Purposeful Talent Management

The whole of chapter eight in “Designing the Purposeful Organization, how to inspire business performance beyond boundaries” is devoted to Talent Management.  Amongst other things, when it comes to developing a Purposeful Talent Management Strategy, we advocate an eight-step approach which is summarised below:

Eight steps to purposeful talent management (summary):

  1. Direction – consider the direction of the business or part of the business – make sure you fully understand its purpose and vision.
  2. Philosophy – in the light of this direction, work out what you believe about talent that will support its delivery.  In particular, state whether you believe everyone has talent and what balance should be achieved between securing competence and supporting people playing to their strengths.
  3. Process – test all the people-related processes against your new philosophy.  Do they work or not?
  4. Plan – as a result of testing existing process against the newly affirmed philosophy, establish a plan of action that will (a) bring alignment of process and (b) bring cultural alignment by including the remaining steps in this sequence.
  5. Communicate – now there is a plan, it can be communicated confidently.  Communicating before having a reasonable plan only causes confusion.
  6. Leadership – the cultural change really kicks in when leaders begin to recognize, value, develop and use their own strengths and subsequently those of others.
  7. Teamwork – the talent centred culture goes a step further when all teams have had the opportunity to engage with a compelling and co-created future and to work out how to play to their strengths in its delivery.
  8. Review – like all good processes, there should be review at the completion of each stage and probably on an annual basis.

For each of the above steps, there is a bit more granularity below:

Step one – Direction

Direction, especially a sense of purpose and a shared vision is a major source of talent ignition.  Also, the direction of the business will affect the philosophy greatly as well as the actual talents required to deliver it.  This is another reason why the business vision is so important.  Without a good look ahead, how can we possibly know what is required in terms of talent?

For the designer of the purposeful organization or the talent manager, talking direction with the senior leaders of the organization also shows concern for the things that matter.  This is not about implementing talent management because it is fashionable.  It is about doing so because it is essential for the efficient delivery of purpose.  Having these conversations with leaders also warms them up to exploring philosophy which might otherwise seem like navel-gazing.

Step two – Philosophy

Having just engaged with the purpose and direction of the organization, it becomes inspiring to discuss thoughts on the talent that will deliver it.  I am sometimes asked to interview leaders in order to support this dialogue but I may well choose to avoid words like philosophy which wouldn’t be in the corporate lexicon.

Having just spoken about the direction of the organization, it is a natural next step to ask the leader about the implications their stated direction will have for talent.   They may wish to specifically talk about new talent needs and how this might affect recruitment.  They may affirm that existing people will need new skills or mastery of existing skills.  They may be concerned with the loss of key people and the need to retain them or establish robust succession plans.  At some point, if it doesn’t arise naturally, there may need to be a prompt to find out whether the leader believes everyone has talent and the implications of this.  I actually haven’t yet spoken to a leader of any substance who didn’t believe that everyone has talent.  Similarly in exploring the subject of competence, most leaders acknowledge the need to prevent costly mistakes but also stress how vital it is to play to strengths.  Capturing these affirmations is essential.

Video-recording such interviews is priceless.  Even better is getting the views of all members of the senior leadership team and editing them into a single compelling montage that will anchor the talent strategy.

Step three – Process

Auditing the talent processes of the organization, what they say and how they are used seems like a big task.  But invariably senior leaders or people professionals will know these at headline level and will identify where they support the philosophy and where they don’t.  Nevertheless, reference to the appropriate documents is worthwhile and will provide the evidence for putting together a plan.  Key policies to look at will include those that make up the talent pipeline (anything to do with): recruitment, appointment, induction or on-boarding, learning and development, performance appraisal and management, reward, succession, career planning etc, right through to retirement.  In addition, examine anything to do with culture, equal opportunities, teamwork and communications.

Step four – Plan

The talent policy audit will inform what will go into the talent plan or strategy from a process perspective.  However, as conveyed in Designing the Purposeful Organization, process change will not work effectively without a corresponding and supportive shift in culture.  Chapter five on character affirms that culture is a significant driver of change and that culture is greatly affected by leadership and what goes on in teams.  So as well as the audit, it is worth adding the remaining steps (below) of our eight-step process to attend to the required culture shift.

Step five – Communication

This fifth of the eight steps to a progressive talent strategy is communication.  First of all, this informs people and begins to pave the way for making things happen.  In most cases, company-wide communication should really only begin once the plan has been formed.  Communicating too early will only create problems and unhelpful noise.

As well as communicating the plan, there needs to be regular communication regarding its delivery.   In this respect, it is worth creating a communications strategy that can be added to the talent plan described in step four.  This can be very creative.  For example, if you decide to embark on a programme of leadership development and team development as suggested below, why not appoint some internal journalists to investigate what happens and to celebrate the successes of those involved.  This all supports the establishment of a talent-centred culture.

Step six – Leadership

To me, this is the most exciting of all the steps.  When leaders become engaged in recognizing, valuing, developing and using their own talents in the delivery of purpose, amazing things begin to happen.  Even if no formal attention was given to team development as suggested below, I absolutely believe that every leader that understands the power of talent liberation will naturally want to do something for their teams.

This is so much so that when we initially work with leaders we ask them not to do this to their teams.  The reason is this, if they focus on liberating other people’s talents there is a real danger they will neglect their own.  To become good role models and great encouragers of team talent (when the time is right) they really need to first know what it feels like and experience first-hand the benefits of playing to their own strengths.

For this reason I like to provide leaders (ideally in the context of their leadership teams) the space and opportunity to really focus on the purpose and vision of their organization.  If they thoroughly understand the power of purpose as described in Designing the Purposeful Organization and can establish a vision that holds all stakeholder purposes in harmony and synergy, they can then begin to point their strengths in the direction of travel.  Even when leaders are working as a leadership team I encourage them as individuals to consider and share the answers to the following four questions:

  1. What does the future of this organization mean to me?
  2. What strengths do I personally bring to its delivery?
  3. What new commitment will I make to play to my strengths for the organization?
  4. What value will this add?

Step seven – Teamwork

As described above, once leaders have experienced the benefits of playing to their own strengths, they will naturally want to involve their people.  Of course, this can be done in one-on-one conversations and day-to-day dialogue where people simply get into the habit of noticing strengths in others (recognize) witnessing the value they add and encouraging further development and greater use.  However, when a team gets together to share the strengths they bring, have them affirmed by their team mates, and to make a concerted effort to work out how to play as a team, amazing things can happen.

In one leadership team I worked with, there were four field managers, all allegedly doing the same job but each (as might be expected) with their unique talents.  One was a super organiser and driver of performance, one had a great head for processes, one was a well-respected coach and the fourth was simply a great all-rounder.  The coach sticks in my mind for the fact that almost all the senior people in the organization had spent time with her.  They consequently became inspired and equipped for more senior roles.  These four ladies pooled their talents and shared what they had to offer across the wider group of people that worked for them.

Step eight – Review

Talent liberation, as I like to call it, is an amazing adventure for the organization as a whole and for each person within it.  Whilst I have been encouraging clients in this eight step strategy, I also know that the journey will have many twists and turns and many unexpected challenges.  For this reason, it is important to stop at appropriate times to see how the strategy is working.

In review, it is worth considering all the previous seven steps systematically.  For example, what have we learned about talent that might be used to update and refresh our philosophy?  Are our processes better aligned?  Are we progressing the plan in an appropriate manner?  What feedback have we had from our communications strategy and what are the implications?  How are our leaders responding to their development and are we celebrating their successes to motivate others?  What progress has been made in our teams?

Whilst I have every confidence that the eight steps to talent liberation described above are sensible and I’ve seen them working, I’m also sure there’s more that could be done.  In this respect, please don’t see this as a one-way process.  I’d like to know what you’re doing to liberate talent in your organization.  So please keep in touch especially as you review your strategy.

  • Clive Wilson, Director at Primeast