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How to win the battle for talent

Identifying, encouraging and harnessing potential is about more than recruitment. By Simon Brittain

The ‘importance of talent’ and the ‘battle for talent’ are phrases often used by senior management these days.

But what exactly is talent management and why are organisations suddenly placing so much emphasis upon it?

The main reason why talent has become a key business issue is because the search for the best and the brightest people has become a constant and costly battle. It is not simply pin-pointing future chief executives.

Talent management should be a structured process to ensure internal talent is identified and then planned to ensure the person does not leave the organisation and has proper career management.

Dual roles

The increasing expectation put on executives to be both commercial and people managers drives much of business’ current investment in talent management.

Many construction companies are struggling to get to grips with the expectations of the new generation of young executives where work-life balance is a key driver, especially when current senior – and usually older – managers expect work to come before everything.

Talent management offers a number of routes to answering these problems: it can identify what the business is going to need, where to get the right people, what they might look like and less traditional career routes for key people who do not want to make it onto the board.

Companies can spend huge amounts of money identifying these people and making sure that they get to the top, but unless you link talent to the overall needs and goals of the business it is likely to fail.
We find that when firms first look at developing a talent strategy they can find it complex and difficult to work out how it interacts with existing systems and policies.

A question of talent

There are, however, a number of questions to ask to get the ball rolling:

  • First, what does talent look like in your firm? This debate is a difficult one for most companies to manage – and therefore one that often gets avoided. You need to resolve this and agree what talent constitutes.

  • What business strategies and goals does the talent strategy need to support?

  • How do you identify talent? This needs to be seen to be done fairly and objectively at a local, regional, national and international level.

  • What do you do with talent both to maximise its impact on your business and to fully realise individual potential?

  • How do you link it to other processes in the firm, particularly manager selection, appraisals, pay reviews and training?

  • How do you know if you are managing your talent effectively?

  • Where do you start and how can you build pragmatically on the existing processes within the firm?

The answers help to define talent strategy, design a talent management system and set the business on the path to making the most of a scarce and expensive resource.

Simon Brittain is a partner at business psychologists Kiddy & Partners.