Talent managementOn 12 Nov 2002 in Personnel Today Attracting talented individuals to apply for jobs is easy, but getting themon board and keeping them there is the real skill. Our latest roundtablediscussion looked at ways of identifying and managing talent more efficiently.By Nic PatonPsychometric testing, acceleration pools, behavioural assessmentcentres, psychologist-based interviews, career action centres – if nothingelse, the war for talent is keeping HR professionals on their toes. In thecontinuing tough economic climate, there is a growing recognition thatsuccessfully managing talent gives organisations a vital edge. For HR professionals, this sets a challenge. On one hand, effective talentmanagement is an important feather in the cap of any HR manager who wants to betaken seriously at board level. On the other, identifying, grooming andretaining talent is a notoriously nebulous business. A study, carried out at the start of this year for Personnel Today by talentresearch company Kenexa, paints a worrying picture of HR’s ability to be on topof its game when it comes to talent management. Ninety per cent of the 222 HR professionals polled strongly agree thatrecruiting talented people is a key issue, and 93 per cent feel the same wayabout retention. Yet 57 per cent of companies have no specific talentmanagement strategy, and just 37 per cent employ someone whose specific remitis to manage talent. With this in mind, Personnel Today invited a select gathering of HRprofessionals to take part in a roundtable discussion, drawing on theirexperiences to look at where talent management has come so far, and where ithas still to go. What follows is a summary of the themes that emerged. What is talent? The sheer difficulty of talent management, and the problem of how to defineand identify talent in a measurable way, became apparent early on in thedebate. Kate Newman, head of the resourcing and development team at VirginAtlantic, outlined that what the airline had always looked for in people wassomething called “Virgin Flair”. But pinning down exactly what thiswas much more difficult. “It’s what we feel is a certain indefinable quality that makes somebodyexactly what we are looking for, particularly in the customer-facing roles. Youknow it when you see it, but if you try to pin it down into a competency orbehaviour thing, you risk losing an awful lot of it,” she says. A more formal, approach was taken by T-Mobile. It undertook a major projectto identify what a T-Mobile person was when it rebranded from One2One lastspring, explained recruitment manager David Murphy. The company looked closelyat the sort of competencies needed in a talented employee – change, innovation,proactivity and communication in particular – in effect, drawing up a checklistof the sort of attributes T-Mobile employees needed in any role across thecountry. But Murphy feared, in light of Virgin’s approach, that such a templatecould be too rigid and risked missing real original talent coming up throughthe company. “I have a feeling that maybe we have structured it down too much intoits [component] levels. What we are looking for is enthusiasm, but also asproactivity and communication,” he says. Enthusiasm was the key elusive factor organisations needed to look for,agreed Tim Cawdron, HR director at Amey Construction. “People who havedone really well in pushing up the organisation are [those who are] veryenthusiastic. They almost live and breathe what they do. There’s a few othercharacteristics that may come out later, but you keep coming back to enthusiasmas the key talent builder,” he says. Yet sometimes enthusiasm by itself is not enough, argued John Salt, salesdirector at CW Jobs, the IT recruitment website. “In the IT industry, you have people who are very passionate about whatthey do, but are very poor at bringing other people along with theirpassion,” he says. “If they have that passion and enthusiasm, butlack the proactivity to reach out to others and explain it, it is not going towork in terms of developing talent throughout the IT department.” Another factor, at least in the construction industry, suggests Cawdron, ismobility. In the early parts of their career, candidates are expected to movearound a lot – from job to job and site to site – providing them with valuablebreadth of responsibility and experience – all useful in helping to identifyfuture talent. Yet, particularly when you have a strong brand, such as Virgin, catchingenthusiastic young recruits could be considered the easy part. It is once theyare on board and the initial glamour has worn off that the problems can start,cautions Ray Ryan, HR director for the Montpelier Group. “Do you findthere is an attitude change a year in?” he asks. Often candidates will only hear what they want to hear – the good bits –about a job, admits Newman. “They will hear all the good things. What wedid experience is quite a high drop-out in the first six to 12 months, becauseit is hard work,” she explains. For instance, landing in a foreign country and being holed up in a strangehotel can actually be quite lonely rather than glamourous. “Our latestadvertising campaign is trying to build on that – striking a balance betweenthe fun and excitement, but saying that actually you have got to be reallyspecial. It is the balance we are trying to get,” she adds. Developing people One of the problems T-Mobile has experienced in moving from One2One has beenturning One2One managers into T-Mobile managers, admits Murphy. “We are at the stage now of telling very senior and [previously] verysuccessful managers that they effectively don’t have what we need for aT-Mobile person and that is causing problems,” he explains. “In most cases, the gap tends to be insurmountable. Some of our bestperformers in the past, who hit targets every year and receive awards [fortheir performance], are simply unable to make the change from a company thatwas, in some ways, down and dirty, cheap and easy, to one that is moreprofessional and finessed in its attitude. “I have been in front of a number of them who have simply devalued theHR process to the point of which, in a competency interview, you get noevidence of solutions whatsoever. You ask them simple questions such as: ‘Couldyou talk me through the last time you dealt with a conflict situation’, andthey respond: ‘I don’t get any conflict situations, I tell my team what todo’.” One solution has been to implement a company-wide project on internalcandidates and interviewing. Interviews have been made more formal, explainingthe reasons behind them and using competency evidence for not only the role,but training and development too. “Certainly our intention is to hang on to these managers for as long aspossible because they have the business knowledge we require. But during thatprocess, I have to admit that a lot of them will become so disgruntled that wewill lose them,” says Murphy. At Virgin – this year celebrating its 18th birthday, and recovering from atorrid 12 months in the wake of September 11 – it has been a question of takinga step back and looking at how people have been slotted into roles and whetherthe progression processes really work, suggests Newman. In the past, when Virgin Atlantic was growing swiftly, people were oftenpromoted rapidly into roles and moved about the company at will. Now, though,there needed to be a reassessment and a recognition that, as well as movingpeople about, you need to give them the skills and the tools to do the job theyare currently doing well even better, says Newman. “The events of last year may even have helped us,” she admits.”It was painful to go through the redundancies that we made because wehave a family feel about Virgin. But we structured the redundancy package witha very attractive voluntary package. Those that maybe were not entirelycommitted have left.” Retention Six years ago, Salt says he visited a major high-street retailer and foundthat 35 per cent of trainees left within a year of finishing their graduatetraining. But they all came back within four years. “They kept that door open,” he says. “They said the biggestreason people didn’t return was that they were embarrassed to even think abouthow to approach coming back.” Employers need to be aware of this embarrassment factor, and recognise thatoften there is a shock when people realise that, on leaving, the grass wasn’tso green after all. They will then come back with a different, possibly morecommitted, outlook. Similarly, if you, as the employer, deliver on yourpromises, you will automatically go a long way towards retaining a talentedemployee, suggests Cawdron. “If you say you are going to give them a six-month review and then youdon’t, they may not say anything straight away, but, ultimately, they will votewith their feet,” he says. “We have a young people review – everyoneunder 30 gets looked at – and we try to give them something at six months. Youcan spend an awful lot of time and money attracting talent only to find it’sleaking out the other end.” In an industry with a traditionally high staff turnover rate, T-Mobile isworking on exit interviews, says Murphy. “It was most prevalent when people were leaving for the dotcoms. Wethought ‘hang on, we need to have an open door to allow these people to comeback’. So the flipside is to consider letting them go,” he explains. T-Mobile makes sure any grievances are resolved before the employee leaves. “Historically, exit interviews have always been undertaken by HRoperations instead of HR recruitment,” Murphy says. “We have made HRrecruitment more involved because we are the ones with the interview skills andtraining. Equally, if they do decide to come back, we are the point ofcontact.” From an HR viewpoint, one of the hardest things is reminding managers of theimportance of the six-month review, and its role in retaining employees.”It is very easy and very visible to throw lots of money at attractingtalent, it is a little bit more difficult and involved to actually retain itonce it is in,” Murphy adds. “What we are doing is marrying the HR functions that have traditionallybeen quite separate and getting them to work together and even cross over inthe responsibilities and the skills, bringing the recruitment people in at theexit interviews. But I think the emphasis is still on attracting rather thenretaining,” he says. Grooming future talent The attitude of schools can play an important part in grooming talent. Someindustries, such as construction, find it hard to recover from the negativeimage portrayed in the classroom, says Ryan. “People think it is going on site and getting wet and cold, but it’snot like that. The level of autonomy and responsibility they have, just isn’tappreciated,” he says. In addition, there is an image problem in thatconstruction is often thought of as an old-fashioned, male-dominated sector,which deters talented female candidates, adds Cawdron. One way round this had been to focus on the messages being sent back intocolleges, he suggests. “We take our graduates back to their old colleges.They do the majority of the presentation. It helps with their presentationskills and the graduates can relate to them. It’s like sowing seeds – itdoesn’t all sprout at once but it starts to come through.” While analytical and communication skills and boosted confidence will oftengive graduates an edge, HR across the board is rapidly moving away from theperception that a degree is a mandatory springboard to greater things, Murphyreckons. “There are people who do not go to university for some very goodreasons. It is our job to provide tools to allow them to do the job,” hesays. What really works? Simply showing interest in an employee, conducting regular reviews, askinghow they are getting on, picking up on those issues and delivering on promisesplays a big part in helping to manage talent in any organisation, says Cawdron.There is a recognition, too, that this will often involve building bridges withother parts of the business so that talent can be exposed to a wider range ofexperiences and challenges, contends Newman. At T-Mobile, the appraisal system has developed into the drawing up of aformal contract between employee and employer, says Murphy. “We physically sit down and sign a contract. So we are in a situationwhere we have committed to training and providing them with what they haverequested and we are signing something in front of them. We then revisit it atthree, six, nine and 12-month intervals. “That is working as a retention tool because these people fully believethey have comeback on us, and they do.” Joining the Personnel Today team were:David Murphy, recruitment manager, T-MobileRay Ryan, HR director, Montpelier GroupKate Newman, head of resourcing and development team, Virgin AtlanticTim Cawdron, HR director, Amey Construction Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos. Comments are closed.