Talent Management Implementation


In the third and last of this series of articles on talent management, we will look at practical issues of implementing talent management.

In today's recessionary environment it is easy to take the short-term view and not focus on investing for the future.  However, talent management is particularly important in a downturn as when the economy revives, talented people will be required to ensure the future development of the business. A successful talent management strategy promotes rich development of the talented, and in this way people's talents are fully utilised and developed in a manner that benefits the organisation and the individual. The talent strategy is likely to work best when learning is valued, with plentiful chances for growth and career development and a supply of people ready to fill identified vacancies. Some of the features of a successful talent growth process are likely to be:

• A firmly embedded learning culture with emphasis on a partnership approach to development and career management
• Good, open communication with regular performance feedback
• A performance management process which identifies and develops potential and feeds into organisational strategy
• To make the most of new opportunities, keeping a steady eye on the future by linking strategy with talent development
• Line management being actively involved in planning and building for the future

A climate where talent thrives has implications not just on training and development, but recruitment, reward and pay, appraisals and performance management as well as organisational culture.

Investment in talent development is for the long term.  No "quick hit" initiative is likely to become embedded. To promote a climate of development, you may need to work on defining and developing a desired organisational culture. To do this, visible top management support and involvement is required. Monitoring and follow-up is critical, since fast-track development can be diverted or hijacked by the needs of the moment, particularly if the culture is hostile or the right supporting mechanisms are not in place.

Major barriers to talent management

Many organisations operate in far from ideal conditions, and in designing and implementing talent programmes we have become very aware of common potential road blocks. Our experience suggests that talent programmes have to devise ways to overcome frequently encountered difficulties, for example:

• Silo mentalities: Sometimes insecure management can seek to protect their territorial boundaries.  In some organisations we have worked with managers recounted stories of being warned by their senior manager to be wary of their colleagues in other parts of the organisation, or not to speak to them openly.   It is therefore essential to involve influential groups in open debate and gain their commitment, or at least diffuse any obstruction.
• Organisational barriers: These can be very difficult to cross and lead to simply not knowing who to contact, the range of work in which others are involved and generally poor communication. By mixing different groups, via development programmes, introducing individuals to networks and mentoring, barriers can come down.
• Geographical distances: The costs and time involved in meeting face to face restrict full communication across the organisation.  Despite the growth of e-mail and video conferencing, there seems no substitute for face-to-face working to cement relationships.
• Cultural barriers: These are much harder to overcome than some people expect. Working on common tasks or projects often frees up communication, particularly if they are coupled with active coaching and mentoring to review successes and difficulties.
• Parochial thinking: This can undermine organisation-wide initiatives. For example, managers may seek to hold on to talent, or seek promotions from a much smaller local pool.  At the start of many high potential development programmes there is a common perception that: "I don't need to know any more about the organisation". By seeing the world through a restricted lens, the effect can be to narrow down possibilities for innovative thinking, co-operation and cross-fertilisation.

Aetna: shifting a local mindset to thinking company-wide

Aetna is a diversified US company offering health care, dental, pharmacy, group life, disability and long-care insurance and employee benefits.

One area it identified for improvement as a result of employee surveys was talent management. Its vision was to build talent that was not only deep but also broad so everyone in the company could develop. It realised that this new approach to talent management represented a significant cultural shift. Some managers were apprehensive in that adopting a universal system that identified talent in each part of the business, 'talent' in their own area would be lost to other parts of the business. Part of the challenge in making the new system work was shifting the mindset to Aetna talent rather than the talent in their area. Aetna set up a talent management system that can be accessed online. The concept is that any part of the business can draw on the central talent pool.

These difficulties emphasise the importance of encouraging informal networking and communication, so vital in reducing geographic and organisational hurdles. Also, talent management needs to be viewed in the context of a total business strategy which includes re-assessing organisational structure, business processes, team working, cultural reinforcements such as  symbols, reward and promotion structures.

Establish competency benchmarks

It is important to spend time identifying the right competencies for your organisation. As an illustration, in working with one pan- European international aerospace  company, the following core leadership competencies were used as a benchmark:

-Personal influence - Successful managers need awareness of cultural and interpersonal issues and the ability to draw on a repertoire of approaches to get things done.

-Tolerance of ambiguity - Managing across cultures and with others from different backgrounds requires the ability to handle complexity and cope with the absence of simple, clear cut answers.

-Making and implementing decisions - Taking leadership responsibility for delivery, by getting things moving and transferring knowledge into action are vital leadership competencies.  Leaders must bear in mind wider organisational issues, not just local ones.

-External and customer focus.  Maintaining a broad external focus is difficult for many who struggle with the internal complexities of organisations.  It is all too easy for a manager to retreat to their professional area of expertise and lose sight of the customer, particularly where the needs are diverse and hazy at times.

Competencies serve as an assessment tool and will help you benchmark your talent.

Personal Responsibility

Key to the success of talent management programmes is giving individuals responsibility for their own development.  Aspiring leaders should have a hunger to learn.  Best practice talent management programmes provide opportunities for individuals to select their development path via a series of blended learning solutions.  There are many learning opportunities available ranging from development centres, workshops, mentoring, action learning sets, secondments, assignments and projects.

PwC: talent management through an active pipeline

PwC, a huge global organisation employing over 140,000 people in 149 countries, takes talent management very seriously. As a consultancy that stands or falls by the quality of its people, keeping up to date and being at the forefront of their fields, PwC takes a proactive stance. Tim Richardson, Head of Leadership Development and Talent Management at PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a podcast from the CIPD in 2007 " We've got an active pipeline management going on, so we're looking at and tracking them through their career from a manager, through to senior manager, director and partner. We're looking at trying to accelerate people quickly, so we do offer benchmarking opportunities, benchmarking events, development centres, where people can test themselves against the capabilities that we're looking for, get feedback and really work on key development plans. We've also got some emerging leader programmes which we're running, both in the UK and indeed around the world where we're trying to create networks of emerging leaders which is what we're looking for in the future."

Building Blocks for Successful Talent Management


Coaching has a valuable role in extending a person's competence particularly in their current role, which will also form a foundation for future roles. Effective coaches pay close attention to differing learning styles and the best learning pace for the coachee. Support and openness are key ingredients in the relationship. At a skill level the coach must have well-rounded competence, by:

• Asking questions rather than telling people what to do
• Actively listening
• Understanding the tools of facilitating, problem analysis and solving
• Giving feedback
• Knowing when to challenge and when to support

Most learning professionals know Whitmore's GROW model - Goal, current Reality, Options and Wrap-up. It is a very straightforward way to conduct a coaching session.  Coaching should be future focussed and goal centred.  The responsibility for actions should lie with the individual coachee.:
Give consideration to whether to use internal coaches to help develop your talent pool or whether to bring in external expertise to undertake this role.


Mentoring is well-suited to talent management, with its emphasis on developing a person's potential for the future. This one-to-one process helps individuals to learn and develop with a longer-term perspective. It focuses primarily on the person's career and their development, not the immediate task.

The mentee, or person undergoing mentoring, benefits from access to a sounding board to challenge assumptions and encourage wider thinking.  This helps the mentee better to understand themselves and their organisation as they try to overcome blocks and barriers. The mentor's role can be to open doors, using networks or advising on overcoming bureaucracy.

Organisations employing mentoring for talent management may find it raises organisational issues. For example, some organisations find power relationships disturbed by mentors who can cut across the manager - employee relationship.  Sometimes expectations and objectives may be misunderstood either by the mentee or in the wider community. Also the formal framework may not fit the culture, and it can be hard to find suitable mentors who will give up the necessary time. Our experience indicates that effective mentoring requires attention to four key factors:

• A clear agreed set of objectives
• Communications and development for all those involved
• Careful matching of mentors and mentees
• Periodic evaluation and review of the effectiveness of mentoring

Sony Europe: mentoring on strengths

Sony Europe developed a programme called 'The Strengths Way'. Part of the Sony Corporation's founding principle is that the environment be a place where 'technical personnel of sincere motivation can exercise their abilities to the maximum'. Its philosophy towards development is to focus on people's strengths.

So, for example, in the performance review process people spend time analysing the compe¬tencies in which they are strongest and seeing how they apply them to their current role. The organisation has developed a mentoring scheme for graduates, high-potential employees, executives and executive successors.

This scheme has been designed to focus on people's strengths and how they can be applied in the workplace. The success of the mentoring scheme has been that each mentor group becomes a mentor to the next. In addition, the business has established mentoring arrangements with charitable organisations.

Planned Development through responsibility

If set up in the right way with clear objectives and time frames, delegating an area of responsibility will stretch the individual and bring out their strengths. Sound learning reviews can make the most of this opportunity. Examples might be:

• High visibility improvement projects
• Taking on a new business area to develop multi-disciplinary contacts and knowledge
• Leading strategic initiatives which look at future opportunities
• Responsibilities in a new culture
• Assigning responsibility early on
• Giving specialists generalist roles
• Cross-functional roles

Other aspects of Talent Management


All organisations need to mindful of their place in the wider recruitment market. Recruitment is part of the chain of development; those organisations where career advancement is based on talent development will be an attractive organisation to join, as well as aiding retention. Careful induction will assist in setting the right expectations.


The important role of reward in securing and promoting motivation should be given careful thought. Any financial reward must be part of a total approach to reward and recognition.  Building society Nationwide has made it easy for managers to recognise its employees, through an online recognition system which allows employees to choose rewards from holidays to shopping vouchers.

You will need to understand the aims of your reward package and how they apply to the talented-rewarding teams encourages collaboration and achievement of team goals. Secrecy in reward structures breeds lack of trust and poor respect.  We believe transparency will help the talented to develop without leading to poor morale.

To ensure your rewards line up with the need to encourage talent, we suggest you consider four searching questions:
• Is the reward system truly set to meet the needs of the talented?
• Is the basis for reward clearly defined and sufficiently understood, and are incentives achievable, neither too easy nor too hard?
• Are the right behaviours being translated into rewards and recognition?
• Is the line management skill level sufficient for the scheme to operate as intended?

Executive development programmes

Many blue-chip organisations build a high potential talent programme linked to input from business schools, perhaps supplemented by company projects and input. Some people criticise this as "Too much training, too little development", by leaving too much to external input and not embedding development. However, a carefully designed programme can give vital input on topics which would be difficult to provide internally for example, managing internal politics and strategic thinking. This can be blended with projects and development work internally.  Also, experience of thinking in new ways outside the organisational culture can be beneficial. At more senior levels, the ability to mix academic input with exchange with other senior people from different organisations can add a whole new perspective.

Greg Dyke, formerly Director General of the BBC, was sent to Harvard Business School for 3 months before becoming Chief Executive of London Weekend Television. It gave him new skills and confirmation of his beliefs: "Harvard confirmed much of what I think I am," Dyke maintains. "You don't have to understand discounted cash flow to run an organisation. But you've got to distinguish between management and leadership. Companies need leading." In an interview, on taking up the top position at the BBC, he commented: "I spent a couple of days last week at the Harvard Business School which I think is essential. If you run organisations every so often you need to get out of those organisations and meet people who work in a different world and understand the issues, the problems and what's going to happen going forward because this world changes so fast."

Case examples

The first two case examples are set out in more detail in UK Talent Report by Shaun Tyson and Emma Parry of Cranfield School of Management, July 2007.

Britvic: using a talent toolkit, then targeting development

Britvic Soft Drinks is one of the two leading soft drinks businesses in Great Britain with more soft drinks brands in its portfolio than any other UK manufacturer. The company has approximately 2,700 employees.
Britvic's strategy is to grow its brands and people on an international scale. The Britvic Head of Organisation Development has worked with its Operational Board to develop a Talent Management Strategy to ensure a pipeline of talent to enable this growth.

This has two phases:
Phase 1

In the first phase, Britvic rolled out its 'Performance & Talent Toolkit' to 2000 employees, including structured development workshops for its top 500 managers. Britvic's toolkit assesses performance against the "what" (individual scorecard objectives) and the "how" (Britvic "DNA" or behaviours) on a 9-box performance matrix which results in an individual's performance being rated against 1 of 5 performance ratings (low, off, on, strong, top). Line managers separately identify potential in one of 5 categories and then attend a Talent forum to challenge the robustness of their decisions. The Operational Board discusses and endorses the total organisational talent pool, with board successors discussed at plc level.

Phase 2

The second stage is more specific:

1. Proactive recruitment
2. Employer branding plus Management Development Programme (external recruits),  career management and development as unique proposition (internal and external)
3. Rigorous talent demand and supply planning through Talent Forums:
•  Bi-annual organisation and people planning reviews functional and Corporate
•  Career management, succession planning and individual feedback
4. Talent growth through internal development with the Accelerate programme
•  Multi-tier successor development programme
5. Learning & Development to grow core organisational capability
•  Development opportunities to enable business performance and individual engagement
•  Embedding Leadership development of the top 80

The "Accelerate" programme

This successor development programme comprises a Director level mentor, cross functional moves, strategic projects, external development programmes as appropriate, networking sessions, and career aspirations and planning sessions. Some 40 people have been identifies as successors, with 10 cross-functional moves and six promotions within the programme.

How the initiative is measured

Britvic's Corporate Scorecard has a number of "Enabling" measures including "Leadership index", "Engagement index" and "Performance index" which measure the effectiveness of core talent and people processes. Also, there are recruitment measures (quality, cost, time to hire) and retention of talent measures.

Cobham: clarifying talent and systematically developing it

Cobham plc is a high-tech international company engaged in the development, delivery and support of advanced aerospace and defence systems. Cobham devised its talent management strategy over 18 months, with the HR Director and senior management examining what already existed and what needed to be developed.

It has defined "Talent" according to its three most important areas. Firstly, those individuals with leadership potential; secondly, graduates with high potential and thirdly, key technical skills groups to be developed as the "mission critical workforce" technicians.

1. Leadership development
People are identified that have high potential for management and have developed in terms of their leadership skills. There are three groups of individuals:
3.1 A divisional high potential pool these individuals are identified as having high potential to lead within their business.
3.2 The senior development programme (SDP)  those on the programme are identified as having potential to be a divisional president or a direct report to divisional president level within five years. These individuals are identified as having potential by division management. Those identified are then put through a development centre.
3.3 The Executive Development Programme for those who will be in the top 16 in 5 years. This programme is also applied to those individuals already in the top 16 that need development. The results of these assessments are used to build development plans for each individual. Every member of the workforce above Manager level undertakes a formal talent assessment twice a year. High potentials are those employees that fall into boxes 1, 2 or 4 on their 9-box matrix.

2. Graduates
Graduates are recruited from local universities to be part of a company wide programme over two years, with each graduate undertaking a six months assignment in each division, with a substantial job to do in order to develop them.

3. Mission critical workforce
Those with important technical skills are developed using a faculty system, with heads of faculty responsible for devising a technical curriculum and career paths.  High potential individuals are identified and developed under their auspices.


We have outlined processes for identifying, nurturing and developing talent in an organisation.  We have said that the whole process must be supported through fostering a development culture, starting with commitment to developing people particularly from the top.  We have shown a wide variety of practices and strategies, with a trigger of a business need and often actively championed by HR strategists working closely with the board.  The common thread is that the organisations have thought carefully about talent management as it applies to their organisation, and designed the processes and practices which work with them. Our insights into successful talent management suggest that success comes from such factors as:

• Investing time in targeting the future talent needs of the organi¬zation as part of business strategy even in times of economic downturn
• In identifying talent, discussing the issue of 'talent' openly. Employers with strong talent management practices and who commu¬nicate openly are perceived by their employees as having stronger and more effective leadership.
• Being prepared to selectively invest in talent development. Research by consultants Hewitt suggests that most companies invest 100-300 per cent more on high potentials than on the rest of their employee base.
• Encouraging senior leaders to spend quality time with high performing people and to participate in some of the activities.

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