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Aspen Opinion

The growing importance of talent management

09 November 2011

As the war for talent intensifies, it has never been more vital to nurture in-house potential, writes Carole Barlow, Group HR Director.

Talent management is not something we have traditionally excelled at as an industry but, with the impending retirement of many of the baby-boomer generation, it is something we are all going to have to take more and more seriously.

After all, the number of 35-44-year-olds in the population is set to fall over the next decade and, as this age group makes up the engine room of many companies, grooming staff internally to take on additional responsibilities will never have been more important.

'It is all too easy for managers to dismiss the findings of psychologists if they do not share their own point of view on a particular candidate'

In the past, most firms were happy to rely on managers’ assessment of their junior colleagues’ track records or performance in their existing role when it came to promoting people. More recently, a policy of fully out-sourcing assessment of future potential to consultant psychologists has grown in popularity among HR departments.

But neither practice is ideal. With the latter, for example, it is all too easy for managers to dismiss the findings of external consultants if they do not share their own point of view on a particular candidate.

When we looked at our own succession planning a few years ago, we analysed the critical senior roles across the organisation, and positions requiring rare skills set that would be expensive to replace. We then reviewed our internal talent; who we had in terms of emergency cover should a particular person leave and who was coming down the talent pipeline within the next three to four years. 

It emerged that we were not always entirely sure who could step up to the plate and so we started to objectively assess people with a view to reviewing their suitability to be good leaders in the future, and to help individuals focus on their own development and career planning

After all, you may have high performers with potential who have no interest in entering management.

We introduced a one-day development workshop in which candidates would undertake  a series of exercises and be assessed by a high-powered group of assessors, including members of the group executive committee, HR and a business psychologist.

We would then play back their strengths and development needs and provide support for their development plans in order to progress. In addition, we might recommend appropriate coaching, training or senior mentoring. It has made us more objective in how we identify high-potential people and helped employees focus on their specific development areas

Our senior leader development programme has now been going for over two years and 50 people nominated to attend by group executives have been through it. We have a similar programme for emerging talent and around 60 people have attended that globally, including colleagues from the UK, US and Bermuda.

Such schemes have a high degree of buy-in from our main stakeholders and will only become more important as time goes by.

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