· 2 min read · Features

Has the public sector got talent? Does it know how to nurture the Susan Boyles in its midst?


Is it a surprise that many in the public sector see talent management as a tactic to give downsizing an air of respectability? The irony is, if an organisation just wants to lose numbers, there are more credible ways than investing time and money in ‘talent management’.

It is simple to downsize a workforce, but much more complex to develop the effectiveness of that workforce, to achieve more for less.

A report by Ashridge Consulting in 2008, Public Sector Talent Management, outlined a number of steps for public sector leaders to implement, but too little has been done to meet the challenge of the economy. Without a strategic plan, spectacular downsizing is often senior management's only option for reducing a budget.

Leaders capable of nurturing talent remain rare, particularly in the public sector. 'More for less' predominates, but what actually does it mean? It should mean organisational re-design, delivery of services in partnership with other providers, pooling resources, becoming commissioners of services rather than providers and looking at a completely different skill set for leaders.

The CMI-Penna report, The Business Benefits of Management and Leadership Development, showed a clear link between organisational performance and management abilities, with 61% of managers in low-performing firms deeming senior managers ineffective, compared to 20% in high-performing organisations.

Traditional workforce plans that focus on staff numbers and skills cannot be the roadmap to plan for the future. Public sector bodies need to start with an effective talent management strategy, a plan that focuses on bringing on the next generation of effective managers, leaders and staff.

It is vital employees can?see how the focus on talent management will provide them with the opportunity?for job development, enabling them to realise aspirations. The strategy must focus on the 5% of staff with highest potential and aspirations to progress through several tiers within a decade. An effective HR team must be confident it has the skills to put an infrastructure together to support this. HRDs must challenge themselves on how they build their teams and their talent. This will require advanced qualifications.

In the CMI study, The Value of Management and Leadership Qualifications, 90% of 1,195 managers surveyed said a qualification improved their performance at work, with 81% stating they were able to pass on skills to others and 79% saying it improved performance of their team. Has the public sector considered the skills current managers hold and whether they hold true for today's priorities? Do they have the capability to manage with reducing budgets and have they ensured staff have the skills and knowledge for today's changing roles?

The need to improve productivity and the effectiveness of leaders does not have a start date, it has always been with us. Talent management means identifying X Factor finalists in your midst - finding out what people have achieved, outside work as well as within, finding ways of supporting people to apply these skills. It means being clear about the role requirements of the future, and selecting recruits to match.

Is the focus on such development forming the majority of their work? If not, I have two questions. Has the public sector got talent? Does it know how to nurture the Susan Boyles in its midst, or will they need to go elsewhere before their talents are uncovered?

Jabbar Sardar is director of human resources and organisational development at Cafcass (Children and Family Court advisory and Support Service), a non-departmental public body