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How to build a game changing talent strategy

Talent, talent, talent. It’s a word we’re all too familiar with in HR circles. The danger with this, the overuse of a word, is that it starts to lose its meaning. In this short article, then, I want to refresh the meaning of the word talent, and re-ignite your mission to make a difference in your organisation.

What is talent?

Talent tends to mean having a natural aptitude for something challenging. It’s an odd concept however, because very few activities we engage in are truly ‘natural’; they tend to be ‘man-made’. Having a talent for business for example, or tennis, or presenting, can’t possibly be a natural ability – it must have been learnt, or developed somehow, somewhere along the way.

We would argue, then, that talent is less about events (such as delivering a presentation), and more about the ability to apply previously learnt skills in new scenarios.

Take John for example. John comes from a military background. He changed schools every two years and had to learn how to fit in and make friends quickly. It’s something John has developed over 10-15 years. When John joined a graduate scheme, he was flagged as a natural networker. He isn’t. He has just learnt to mix well with people, to get along, to fit in and this translates very nicely into a business setting; working a room.

Taking this approach means talent can be developed, or at least unearthed.

On this theme, I came across an excellent analogy a few years ago that has stuck with me. It’s about placing people in roles and it says all employees are like actors in a play. Sometimes they don’t fit the play, sometimes they need more coaching to develop a particular skill and sometimes they just don’t fit the role. It’s either a cultural, training or casting issue and each one needs to be handled differently.

So what does this all have to do with ‘building a game changing talent strategy’?

Well, building a business based on talent means first understanding what talent is, how to spot it and how to nurture it to fit the goals of your organisation.

Against this backdrop, let’s explore how to build a game changing talent strategy.

Get buy in from the top

Starting with the top, no talent strategy can work without buy in from the very top. Why? Because people in your organisation will model the behaviours that work, namely, the behaviours that will get them promoted. If your company has a talent strategy based on promoting teamworking and cooperation, but individuals with the best sales records get promoted, then this will adversely affect behaviour and people will act in line with the rewards.

This cascades down and across the organisation. It becomes your culture.

To set a talent strategy that has lasting impact, it’s important to first of all build buy-in across the whole business – from the bottom and the top.

The first step we’d recommend then, is to go and interview as many people as you possibly can about what talent means to them; about the knowledge, skills and behaviours their looking to attract and promote. It’s also worth asking what they deem to be ‘promotable’ assets. Often there is a divide between what the company ‘says’ it wants and what is ‘shows’ it wants.

Moving across the organisation, it’s important that line managers are accountable for scouting, spotting and developing talent. Whilst most talent strategies are set at a central, or group level, they have to be rolled out and upheld locally. Therefore it’s vitally important to engage line managers in the process, and find ways to monitor and reward the right behaviours up and down the chain.

Reward the right behaviours

Following on from the point above, it is crucial that performance management structures are set up in such a way that the right behaviours are indeed rewarded. With today’s socially responsible and career independent graduates, meritocracy is less of a nice to have and more of an absolute expectation.

To do this, you have to first determine what these behaviours are. This exercise should be repeated regularly too to ensure the organisation keeps pace with market changes. For example, in recent years cooperation, cross function working and helpfulness have become important and value adding behaviours that are difficult to encourage because they take a great deal of effort and a new form of selflessness and sharing.

Moving away from ‘the talented’ for a moment, it’s also importantant to foster the right behaviours in your leaders too; in the people who coach, lead and mentor up and coming ‘talent’. It is sad to say that there are still some managers who take the credit for the work in their team, and yet freely share the blame. In today’s workplace, there is no room for this and managers should be encourage to hire and promote people based on the value they add: give them room to shine and trust in them to add value in their own way.

Linked to this, it’s important to have conversations about performance regularly. Don’t wait until the stuffy, annual reviews – by then it could be far too late! We all know that performance ratings should not come as a surprise to people but the fresh, new talent of today expect more than scheduled feedback sessions – they want feedback often, constantly and immediately. Be brave, be honest and be generous and reward managers who proactively invest in developing the skill set of their teams.

Hire in line with your vision

Of course, developing talent is one thing but attracting talent is quite another.

It’s really important to give yourself the best chance of success by hiring in line with your company’s vision and to do this, you must have a really clear understanding of both what this is, and how it translates to different departments, functions and geographical locations.

Hiring top talent is incredibly challenging. It’s time consuming, expensive and more often than not, disappointing. This is why having a strong and compelling talent attraction programme is important: invest the time needed to go in search of that talent. When you bring in the right people, they will do more to deliver and execute your strategy than 5 average employees and so it is worth the time to find them. A players run rings around B players.

Remember too, that your current employees form a mini marketing team for the rest of the world. Treat them well, invest in their futures and they will form part of your talent attraction strategy.

Further to hiring in line with your vision, it’s just as important to empower people and teams in line with your vision. If you hire someone because they are direct, challenging and innovative…lets me be just that! Don’t try to round their edges; that’s not why you hired them. It’s important, when bringing in new talent, and when developing talent internally to try not too hard to mould them into the perfect employee. There is no such thing. Organisations need a healthy mix of skills, experiences, backgrounds in order to constantly innovate in line with market demands. Empower your talent to use their gifts and leverage the output.

If this is one thing you are worried about, invest in developing emotional intelligence in your employees. Tools like Insights, Myers Briggs and Clarity 4D are excellent ways to develop empathy in people: when people learn that everyone has different communication preferences and indeed, that there is much to be gained from working with someone with an alternative, or even opposite preference, frictions fall away and purposeful co-operation emerges.

Take an empathetic approach

The last point we wanted to touch on is the importance of hiring with an empathetic approach. Gone are the days when employers could make demands on their recruits, and select from best. The talent war wages on and there is a new threat in town: entrepreneurialism. Graduates and even more senior hires today are far more inclined than ever before to leave and set up their own venture in pursuit of more favourable working styles than ever before.

It’s important then to think less about what top talent can do for you and more about what you can do for top talent. Go back to your vision statement and ask yourself how this aligns to your employees: what can you offer that no-one else can? How does this manifest itself in your strategic execution?

Consider your business as a magnet…what can you do to strengthen your magnetic field and attract more top talent to you?

How can Gradvert help?

If you’d like to talk about setting up a talent attraction programme, call Gradvert on +44 (0) 203 693 7380

Find out more about our talent services.

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