Thoughts from our Talent Management Forum


February 7th, 2014

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Talent Management: beyond performance – how do you identify talent?

Some great discussions were had at our Talent Management Forum in Covent Garden last week.  People came from a wide variety of sectors: manufacturing; financial services, charities; retail; insurance, housing to name a few.  Areas of interest were around the use of assessment tools and methods; how we recognise and grow talent and how we start the Talent Process.

Setting the scene for our summary, it’s interesting to note that Talent Management is not a new concept: early writers on the topic date back to the mid 1800’s and there has been an avalanche of business books, articles, and seminars in the last decade stressing the importance of Human Capital (HC).  According to Lawler (2008), challenges are:

  • Recruitment of high quality people across multiple territories, particularly as competition for top talent grows more intense
  • Improving the appeal of the company culture and work environment

Lawler suggests that organisations need to be designed and managed in ways that optimise talent attraction, retention and performance.

So, let’s look at some of the challenges arising at our forum:


 A high potential employee is someone with the ability, engagement and aspiration to rise to and succeed in more senior, critical positions

But we need to be aware of the tendency to attribute to individuals rather than circumstance for both success and failure: can people be high performers in a range of contexts. A broader definition of potential may also be useful: often the focus is leadership potential.

How does development of talent or high potential need to be different to general development programmes?  Views around the forum included, providing stretching assignments, opportunities to work with ambiguity, take ‘risky’ decisions, do things differently and bring about change.

We were curious about how we see high potential – is this only leadership –should care be taken not to label people?  The general agreement was that not all talent is about ‘leadership’, we must not forget that technical roles where people are highly talented but will not progress into a (very senior) leadership position need to be recognised for the added-value role they play in the organisation.

Awareness of culture, the psychological contract between managers and employees, and environment all play a role.  Questions were raised around:  could someone be a high performer in another context? How engaged and motivated are they? How is this sustained?   What are we doing for non-high potentials?

So, what does a high potential person look like?  As well as researchers’ views that potential includes, ability, personality, drive and learning agility, other attributes discussed included, flexibility, self-awareness, continuously learning and taking responsibility for their own learning (not always in the workplace), people who build contacts and relationships, deal with change and manage ambiguity and can also spot employment challenges – those that are building their own career resilience.

Measuring and reporting talent

Talent-centric organisations tend to have measures that report on the productivity, condition and value of their talent and how effectively it is being applied.

Research,  carried out by The Institute for Corporate Productivity (May 2012),  stated the fact that only 2 in 10 companies have systematic talent-management practices in place. However, the high-performing companies (22 percent of survey) there is a workforce-management strategy that measures talent-management practices, which is lacking in lower-performing companies (16 percent of survey).

So what tools do we have to measure talent (or potential for leadership)?  And what do we measure?  Forum contributors compared personality tools, use of 360’s, critical thinking tools, using a strengths based approach to talent, support through  coaching and co-coaching.  There are various tools that can be applied, with consideration to what outcomes are needed, alongside tool reliability and validity.  Feedback data is seen as a crucial part of the measuring and reporting.  It is not enough to go through the annual exercise of assessing performance and driving rewards based on performance assessment.  A systemic process establishing goals and providing feedback which is timely and regular provides a sense of common purpose and direction that guides the behaviour of all employees.

To support the talent management agenda, reliable data is needed to inform on practices.  Evidence from research suggests that not many organisations are collecting information on talent management practices, fewer are applying it.  Research suggests that we need data on:

  • Employment engagement
  • Organisation’s financial success
  • Leadership success
  • Management satisfaction
  • Reduction of costs
  • Robustness of the talent pipe-line

It also suggests that someone needs to be assigned to look at the metrics – or it will not get done!

Thoughts on what is needed?

There were many challenges around the room from succession and talent management planning in an Asian culture to working globally and integrating different cultures – the impact this may have on the development of local talent.

It can be seen that challenges include not just attracting and retaining the right talent but also organising and managing it.  Should the organisation’s strategy drive talent or should it be the other way round? At the local level, let us not overlook the vital role played by individual conversations in generating a sense of shared endeavour.

Perhaps an organisation needs a sophisticated information system that focuses on the condition of talent and measures the core competencies and capabilities, with a robust performance development system as a ‘must have’ and one that supports the strategy and plans; guides individuals so they have the skills and knowledge needed. Perhaps this degree of management lacks responsiveness to changing conditions.

There is no magic bullet: talent development is a core activity: top to bottom.

How are you engaging with your own talent?