer for Top Employer Santander UK gives a great example of how top teams have worked hard to turn values into behaviours: “We had 3 clear values for the business – Simple, Personal and Fair – but we knew we needed to take values and turn them into behaviours. So our CEO went around the country in listening mode at roadshows. We ended up with 9 specific behaviours that our employees had told us were important to them.” 

Alongside practical action, there was a major focus on communication among nearly nine in ten (88 percent) of those we surveyed. Almost every organisation (97 percent) was focused on ensuring that talent management was handled in a coordinated and consistent way. The increased intensity of communication is matched by a high value placed on feedback from employees individually and in groups. Talent strategy for our Top Employers means consistently engaging representatives from employee groups in HR processes and solutions (58 percent) and reaching out to gather feedback on talent management offerings (51 percent).

In this report, we also broke down how to achieve “Transformation through Talent” over the stages of the employee lifecycle – Talent Acquisition, Talent Development and Talent Retention. The first of these, talent acquisition starts with a clear idea of what the purpose of recruitment actually is. New tools are being incorporated into talent acquisition, with social media now dominant in making this happen. Social media is being used to share inside stories by nearly three-quarters of our Top Employers (74 percent) to emphasise both the organisation’s strengths and to build an authentic and inspiring employer brand reputation.

There is very clear evidence as to why onboarding has become as important as a driver of transformation. For example, Top Employer Roche Products are strong advocates of the power of onboarding – and the lasting impact that it has on employee engagement, length of service and commitment to the organisation. Andrew Armes, UK Head of Talent Acquisition at Roche Products, says: “We don’t forget about a successful candidate after the contract comes back signed. We look after them before they join us – it’s so important to help people coming on board to contextualise how their job fits within the bigger picture for the company.” Roche’s own data suggests that the onboarding experience is clearly linked to the length of tenure in a role. And there is a clear business driver beyond making new arrivals feel good. Armes adds: “Inclusion is innovation – and that’s what drives business success for us. Building a sense of community around what we are – kindness, collaboration and a lack of ego – is critical for innovation to flourish.”

The chief characteristic of talent development among Top Employers is that it impacts every level of the organisation. What has gained ground among Top Employers is the level of detail in the policies, processes, steps and timelines – in short, the detail – of leadership development. Leaders in Top Employer certified organisations are heavily involved in defining leadership competencies (93 percent), actively mentoring future leaders (89 percent), opening programmes for participants (94 percent). And for our Top Employers the purpose underpinning leadership development has changed. Team-based leadership is coming to the fore – a move away from one emphasising the individual to one that emphasises the interaction between top teams. 

There are movements in the way leadership development is applied. In particular, we are seeing the democratisation of leadership development – the broadening of the term and its application throughout organisations. Viv McSweeney, Head of Employee Experience at renowned retailer Harrods says: “People across the business were involved in uncovering and leading the development of the values. Harrods hadn’t had employee values in its history to that point, so we developed our values across the business…. “ 

Career Development is similarly now for the many, not the few. There is a clear trend towards a more broad-minded approach to career development. For example, Top Employer SAP has an “Autism at Work” initiative, which proactively hires those on the autistic spectrum into the business and helps them develop their careers once on board. Farirai Mubvuma, an HR business partner at SAP says that the talents of those on the spectrum fit very well into the needs of the IT sector: “If you think about things like visual learning skills, pattern detection and attention to detail, these are all skills that we of course want to get in and develop for the benefit of both the individual and the business.” SAP has worked hard to remove every possible barrier to recruitment within the business for this rich talent pool and once on board it has a global programme to make the most of the talents of those on the autistic spectrum. It has been running for 5 years and across 13 countries.

At the core of talent retention lies engagement. How retention is implemented, how it engages employees and even the way departures are handled impacts greatly on the talent that remains. For our Top Employers, engagement is driven by big improvements in development opportunities, the quality of leadership and internal communication. Top Employer JTI has found that a resolute and genuine focus on employee wellbeing is an investment that is paying off in terms of engagement. Adam McLernon, People and Culture expert at JTI, says: “We’ve focused on the employee as a whole and developed a wellbeing strategy out of that. For example, private medical cover is something that everyone would have as a wellbeing benefit, but then we’ve been bolting on additional elements to that.” For example, JTI has been giving employees access to a private GP service, whereby they can go to a private meeting room and book a phone call for a consultation. Add in a full health check, with a detailed health report coming out of the other end and the message it sends, adds McLernon is that: “we are focusing on you as an individual first and foremost.” There is clear evidence that the workforce at JTI is feeling happy, healthy and engaged. Absence levels have dropped sharply within the business and the number of people participating in the wellbeing programme has been very encouraging. 

In summary, our report shows that the way organisations manage talent in a changing world is crucial to their successful transformation. It also sheds light on what our Top Employers are doing to drive their talent programmes – and what others need to do to follow suit.

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