How to build a talent centric organisation

Written by
Changeboard Team

29 Jun 2010

29 Jun 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Tensions bubbling under the surface

A scene of apparent peace and calm, but with a fiercely contested battle just looming over the event horizon. Were talking, of course, about the Wentworth Club, host to this years HR directors symposium, and the 2010 PGA golf championship. But we could just as easily be talking about the upcoming next round in McKinseys infamous war for talent.

Will loyalties remain given the choice?

The global downturn has enforced, rather than encouraged, employee loyalty. And, as economic conditions improve, pent-up frustration is likely to cause increasing churn at all levels of the job market. If organisations are to benefit, rather than suffer from this change in circumstances, they'll need to find new ways of engaging with their people and creating purpose and value in their working lives.

Disengaged employees

According to professor Chris Roebuck of Cass Business School, only around 10% of organisations have developed a genuinely effective talent centric approach, despite the fact that HR professionals have recognised what employees want and need for over 30 years. He cited research which has found that, on average, only 20% of staff in large organisations are truly engaged and that over 50% of middle managers and 70% of first line managers feel they aren't being developed properly with a consequent adverse effect on their performance.

Are employees responsible for self-development?

A credible development plan can increase engagement by as much as 45% and effective line management, which both inspires and develops people, can increase performance by at least 30%. So why has so little progress been made to date? Professor Roebuck suggested that one of the major problems is a failure to align efforts to create a talent centric approach because of a failure to define the roles of all stakeholders. Senior executives need to lead implementation and provide an example. Line managers need to make engagement work on a day-to-day basis and individuals need to take responsibility for their own development.

And HR?

According to Roebuck, the HR functions role is to act as the professional catalyst for change, providing the tools and facilitation that will actually make it happen. Time, however, is not on your side. He advocates not waiting for complete buy-in before you get started - as little as 30% of stakeholders can be sufficient. The secret of success is action and an acceptance that the simple and practical are often more effective than trying to achieve perfection.


One organisation that is well and truly off the starting blocks in the race to create a people centric business is telecoms giant, Telef??nica O2. According to Ian Ruddy, its European people services director, Telef??nica has taken as its start point the belief that all of its 50,000 people are talented, not just the so called high flyers and that giving employees a great experience will, in turn, mean that they'll deliver a great experience to customers. The company took a sample of its employees, asked them what they wanted from the workplace and then turned it into a 'corporate promise as to how it would treat the whole workforce.

In its external relations Telef??nica is aiming to transform its customers into fans, creating the sort of relationship that can survive minor hiccups and involve a real emotional connection. And, according to Ruddy, this is exactly what an organisation needs to do with its own internal customers too.

Favouritism within your workforce

Kate Rider, former HR director of Hewlett Packard in the UK, told the audience that people have been bruised by the recession and that a tendency to focus development resources on what are deemed the top 10% of employees has exacerbated this. She pointed out how her former employer had adopted a dual approach to talent development, keeping the idea of a top talent grouping, but only allowing individuals to join it when they were being considered for a promotion or significant redeployment. At any other time they would be in development mode along with everyone else in the company. The aim of this is to avoid a permanent elite cadre at the expense of the morale of the rest of the workforce and to sustain an environment of opportunity for all.

Getting engagement and talent right

For an organisation seeking to develop engagement and promote a talent centric environment, Stella Estevez of National Grid warned that it shouldnt lose sight of what this is really all about. The ultimate goal will always be to ensure that the right talent is in the right place at the right time, all the time, to deliver what she terms business strategy and ambition. And only by aligning workforce and business planning processes will an organisation ensure it has the right skills and people to deliver on current and future business needs.