TTT – Reactive to Proactive: Identifying Talent within your Business

These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest Talent Think Tank held on Friday 27th April 2012 at AXA’s Head Office, titled Talent Identification as an Organisational Behaviour. The following summary reflects the discussion held amongst senior HR and Talent professionals from leading UK and international businesses.

For more information on the group, or to discuss membership, please contact Jeremy on 0207 88 444 |

It goes without saying; nurturing existing talent within any business is crucial to sustained success and company growth. So, what processes are businesses putting in place to initially identify talent and ultimately turn this identification into a business as usual procedure? And what challenges do they need to overcome? On the evidence of our discussions, the list of challenges is long and includes securing senior management commitment and talent engagement, developing effective and measurable talent programmes, succession planning and how best to use psychometric and other profiling tools (if at all) to understand ‘what great looks like’.

Why identify talent?

Whilst it’s easy to sit back and question the processes used in talent identification, it’s important to first reiterate why we are doing it! Surely we all recognise the need to prepare for the future by engaging senior / line managers in succession plans and talent programmes that promote a company-wide perspective, reducing business risk and potentially increasing our company’s resourcing options?

And yet, paradoxically, a problem faced by several of those present at this Talent Think Tank is the reluctance of line-managers and department heads to release talent from within their teams. It seems a change in attitude is still required; albeit one that it is persistently difficult to engineer. In this context, attendees recognised how important it is to cascade the priority on talent identification and planning from the very top of the organisation in order to pull ‘outliers’ into line with the interests of the wider company – and yet most seemed to agree that this remains challenging. Business casing is clearly a critical part of this process, and yet at least one attendee commented that this remains something that the L&D / HR communities are not very good at.

Attendees also considered whether we might be over-engineering the whole process and consequently reducing management buy-in and causing an organisational ‘turn-off’. Perhaps stripping back the glossy procedures and bringing the focus back to effective coaching conversations is one of the keys to improving talent identification and engagement

Our experts’ views:

a) Drive and measure conversations centred on ‘growing talent’ to put talent at the forefront of managements’ agenda

b) Encourage regular senior level meetings to track / benchmark talent progression and internal opportunities.

Planning for the future… a shared responsibility

Whilst it’s essential for Talent Professionals to cement talent programmes onto senior management agendas; employees identified as high potential need to play their part in ensuring their own visibility at work. Line-managers can play an integral part in unlocking talents’ drive and potential in coaching conversations, for example, but talent needs to assume its responsibility also. A hypothesis expressed at Talent Think Tank was that employees with poor visibility, outside their immediate departments, might be lacking crucial drive and enthusiasm to further their careers.

The discussion also highlighted how it’s often too easy to bypass internal high-potential talent when looking to fill roles not directly aligned with their current remit. Yes, it’s an attractive proposition to ask a recruitment consultancy to source you the best possible individual with highly relevant experience – but past experience is a poor predictor of future performance and surely there’s more mutual benefit in helping your talent to develop their capabilities and behaviours and rise to a new challenge in-house. Whilst it’s evident that not all internal moves follow a linear pattern, perhaps there’s scope to narrow the gap between the responsibilities currently managed by your talent and their potential future roles through a properly managed succession plan.

Our experts’ views:

a) A decreased volume of internal employee movement has been seen during the recession; however it’s important to start identifying potential successors of critical roles as the economy picks up and individuals re-develop confidence to further their careers

b) Headhunt within your own business, nurture your existing talent and establish some guidelines with management to avoid a culture which sees talent as being departmental, not organisational.

Understanding critical individuals…

When identifying individuals deemed as critical to a business, it can be tempting for line managers to brand their personal ‘support pillar’ as ‘critical’ simply because they make their life easier – however this subjective view clearly lacks rigour. For a more objective approach, one formula highlighted at the Think Tank is to score them on:

‘Difficulty to replace’ x ‘value within the company’ – this should give you a good initial indication of their current criticality.

Once those critical individuals have been identified, it’s important to get to grips with both their critical competencies, relevant personality attributes and behavioural strengths to fully understand what makes them so integral to the present success of the business, and to gauge their potential to take on greater responsibilities in future. The distinction between intrinsic aspects of personality and extrinsic influences on performance becomes critical to assessing whether an individual will be motivated to either continue being, or become, a high-performer in different contexts anticipated in future.

From here, you’ll also be able to take the necessary steps to filling business leadership positions with the people most likely to succeed – it’s a question of being proactive and comprehensive, not reactive and limited in your assessment and understanding of talent and potential.

Our experts’ views:

a) Remember, it isn’t just high-potential talent who can be acknowledged as critical – a long standing employee who has a unique wealth of knowledge on a particular area within a business is going to be near-impossible to replace.  

Attributes of top talent…

When defining talent, businesses follow a host of different frameworks, models and formulas to identify the cream of the crop:

  • Ability | Agility | Aspiration
  • Autonomy | Master | Purpose
  • I want | I can | I need
  • Or – Drive | Engagement | Ability…

But, if ‘drive’ (for example) is deemed critical to success, how do we define it, understand what contributes to it and then measure those contributory elements to determine if it can be developed?

Psychometric and behavioural tools can help us to understand those aspects of ‘drive’ that are in fact innate and the extent to which our external environment merely ignites or inhibits the display of this characteristic. Someone whose intrinsic motivation is well-aligned with their current role context but who exhibits low ‘drive’ at work might be being hindered by management or a lack of responsibility, for example.

Equipped with the insights offered by such tools, and provided they understand how to interpret them, line-managers can be much more effective in removing barriers inhibiting ‘drive’, extinguishing self-limiting beliefs and preventing an individual’s potential from being stifled.

Our experts’ views:

a) Often, highly ambitious / driven talent will proactively break down barriers to further their careers – these types of individuals won’t typically stay in an organisation where there is a lack of opportunity, so it’s important to make leadership opportunities visible to those with the potential to fulfil them

b) Highlight internal success stories openly in your organisation – ambitious people will aspire to mirror others’ achievements.

Profiling talent…

It is clearly critical to understand exactly what you are looking to measure / benchmark, how this ties into your business objectives and what you are going to do with the insights once captured. Often in the sourcing process, experience is put ahead of behavioural evidence and intrinsic characteristics even though past experience in isolation is one of the least reliable predictors of future performance. So it’s important to develop a thorough understanding of ‘what good looks like in your business’ and develop your strategy and tools from there – candidates can develop behaviour and acquire many types of experience, but cannot change their intellectual ‘horsepower’, for example.

Recommendations from the experts:- Psychometric Suppliers / Insight Consultancies attendees had used

a) Thomas International

b) Chemistry Group (Solving complex people challenges)

c) Hogan (Senior Talent à identifying values, derailing behaviours etc.)

d) Saville (Bespoke wave profiling based on personal values)

e) Table Group (Identification tool – highlight dysfunctional teams)

Concluding thoughts…

Talent identification needs to be a proactive process embedded into organisational behaviour. Talent professionals need to develop strategies to embed the process in the mind-set, language and ways of working of the rest of the business. A critical component is to create senior management engagement and powerful advocacy; and yet the paradox remains that whilst everyone recognises the strategic importance of this issue, few businesses (and their leaders) seem to be fully and consistently engaged in the process.

A final thought is that a highly desirable type of employee is the one that has returned to an organisation after spending some time externally in the market place? These individuals have been able to gain critical insight into other businesses, whilst maintaining the initial organisational attraction and loyalty to return. Maintaining relationships with ‘talent alumni’ might be as important as the relationships we look to build internally…

Key Takeaways…

  • It’s essential to organisational health to encourage managers to identify and release their top talent – they are not the property of the department they are situated in
  • Psychometric and behavioural profiling tools can help organisations and line mangers to understand the intrinsic and extrinsic factors contributing to great performance in your organisation, and ensure that coaching conversations are focused on things that resonate with employees and that they can do something about!
  • Encourage talent to make themselves more visible within their organisation; and create channels for them to do so.
  • Create and publicise internal stories reflecting high-profile talent successes to encourage others to mirror displayed behaviour
  • Target managers with objectives to develop talent within their teams; measure their progress and integrate the measurement into performance evaluation.
  • Challenge line-managers to unlock internal barriers facing talent to help enhance their potential
  • Try not to over-complicate the talent identification process with regimented procedures at the expense of regular conversational meetings
  • Try head-hunting within your organisation – it might just save you a fortune in agency fees!
  • Business casing is critical to senior management engagement – and the consensus seems to be ‘could do better’
Oasis HR

Written by , Network Driven HR Recruitment

Oasis HR is a multi-award winning HR Recruitment Agency based in London that delivers Contingency and Search services within the Human Resource and Business Change Markets. Our client base encompasses all industry sectors and we have a proven track record of delivering permanent, interim and temporary professionals at all levels across all HR disciplines. From a £20k HR Administrator to a £200k HR Director, Oasis HR is well placed to identify, approach and secure the best available talent in the market

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