Managing talent in a changing business climate

Written by
Changeboard Team

15 Nov 2010

15 Nov 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Growing confidence in the jobs market

In order to attract and retain talent a business needs, an alignment between talent management and business strategy is crucial. If a business is going through changes, for example, then a clear idea of where it's headed, accompanied with the talent needed to successfully get it there is essential to success.

An example of the changes that have been witnessed so far is during the economic downturn; employers found themselves in a unique position – the tables had turned and ‘high potential’ employees were no longer regarded as king. The surplus of people in the market, due in part to redundancies, lack of new jobs and unwillingness to move, pushed turnover down meaning employers had the pick of a talented bunch. But now confidence is returning to the market and some employees are starting to look for alternative employment, while others no longer feel bound by the recessionary gloom that once dominated their fear of changing jobs.

Time to re-focus talent strategy

Organisations that haven’t taken their talent for granted and continued to work hard to engage and develop the right people in the right way during the recession, will be reaping the benefits. Individuals are far more likely to stay with an organisation where they feel valued and appreciated and where they see suitable development/career opportunities that reflect the effort and dedication they have put in and match their ambitions. Organisations that aligned talent management with their business strategy and communicated it to staff effectively, will also benefit from a workforce that knows where they stand and is engaged in the future of the company.

But organisations that let their talent strategy and pipeline slip during the recession, by failing to think about the future skills required to meet their business objectives, shouldn't take this as a sign to just give up – quite the opposite. Now is still the best time to focus talent strategy, re-engage your talent and put development firmly back on the agenda.

Look at talent holistically

The first thing to do is look at your talent holistically, considering at an end-to-end, business driven approach to making sure your organisation has the right people in place to take the business where it needs to be both now and for the future. It's this direct and meaningful link between the business strategy and the talent strategy that overcomes many of the problems of actually making an end-to-end business driven approach happen.

In some cases this may mean some very short term action that is more about ensuring business continuity than strategy, as people who may have been under the traditional succession radar, but who fill business critical roles, decide they can do better elsewhere. 

What talent do you already have?

Once organisational capability has been identified, such as the capacity to rapidly grow business in new, untested markets, look at what talent is available to meet that need. It may be that there are individuals within the organisation who already have the necessary skills and experience, ready to pick up the baton and run. On the other hand, there may be other suitable people that need a little more fast-track development to get them where they need to be.

Understanding how talent can be aligned with business goals, will help talent professionals to understand where the gaps are and identify where the supply of talent may come from – whether internally or externally, and take the appropriate action to meet business needs.

Who has the potential to develop?

Identifying those with the potential to take on more challenging roles/strategic/leadership positions is another crucial aspect of talent management. Recognising the potential is one step but you also need to engage people to stay in the business and work to their optimum. Finding out what their ambitions, goals and motivations are will help to create a genuine 'fit' within the company – one where they will thrive and be truly connected to the organisation in a meaningful way.

This process may also flag up individuals that don't feel in line with the new business strategy – in which case they may decide to leave for an alternative role, that suits their personal agenda, or an internal move could be considered if their skills are transferable and required by the business.

The process of identifying talent internally and assessing employees’ skills and motivations is a great way to re-engage with what may be a worn-out workforce. The recession took its toll on most businesses and many workers will be suffering from the after effects. Investing in the future of the company by mapping talent, will serve to reignite the passion among employees that may be tempted to look for a change. Setting goals and showing employees how their talent will directly affect the business strategy will help showcase the difference they are making and re-engage them in the process.

How can you engage the whole talent pipeline?

Both the leadership and talent pipeline however are going to be affected by the scrapping of the default retirement age (DRA) and organisations are going to have to seriously consider the consequences. For example, some employees will have spent their time at the organisation aiming for a promotion/ the top position – but they may have to wait longer than they originally anticipated now. Managing employees' expectations and thinking of ways to keep this group of talent engaged and feeling valued, will be crucial. If the business communicates the thought process behind the strategy, clearly highlighting where specific talent is required, it will help employees to affiliate with the bigger picture.

Managing talent shouldn't just be focused on those at the top either; it remains important to ensure that the rest of the talent pipeline is not forgotten. A strategic view towards succession planning and talent management should include looking more seriously at those entering the jobs market - not just for business reasons, but also for societal, in order to help with the 'lost generation' of youth or NEETS (not in employment, education or training).

Harness graduates with appropriate skills

For those at the start of their career, the outlook is bleak. Research by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) found that vacancies for graduates fell by 7% this year; the report also highlighted that there are 69 applicants to every single graduate vacancy.

Looking for a job is tough as it is, but for graduates it’s almost an impossible as opportunities are scarce. Businesses should be doing what they can to help young people develop the skills required for the future – failing to do this will leave businesses losing out in the long term because there will continue to be a mismatch between the talent that is being produced and what is being demanded. Having a clear understanding of how graduates, for example, can work within an organisation to support business strategy is crucial to the success and ROI of your talent management strategy.

Talent & redundancy

Understanding what is needed from supply against the current rates of demand is the key element. Businesses and talent professionals should impact on those coming up through the ranks, linking with careers services and the government, to help ensure that the skills needed are being developed before people start looking for a job. Once these individuals are in an organisation, processes should align the business needs, with individual needs, the long term outlook and talent management strategy.

Having a talent strategy in place, whether getting young people into the business or retaining high performers, requires a good knowledge of what talent looks like and where it comes from. Once the mapping has been done, it can also be used if redundancies ever have to be made. It is an unfortunate ramification of the current economy that jobs have been, and will continue to be, lost. If, like the public sector, these will have to be done quickly yet efficiently, having a clear view of the talent in your organisation will help with the process.

Treat employees as individuals

During the whole talent management process, from the bottom to the top, it's important to remember that everything must be treated on an individual basis. Employees should be treated as individuals – with their own motivations and goals. Organisations should be treated individually too – there isn't a one size fits all model when it comes to talent management strategies.

Best practice models should of course be researched and considered, but only the organisation itself knows what talent is needed to continue business in a competitive market; and by aligning business strategy to talent management – a steady flow of talent will continue to enter and stay in the workforce.