Opinion

The year ahead: What's the story for talent management in 2010

Raj Tulsiani , 21 Dec 2009

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The recession has changed the talent management landscape in the UK. Organisations have faced so many challenges just keeping above water that it's been difficult to focus on proactive talent management. In fact, with staff reductions widespread across nearly all sectors, it's fair to say that the talent agenda has been treading water for 12 months, in all but the most robust of organisations. That may sound controversial, but think of it this way: hundreds of thousands of people have been made redundant in the last year - were ALL of those people lacking talent? Not a chance - there's no doubt that the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater in a lot of organisations. It was simply a case of "when needs must".

While a lot of organisations have damaged their employer brands, and therefore harmed their ability to successfully manage and retain high potential people, talent management still has a place in the new normal - and there are some positives.

One of the key changes we've noticed during and immediately following the recession is that employees are more likely to be "sticky" in their current roles. They are more reluctant to leave stable positions for new roles than they were in the past, because there is so much uncertainty in the market. I imagine there were people who joined Lehman Brothers in the months immediately prior to its demise - a very tough lesson to have to learn. The prevailing feeling is that "it's better the devil you know".

Further reading

That "loyalty" (and it is a strange kind of loyalty) creates a distinct talent management opportunity for employers. That stickability won't last forever, but in the next 12 months there is the opportunity to "lock people in" with assertive talent management strategies.  People do forget tough times, and even in situations where they perceive that their former colleagues have been treated badly, there is a chance to win back their trust. It's about building talent into the fabric of the new organisation as we emerge from the recession. You could write a book about how that could be achieved, but in short, you need to give them positive projects that build their ownership of the company's future. Those interesting challenges, linked with the opportunity to enhance or broaden their skill sets, are a powerful way to motivate and engage.

During my 15 years working in the recruitment of senior people, I've observed that far too many employers tend to place too much emphasis on money when they are looking to retain and talent manage their best people, or attract new talent. There is no question that money is important - senior people don't generally willing leave a position for less money, even if the new role it offers exceptional challenges and fulfilment. But, similarly, they don't often leave an organisation solely on the basis of a huge salary increase. They typically leave because they feel they have come to the end of their development in the organisation, and have nothing left to learn and nothing new to give. In fact, one of the most common reasons I find people leave their roles is that they say, "I've been there too long". Junior people saying that generally mean they're fed up with politics and the people they don't get on with, but senior people generally mean is that it's no longer challenging and exciting, and they're no longer progressing in their careers or feel they are falling behind their peers.

Talented people are ambitious, and there's nothing like a feeling of career inertia to get them into the job market.

The recession has probably accentuated that feeling for a lot of talented people who were retained through the tough times, but were lumbered with tiresome responsibilities as headcount reduced and more and more fell into their remit. The talent management challenge is to engage with your talented people, and find out what career opportunities they're looking for. Can you provide them compelling challenges that mesh them into the new business going forward? Often, it doesn't take a drastic role change to revitalise your top talent - it might only require you to be flexible in allowing them to contribute to new projects that will either build their skills in a new direction, or provide them an opportunity for "advancement" - working on a project that has a particular relevant to them personally.

Memories are short, and when we genuinely emerge from the shadow of the recession, there is still the opportunity for talent managers to play a vital role in retaining - and maximising the performance of - talented employees.

Raj Tulsiani, CEO Green Park Interim & Executive Resourcing

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