Developing an Organisation's Top Talents

Published on 18th April 2011

Smart organizations know the returns on persistent investment in and management of top talents: a comfortable edge over their competitors and consistent contribution toward their success and longevity. No surprise that even during bad economic periods, such organizations still continue to invest in top-talent search and recruitment by capitalizing on declining wages and salaries in the labor market.

Excellent examples of organizations that create, develop and manage their great talents can be found in any industry; large, medium, small or nimble organization; any form of organizational structure; any governmental, private or non-governmental organization; or any geographic location. However, such examples tend to be a very small subset of the universe of global organizations.

When correctly woven together, the creation, development and management of great talents in an organization can be quite rewarding: gains in productivity, cost savings, increases in revenue and profits, increase in new innovations, new patents, talent retention, increases in career choices and development, employee satisfaction, increase in employee loyalty, and diversity of leadership and other skill sets.

Is your organization one of the privileged few that has correctly put together great talents? If not, how can you create, develop and manage your pool of uniquely talented employees?

If you are the CEO, Chief Learning Officer (CLO), senior executive in charge of Human Resources, organizational development executive, workforce development executive, developer of enterprise strategy, a member of the Board of Directors, or have some influence particularly with respect to human resources decision-making process of your organization, you need to critically look inward and consider the following questions if you aspire to unleash hidden or not-yet recognizable talents of the greatest assets of your organization, its employees:

Can a randomly selected small sample of your employees confidently say that at work, they have the opportunity to do what they know and do best everyday? Is your current pool of employees encouraged, supported, and stayed with by their supervisors, managers, project teams, mentors and colleagues to help a subset of them unleash, develop and manage talents that are hidden or unused? Does your organization proactively look in-house, outside or both for talented employees with strong potentials to energize and take the company to new frontiers and who can provide the right leadership and skill sets for identifying and managing new and untapped markets, new businesses, new products and services, new processes, new technologies, new areas of specialty, new innovations and patents, strategic alliances and partnerships, new policies, and new R&D activities? Do your management team and Board of Directors have the passion, doggedness, nerve and good sense to provide an enabling environment for creating, developing and managing talented employees?

If your responses to most of these questions are not affirmative, your organization needs to get started with the business and hard-work of getting its employees there. At the end, your firm would become a member of a rare club whose membership includes global companies like Google, Cisco Systems, Baxter Labs, HP and Apple.

New start-up firms can quickly become members of this elite club in a short time especially if their recruitment exercises are still in early stages; their limited financial resources still permit top-talent search and recruitment exercises, and if their management team and Board of Directors have the required strength of character and temerity to initiate talent search rather quickly and also begin serious work on employee talent development and management.

However, new start-ups tend to focus more on the task of sourcing for working capital than on the issue of top-talent recruitment. Oftentimes, there is no access to additional bank loans at the beginning stage of a start-up firm. Therefore, the need for substantial working capital may force its founders and other key employees to make more financial sacrifices for the sake of survival and building owners’ equity in the new company through additional personal investment, forgoing of initial salaries, and introduction of substantial pay cuts or meager stipends for a temporary period. Unless top talents are already there at the early stage of a start-up firm’s development, which often happens when top talents from one or more companies form a new company, start-up firms tend to be financially constrained to commit to an early recruitment of top talents.

Next, existing organizations that are nimble and flexible can also become members of this club over a short period of time provided their management team and Board of Directors nurse the same aspiration and have the passion, doggedness, nerve and good sense to make their dream come true.

However, for older organizations that are locked into an earlier time zone or set in their old, slow and regimented ways of doing business, it would likely take much longer or forever to join the elite club of organizations that pay serious attention to top-talent search, recruitment, development and management. Unless drastic changes are introduced, such as a new management team comprised of mostly outsiders and perhaps an infusion of new and proactive board members with the will and tenacity to change things, becoming a member of this club may be an exercise in futility.

So, how can your organization proactively look in-house, outside or both for talented employees with strong potentials to energize and take the company to new frontiers? How can your organization identify, invest in, develop and manage talented employees with the right leadership and desired skill sets that are needed for successful diversification into new markets, new businesses, new technologies, new areas of specialty, and new innovations?

Ten simple steps your organization should take

1. Learning Organization

Create a learning organization where the desire to learn new things thrives, the urge to think out of the box prospers, the aspiration to examine ideas from different perspectives is limitless, the predisposition to exchange ideas flourishes, and the propensity to dream of a brighter future is never challenged. Simply put, turn your organization into a place where learning is fun.

2. Well-Rounded Talent Program

Create and manage the talents in your organization through a well-rounded talent program that covers recruitment and retention, learning and development, assessment and evaluation, performance management, compensation and benefits, and succession planning.

3. Institutionalization of the Program

To successfully institutionalize your talent program, recruit proactive, optimistic, respectable and passionate individuals in and outside your organization to promote and implement them. Enlisted promoters, ambassadors and implementers of the program may include HR managers, supervisors, unit managers, unit heads, mentors, trainers, trainers of trainers, coaches, change agents, alumni of the program currently in top management, board members, outside consultants, role models, and even retirees who still have a stake or relentless interest in moving your company in the right direction.

4. Enabling Environment

Create an enabling environment for discovering or uncovering the unique talents of your employees, as well as an environment where employee talents and contributions are regularly encouraged, recognized, spotlighted, appreciated, and rewarded.

5. Roles and Opportunities

Create roles, responsibilities and opportunities for your talented employees to use their talents and skills. Encourage them to take their talents and skills to expert level through regular practice and their proactive search for and involvement in advanced and challenging on-the-job projects and assignments.

6. The Right Opportunities, Stage and Audience

As part of their learning and development process, offer your talented employees the right opportunities, the right stage, and the right audience. For example, working on finding creative solutions to social problems in your host community, real business problems, new business developments, and start-up projects will help them sharpen their skill sets on the job.

7. Investment in Skill Development

Invest in leadership, strategic management and team development courses for your top talents and top performers from every function, work group, geography and age group.

8. Investment in Professional Development

Invest in a self-directed study program in which employees planning to take professional exams enroll after satisfying specific requirements of the study program. Encourage your employees to take professional exams such as CPA exams, actuarial exams and CFA exams by offering study days, based on a formula, to employees in the program who are preparing for their professional exams. To do more, the company may pay for required books for the exams, as well as review classes prior to the exam. To save cost and time, the company may arrange for review classes in-house. Reward the employees who pass their exams with cash bonuses and/or automatic salary increases.

9. Communication of Talent Program

On a regular basis, communicate the importance of your talent program to all employees. Emphasize its success in order to attract more employees into the program. Highlight what alumni of the program did accomplish or what they currently do for your organization, such as the right leadership skills; CEO, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Actuary, Chief Accountant and Chief Learning Officer; and heads of new ventures, new markets, new investments, Human Resources, Corporate Services, Administration, and R&D activities. Communicate how the program has helped in your succession planning for key positions, especially when vacant positions are filled internally by top talents in your program.

10. Review of Talent Program

Review your talent program every two to three years and analyze its impact on your company’s bottom-line in both quantitative and qualitative terms. Reviews are necessary for identifying specific activities of the talent program that work, those that need improvements, and those to phase out.

Traps to avoid

Avoid the temptation to include in the talent development and management programs likeable and favorite employees who are neither talented nor ready to add value to anything worthwhile. Some of the top performers in your organization may not be as friendly as your likeable and favorite employees, since this is not a beauty or popularity contest, but they are the real talents you will rely on to direct your company’s future and survival. Similarly, avoid the temptation to introduce a quota system into the selection criteria and process because it defeats the meritocracy of talent discovery. Top talents are not confined to a single race, people, creed, religion or gender. Diversify your search for and recruitment of top talents without the introduction of a quota-based bias.

In considering who to recruit as promoters and ambassadors of your talent program, avoid enlisting current employees, board members or retirees who have not fully bought into the program because they will neither be optimistic about the program’s prospects nor be passionate about selling the value adding benefits of the program. Their negative actions may create a stumbling block or may eventually contribute to the discontinuation of the program.

Instead, get your talented employees excited by nudging and encouraging them to take their talents and skills to expert level. Create sufficient roles and areas of responsibility and best fit for the application of their talents as a means of minimizing boredom or loss of zeal. These efforts require collaboration with and cooperation of their supervisors, unit managers and unit heads, particularly with respect to assigning them more advanced and challenging projects based on their level of expertise and comfort level. To advance their careers, talented employees also need to work with their supervisors, unit managers, unit heads, mentors, trainers and coaches in their quest for the right opportunities.

As CEO, senior executive in charge of Human Resources, Chief Learning Officer, or an influential member of the Board of Directors of your organization, you must weigh the costs and potential challenges against the tremendous benefits and rewards of instituting a talent program in your organization. Clearly, most bets are in favor of multiple years of tremendous benefits and rewards. Your decision now on whether or not to invest in the development of top talents in your organization would determine whether or not your company’s future survival is assured.

By Femi O. Odulana

The author is a Fellow of the Conference of Consulting Actuaries (FCA) and author of Pension Reforms in Nigeria: A Guide to the Implementation and Operation of Pension Reform Act 2004.


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