· 68 min read · Features

Talent Round-table dicussion

Published:

HR magazine held a round-table discussion to investigate the role talent is playing in a recession and the challenges faced by senior HR professionals, sponsored by Sum Total.

Attendees:
Peter Crush, Deputy Editor, HR Magazine
David Woods, Online Reporter, HR Magazine
Simon Haben, Head of Leadership and Talent Development, Royal Mail
Tim Walker Jones, Director of Talent, United Biscuits
Martin Nicolls, Head of Talent, AMEY
Chris Roebuck, Former Head of Talent Management, UBS
Tim Jones, HR Director, Aegis Media
Stuart Taylor, Senior Executive, Accenture's Talent and Organisation Performance Practice
Andrew McLellan, SumTotal Systems
Erik Finch from SumTotal Systems


Peter Crush

Once again, welcome.  For those of you that know HR Magazine, we are a monthly business title which writes exclusively on HR issues.  Everything from talent management, which is what we're here today about, to pensions, to training, development, learning and development.  All those sorts of things.

Really, the reason we wanted to do a roundtable today is to talk about the issue of talent management and how we manage talent during a recession.
 
Okay, so I will start now.  In case you don't know, the format of today, actually we are going to be recording it, as you see here today.  Everything that you say will be recorded by our stenographer.  If you want to say something that's off the record, that is perfectly fine for you to do that.  Just say "off the record", but do let us know when you want to come back on again.  We intend to write this up in our next issue as a sort of write up of the way our discussion has gone.  So really, my job is to be a sort of chairman of the discussion.
 
I am not really going to be too prescriptive about how things go.  I quite like the way things develop by themselves.  So if we go off in a particular direction, I am very happy for that to happen, as a sort of signal of the way that people think about this topic.
 
So if we go wildly off course, I will rein you back in again, but I don't think we will.

So the topic is talent management and for us at the magazine, we write a lot about this topic and a lot of commentators are saying that the way that the economic position is at the moment, it has even heightened the way that we should think about talent management.

So really, that is the sort of framework for today, is to discuss how talent should be managed and strategically sort of thought about, in the time of a downturn.  I have brought with me some stats, potentially by way of introduction.  One of the writers on the Harvard Business Review said that ignoring talent management now would be the start of a slippery slope and the tone that you set your business now will be the way that employees will remember you for the next ten years.  So people are saying that this is really important.

But if you look at some of the surveys which are being done on this subject, there are some worrying things, I think.  I am looking at a Talent Q survey that was done recently, and one of the key findings that we found here is that only a third of respondents said that they had adapted their talent management strategies to take account of the economic context.

So I thought we would probably maybe use that as an introduction.  I am quite interested to hear your views about whether this economic context that I have introduced does actually make any difference on what you do with your talent.  You know, should it just be business as normal?  Should the fact that we are in a recession change things?  I don't know what people's views are, so I thought we would kick off with that.  So fire away.
 


Martin Nicolls

I would say that in terms of the basic infrastructure, in terms of what we do, that shouldn't change.  It's about changing the sort of subtleties.  So for instance, at this point in time, what we are doing is focusing more on the road to the recovery and making sure that we know who our really good guys are. 

And that is business as per normal, I guess, but I think this just gives us the sort of chance to make sure that the basic infrastructure is in place, it is tight, we have got the data on it so that we are in a very good place in a year or two years' time.
But in terms of what we would    you know, that range of activities, that hasn't changed.


Peter Crush

Okay.



Tim Walker Jones

I think that's true.  I would say that our strategy, in terms of one of the core things that our talent strategy is going for, has not changed.  But I think you can't ignore the impact of the economic environment on the way you go about delivering some of those things; and some of the pressures that it creates in some areas, but also on the opportunities it creates in others.

And there are certainly some things which have become more difficult.  We were talking about this just before.  Enticing people to leave one organisation where they have a reasonable amount of service and they understand that organisation and the level of security they have in that position, to move to a new organisation where they might have less certainty, there might end up being less input, down to whatever it might be.  That can be a new challenge.  But on the other hand, we are doing our graduate recruitment at the moment and there is a wealth of really good graduate talent out there that you can get because other people are stopping their graduate programmes.

So I think there are certainly impacts and you have to look at how those impacts might change, how you do things and where your focus is on.  I think equally, you have to manage in real time.  As a business, we are probably not impacted as a sector, as much as some other people are, in the food sector and luckily people keep eating.  But on the other side of it, there's uncertainty around what's going to happen, going forward.  If there are 3.5 million consumers unemployed at the end of this year, that's going to affect the market.  You know, the consumer market.

So we have to manage that uncertainty and that means you have to be managing your costs in real time.  You have to keep investing, but you have to look at how you do that and how you maximise the opportunities.  So I think it does not change the strategy, but it certainly means that you should be reviewing what you are doing and how you might do things slightly differently, and also what opportunities are thrown up.  Because there are definitely as many opportunities as there are pressures in the   
 


Chris Roebuck

Yes.  It has certainly been a reality check for every organisation.  In terms of impact, I think that's a factor that is related to the industry, to the impact of the credit crunch on that particular industry.  It is also a factor that is directly related to the CEO and his response to a HR and his understanding of HR and what it can achieve or not achieve.  And it is a factor that is related to the response of the HR function.

And depending on what those are, from my looking at the situation, you can go from anywhere to where an organisation is potentially ramping up elements of its talent, to attract talent in for the upturn; to the other end of the scale where at one particular media company, the entire touting for Europe was made redundant, full stop.  We are not doing anything.  And everyone is somewhere on that spectrum in between.  And wherever you happen to be, I suppose it is a case of making the best that you can, where you happen to be, with who happens to be your CEO and what resources you have got left.  But the message is clearly, in any event, you know, you have basically got to do more with less and do it better.

Now, at one end of the scale, actually I think this is good, because if I look at certain organisations I can think of, they could quite easily take 25 per cent of their development programmes out of the system.  It would not make any difference at all to the effectiveness of the organisation; because it has just ballooned.  And these sort of times are quite useful when, dare I say it, HR functions get slightly out of control and start becoming empires.  Or am I being completely unfair?



Stuart Taylor

I guess my observation on this is through going round and speaking to particularly HR directors.  A common theme that we are hearing in the marketplace is "We can't get hold of the right skills in the right place".  That's a problem.  Some other organisations are saying to us that the shortage of talent is a potential constraint for their ability to grow, as things look forward.  And the shrewdest organisations at the moment are actually trying to talk about this economic environment that we are in at the moment, as something that potentially is a blip in the overall landscape, if you look back at the macro picture, rather than really focusing on their efforts and how they deal with the today issue. 

However, the today issue still has to be dealt with and to your specific question about "How should you change your strategy around dealing with talent?"  I think if we all look at our employee base at the moment, there are a lot of people out there today who are frankly really worried, worried about their jobs, worried about their own potential futures and careers, et cetera.  So that in itself creates a need for us to actually do something.

And I think there is a challenge for organisations at the moment, because the talent approach that some organisations adopt focuses on a top segment of the top talent, and other organisations have a slightly more integrated approach, and have a talent agenda that will actually deal with, let's say, going down to these line managers and all the way down to the individuals themselves. 

And I think also you find, if you take another cross section of that, some organisations do it across the enterprise and some organisations do it in an inconsistent way, but across the lines of business within the overall enterprise.  All of that creates some uncertainty because if you see something happening in a different part of the organisation that you are not yourself experiencing, then again it contributes to the uncertainty of the individual.

So I think those factors need to be taken account of when you are actually thinking about whether you should change your talent strategy at the moment.
 


Simon Haben

I think this is quite an interesting question, because I suppose I look at it in a fairly simple way.  I think that often there are talent processes core to an organisation.  There is a lot of value in maintaining consistency throughout the economic upturns and downturns, and at the same time everything seems to be changed.  So it is not the first time this question has been posed. 

And it is quite interesting to see how, when the question is posed, whether we are in an upturn or whether the economy is coming in the middle.  Actually I think constantly, people who are responsible for talent should be looking at the external environment and the internal environment and see what the match is between the two and how the talent strategy needs to alter, in some respects, to take account of that.  But as I said, I think it will always be a core thing.  I think it would be the other bits that, you know, would be more fluid and would change, depending on the business agenda at that time, and the business agenda might be influenced by a whole variety of things; whether it be economic, political, social or whatever.
 




Tim Jones

You see, we found, and potentially we may be seeing the impact of the recession more acutely than some of the other sectors represented here, which is advertising and media.  It is very visible, the impact, because advertisers typically are spending less.  And to pick up on your point, I think our clients definitely want more for less from our people.  And in reality our product, this is a commonly used phrase, isn't it?  "People are our greatest ..."  We don't have any product.  It is just people that we put in front of our clients.  So if anything for us, our talent agenda is of even more importance because we have to have the prudent steps that, in a lot of the other organisations, are taking place that this downturn presents; such as recruitment challenges.  We are hiring but they are only in key areas.  You know, potentially we are looking at more cost effective ways of retaining people as well.

So the work that we are doing on our high potentials and it isn't just a one brush approach that you were indicating to, for some organisations, we are trying to look at how important those people are for the future.  Because we know if we can get those people in key roles and grow and develop them, we are going to come out of it stronger than our competitors.  So I would say that it is still a massively important strategy, but it is probably for us of an even greater impact; if you get it right or if you get it wrong.
 


Peter Crush

Are you worried about any of these people leaving?  Because, you know, the word on the editorial street, I suppose, is that people aren't leaving, because there is no jobs for them to go to anyway.  So in a sense, you are not feeling challenged by the threat of people leaving?



Tim Jones

In some cases we are.  I mean, the industry typically has a high turnover; normally around 20, 25 per cent.  We've bucked the trend on that and at the moment this year, it is about seven.  So it just shows you that it is not completely disappeared, but it is still there.  It is where you have got very future focused roles, particularly in digital advertising or digital media, often people have been headhunted all the time, because there is a scarcity of resource.  In key strategic positions, they are too.  So it is not the same volume, but competitors have a phenomenal way of seeking out your best talent and I think our skill, on the talent or HR agenda, is actually finding ways that you can grow and retain them too.



Chris Roebuck

Yes.  Consistently, people have kept coming out with this argument that we don't need to worry about talent because there isn't anywhere for them to go.  To be blunt, it is complete garbage.  If you look at talent, be it that group of global talent in major consultancies, investments banks, whatever, they have the ability to still be headhunted and go wherever they want.  Within each national labour market, within each industry sector, whatever, there are a group of people who are known to be the best and they will always be headhunted or poached or approached by people. 

So actually the interesting thing is that this particular environment means that potentially, you have to put more effort into retaining those people because the competition is seeking to get hold of them from you even more.  You know, the example of Lehman Brothers.  People were saying"Lehman Brothers, there is going to be loads of people out there".  I can assure you that the top talent from Lehman Brothers had phone calls from particularly Barclays within hours of the announcement of Lehman Brothers going down.  So that particular comment, I think, is wrong.  Maybe for the mass of the employees it is more difficult to move, but not for the talent.  But that also leads into the thought about how talent leads to leadership, because one of the key things that seems to be happening in organisations now is that at all levels, there is a demand for good leadership from employees because of the period of uncertainty.  Therefore, they are looking to their line managers to give them some element of certainty, to be honest, even if the line managers can't.

As a result of that, I think one of the things that needs to be addressed is the fact that we need to keep developing these even more; because unless you have got the best leaders to motivate and inspire your people in tough times, then you have got a problem.  Because all sorts of things start falling to pieces: engagement, discretionary effort, et cetera, et cetera.  And that is not just about talent; that is about line managers all the way down.



Stuart Taylor

Going back to Tim's point actually, about the talent potential because I actually agree with what you are saying as well.  I think it is really important for us to actually invest in people at the moment.  But it is not just the top talent as well.  I think there is actually piece which is right down into the roots of our organisation.  There is a    well, I think any organisation that is comfortable with the fact that the churn is down at the moment is already deluded if they think that's positive.  Because once the market turns, we all know those figures and the movement will increase very significantly.  So therefore people themselves will remember how they were treated by the organisation when the decision eventually comes round.  I think that is very important for them.


Tim Walker Jones

Yes.  It is in these tough times that you show your true colours and your true values as an employer.  And as you say, people will remember that; and I think it is a mix, isn't it?  The fact is that for the best talent, at whatever level that is, there are always opportunities and so you have to manage that.  We choose to take a very broad definition of talent, not just focus on the top expertise or whatever.  Yes, you have to segment your population and you have to do specific interventions for your high potentials, for your senior leaders et cetera.  But you have to manage talent at all levels

And I think that this is    it is a risk and an opportunity at the moment.  You can always lose good people.  You can always create a memory and a history for the employees you have and how you treat them during these times.

I guess I come back to    I don't think your strategic goals change.  It is still about the identification, the selection, the development and a progression and retention of key performers.  It is still about, for us, the identification and development of, you know, key succession candidates in critical roles.  It is still about segmentation and investing in people based on actual and potential contribution.  Those strategic goals don't change but the things you need to do, and in some ways the importance of those things becomes more acute.

So the ability to segment your population and know who are the people that are most at risk of leaving, the ability to understand where you are going to spend what might now be a reduced budget.  And you have to focus that into particular populations.  Those talent processes that let you do that become more important and more acute in the current climate than maybe they were when there was more money sloshing around the system and you could deal with things in different ways: principally by pushing money towards it.  You have to be better at the basic processes now.







Martin Nicolls

Yes.  I guess that was my point, is that we also take a very broad approach towards this, because we don't just focus obviously on the top 100.  

But if I think forward to 18 months' time.  I mean, at this point in time, it is an easy thing for us to do, to get some really good grads in.  But I am thinking to 18 months' time when they have been through the programme: how can I keep them or do I just see that investment walk out the door?  So it is actually thinking complete differently about what we can do and ask yourself the question: what should we be doing differently in a year or two's time?
   


Chris Roebuck

There is some interesting data that came out from a number of surveys, that suggest that this time round, CEOs get the point just as much as HR get the point.  The Deloitte survey, dare I mention that name over lunch?  The comment was, "Three key things that CEOs are worried about: cutting costs, keeping customers, keeping talent".  Now, that talent thing wouldn't have been in there in the last recession.

So to a degree, the world of HR lives in is slightly easier because now CEOs are starting to get the talent concept and the risks that it contains.  I think CEOs actually sometimes see the talent processes more as a risk management process than they do a process by which people are made to be happier and better and get discretionary effort.  But if it gets the system working from our perspective, so be it.
 


Peter Crush

You almost pre empted what I was going to ask.  I was going to ask you actually, whether you feel you are more visible in your companies now than at any other point?
 


Tim Walker Jones

I think to some extent, that's true.  I guess it depends on    I guess it depends on the company you are in and the level to which there is, if you like, board buy in and engagement with the talent agenda; and that does vary from organisation to organisation.

I think talent management has always been a balance of the short term and the long term.  And maybe the difference now to where we were at the last recession is that there is more of an understanding that you cannot just focus on the short term; you have to keep that eye on the long term and that investment in order to make sure that you come out at the other end in the best possible position.  And CEOs learn, and shareholders and stakeholders learnt last time that those companies that kept focusing on the long term and investing in the right places came out of the recession strongest and did the best.  So we are in a different place now to where we were then, without a doubt.



Chris Roebuck

CEOs have learned that it is slightly embarrassing, in terms of talking to investors when you have senior roles within the organisation, particularly at the board level, that don't have anybody in them because they didn't think about succession planning.  It does not look good for them.  That is why there is a lot of interest in this side of the process.  We need to have people who fulfill roles at senior level.  I am not convinced that CEOs, as yet, really get the point about the development of talent at all levels in the organisation, to improve the performance at all levels.  I still think a lot of them are in this risk management mode.  Sorry, does anyone else think that?



Stuart Taylor

Yes, I think it varies by industry, actually.  Because last week I heard people from the retail industries, from the information management services industry and also from financial services, speaking all on the same platform and they definitely had a very different perspective on these things.  So the retail industry in particular were very much focused on the need to invest in talent, right down to the grassroots.  It's fundamentally important that people had the right culture, the right values and really let    because they have a workforce of, in this particular case, 125,000 people.  So therefore it was essential for the ongoing success of the organisation to really invest in people from top to bottom. 

But there are some organisations who definitely stood up and said, and in financial services ironically, where their focus is very clear.  They have cost constraints and therefore they have to be very focused on how they go about this.  But I think it varies.  That's really the point here.  It does vary by the industry.



Tim Jones

I think it does and I think it is a balance as well.  In most organisations, there's, to be brief, cost management and prudence going on.  But I think it's those CEOs that are actually using this as an opportunity to take a bold step.  So potentially, I think for some organisations and sectors, this recession has presented them with an opportunity of potentially being braver than they may have been before to take a step or a leap on the competitors. 

So I am finding, you know, to come back to the question, almost because talent is so central to the bold steps that we are looking to take, our seat at the table, from a business partner point of view, is probably stronger than it used to be.  That is not to say that it was inferior before but there is almost more of a demand on us, for the future itself stuff, as well as the prudence and cost management stuff at the same time.



Chris Roebuck

There is definitely a group of CEOs and HR guys out there who are looking at the current situation and saying "If we play this right, we are going to be ahead of our competitors"



Tim Walker Jones

Yes, without a doubt and it is the smart businesses that will do that.  And we know by looking at the last recession that is that that is what happened.  So I think there are more people in that smart camp now than used to be.  You can't ignore the pragmatic realism that in a number of sectors, you have to be managing costs and you might have to be doing that very tightly.  You know, we are in a sector and we are in a business where we are still growing, both top and bottom lines.  

So we don't have some of those pressures, but you still have to be continuously aware of the future and the fact that the future is uncertain; that the reality is that nobody at the moment knows exactly when this downturn is going to end.  You know, are we going to have a V shaped curve or it is it going to be a W and we will go back in?  Is there going to be a long stagnation, as happened in Japan?  All of those things are possible and that uncertainty means you have to keep an eye on the very short term and you have to manage in real time.  

But the winners will keep also managing for the long term; and ultimately business value comes from having a long term sustainable business and one of the key drivers of a long term sustainable business is sustainable talent.



Martin Nicolls

And growing your own talent base.



Tim Walker Jones

Growing your own talent is certainly cheaper and more effective than buying it in continuously.



Martin Nicolls

In some sectors.



Stuart Taylor

I think you pick up a really, really strong point.  I have been somewhat overwhelmed, actually, by the number of HR directors recently that have actually stood up and said what a really, really critical agenda item for us within HR now is to develop the talent and grow it from within the organisation.  And the argument that is typically put forward is: where do they put in people externally?  Of course, it creates a disruptive influence within the organisation which is sometimes positive, but those individuals typically then move on and they take a team of people with them; and the impact it makes to the pay and rewards side of things, as well,, it also creates a negative influence.  Whereas if they get people from within the organisation, you get the stewardship and the future growth, and therefore you get people who will understand the breadth of the organisation as well, as it develops.



Martin Nicolls

Yes.



Chris Roebuck

The failure statistics, in terms of senior people brought in, show that actually you are taking a risk by getting somebody in who has not been developed in the organisation.  And to a degree, it should be perceived as either a last resort or there has to be a justification for getting in somebody from outside.


Martin Nicolls

There's a similar point: a survey I saw a couple of years ago which said that out of the CEOs of the top 100 companies, about 60 per cent were home grown, so they knew their business, they knew that company, they knew those markets.  And you know, that's really, really good.  So I guess there is this higher risk factor about bringing others in and there's also   



Peter Crush

I interviewed the HR Director of DHL fairly recently and he is a strong advocate of developing internal talent.  In fact, he has got a target of 85 per cent of all of his top team coming from internal.  He is about 82.  He is doing okay, and he has come from 65 in a matter of two or three years.  And I just wondered: do you have a similar sort of targets in your organisations?



Tim Walker Jones

Yes.  I think for us, it's   



Peter Crush

What is yours?
 


Tim Walker Jones

I will keep it quiet, if that's okay.  But it's about balance, because you don't want 100 per cent internal progression, because it is really important that you bring in fresh ideas and fresh energy and experience from other organisations and other sectors.  You have to do that.

But equally, there's more risk of failure.  Anybody that you recruit externally is unproven in your organisation; whereas if you are moving people on in the right way and developing them in the right way, and promoting people with the potential to do the next job, not just to be good in their last job, then you have a track record.  You have a cultural fit.  And you are also engaging your wider population and giving them reasons to buy into your business and stay in your business, because you are showing them career development.  Ultimately that is one of the key things that are people are looking for in their career now, is to know that they are continuously learning and growing and getting new opportunities.  So it is a huge win in every possible way.  You have to get the balance right and you have to bring in a certain amount of new ideas and fresh energy into the business as well.



Simon Haben

We don't have targets, but I do notice that the more progressive managers and links in the business are the ones who are more keen to develop their talent, basically.  And I think about what kind of potential role they might be able to play in the future. 




Peter Crush

Do you reward your line management for growing their own, rather than    is that a part of their 360 appraisal?



Simon Haben

They do 360, but we don't link their reward to growing their own people, so we don't have that kind of thing.  What we do have is an increasing, I guess, presence through objectives, and so on, for managers to be able to    and encourage them to develop people and identify some of the talent and to really think back on how they can be supported to be in the right place for the future positions. 

So part of that, I think, is the organisation, you know, recognising that there is an awful lot of changes that we need to do; and yes, we can bring some external talent and that can be useful but it has to be placed, as has a lot of internal talent.  We have started to get much more robust about how we understand that talent and identify it, and how we then develop it; so we can make the right judgment calls on the balance between internal and external talents. 

And for us, a target would be a little bit arbitrary because, you know, it would be hard to say: exactly what scenario would you best be able to achieve that target?  So if you look at it from a very macro point of view over a period of two or three years, over one single year it would probably struggle to do that because it would depend on the circumstances that the business found itself in and the kind of talent that we might need to be able to adapt to those challenges.
 


Tim Walker Jones

Soft targets, rather than hard targets, is I think what you're looking at.  When you say a hard target, it becomes arbitrary.





Simon Haben

Which makes the link to the reward very hard.



Chris Roebuck

With certain top levels of high potentials, the achievement of their development objectives was included in the line managers' objectives for that year.  So that the line manager effectively had to commit to making sure that was achieved.  But that also, I think, leads into a number of issues where the current climate has created a risk for a talent; both from talking to the CEOs and also there's some data from actually CAS Business School saying that line managers are tending to go in different directions in terms of their response to the current downturn and how they handle their teams, i.e. and also talent.

Roughly about 30 per cent of them seem to be saying "We need to operate more effectively as a team, therefore I am going to be a better leader and talk to people more".  About another 30 per cent seem to be trying to avoid making a decision on the basis that "if I make a decision, it might go wrong and I will be in trouble".  Another 30 per cent are saying "I am going to make decisions, but I am then going to supervise my staff so closely that nothing can possibly go wrong".  I think there are a number of issues there about: if you have got talent that you want to keep, depending where those talent end up with the different line managers, what their potential response is going to be.  Because we can do whatever we want at a strategic level to tell these people how much we value them but their immediate feeling about how much value they are is related to their line manager, not to what the CEO says.



Peter Crush

Going back to my Talent Q survey.  I have put a big ring around the fact that HR and line managers are the people that implement talent strategies the most within organisations.  So they are important.



Tim Walker Jones

I think it is another great example of how, ultimately, so much comes back down to the line manager and the quality of your line managers; and the ability of line managers to manage people.  And the fact that as HR, what we can really focus on is making sure that they have the right tools and the right knowledge and the right understanding, but we can't and shouldn't be doing it for them.  And it's a great example of how the current climate has created or heightened something that we have been focusing on for a long time, which is the quality of our line managers.  Do they understand that they have the most significant impact on the engagement of their team?  Do they understand the leadership styles they use, the climate that they create and how that impacts the people around them?  All of those things.  Actually, it is no different again from how it was before the downturn, but it is again very acute in the current climate.



Peter Crush

How do you think they are responding to that challenge?



Chris Roebuck

There is a core issue here that I think goes back for years which is the degree to which your average line manager fully understands their responsibilities for the development of people, for the improvement of performance for people.  Because I think in many organisations, the division of responsibility, in terms of not only the development of talent but the development of everybody between the line manager, HR, the CEO and the individual themselves, is extremely blurred and extremely fuzzy.  And everybody tends to think that everybody else is doing it.  And until organisations actually say to line managers "Look, as a line manager we expect you to do this, this, this, this and this.  We will give you the tools to do it and help you to do it, but you will be measured on it."
 
One of the most interesting moments of my time at UBS was when we thought this was an issue and we got the top 500 of the bank together in Montreal in the Jazz Festival and the CEO said to them "I want to make it absolutely clear that it is your responsibility to be the main identifiers, motivators, developers and retainers of talent in this bank.  That is your responsibility you cannot abrogate and HR is only there to facilitate this process."

There were a lot of people who were looking around, thinking to themselves "Hang on, I didn't know I was completely responsible for this".  And there were subsequent discussions that made it absolutely clear that this did not relate to sending people on courses.  This related to developing people on the job.

And that's the issue.  I think a lot of people don't know



Martin Nicolls

It is the issue.  I would guess that we have all found, in either our current or former firms, but I am staggered that after 40 years of HR practices, that we still have this basic fundamental flaw that we don't tell a manager what his job role is. 


Chris Roebuck

I did some research.  In 1999    actually, two things.  In 2000 I was a member of an expert panel reporting to the government, looking at how leadership could be improved in British business, and it issued some recommendations and said that there was clearly a shortfall in basic leadership and management training in a lot of businesses.  I then subsequently did some research via an MBA student and I think she surveyed over 400 line managers in and around the City; not only financial services, but at all levels.  And the question posed was: have you at any point in your career ever had any development work on the following?  And it was time management and prioritisation, delegation, leadership, communicating with your team in terms of setting the objectives, giving feedback on the performance.

And the data came back.  49 per cent had time management and prioritisation.  I think it was about 28 per cent had leadership.  25 per cent had delegation.  18 per cent had performance management and 8 per cent had recognising stress in self or others and dealing with it.

What you are actually saying is: if you ignore the time management data, you are saying that only 25 per cent of line managers have actually got the skills that are required critically to do their job every day.  Now, if that's the case, there's a problem.  No matter what you do in terms putting in best talent strategy in the world, if these people can't understand what they have got to do, they don't have the skills to do it; they can't even get their employees to perform; let alone their high potentials. 



Tim Jones

What a prize, though.  What a prize to go after.  Because if you think that is the reality, we have all experienced it.  I know from my perspective, I had the same problem.  No education.  People were being promoted.

So what we tried to do was educate people.  It wasn't just about the technical skills, but the behaviour, the potential.  And we don't have specific targets on how many are internal.  What we do say is we need massively more talent to be coming in through internal streams, as well as external.  We always need that external element.  But for me, that is the prize that is worth really going for.  If you do get it right and help people understand the consequences of a wrong hire or a wrong appointment or a wrong promotion, versus the benefits of a positive one, it is just phenomenal and it always breeds itself. 
 


Martin Nicolls

I certainly agree.  This is what we should be doing every day, every year, every time, boom or bust.


Tim Walker Jones

Exactly.


Tim Jones

I have been doing that for nearly four years, so "yes" is the answer to that.



Tim Walker

Jones it is not about the current environment.  It is about what needs doing.  And too many businesses and we have all seen them, whether it is working in house, whether it is as a consultant, are still promoting people on the basis of being good in one job, not having the potential to do the next job.

There was a fantastic piece of work done at GE around what they called the "crossroads model" which looked at the crossroads at each of the core stages of someone's career and there's Ram Charan's book "Leadership Pipeline" that talked about it, and looking at the impact if you get some of those key transitions wrong.  And the fundamental first transition is the transition from managing yourself to managing other people.

And that's the point, I think, where so many people fail and it doesn't become apparent that they fail at that point.  It becomes apparent later on that they haven't made that mental switch that says "I am successful by ensuring that other people are successful and by getting things done through other people".  And you can survive as a line manager still pace setting, still leading from the front, still doing things yourself and not delegating and developing others.

But once you become a functional manager or a functional director or a business director, you can't do that.  Your scope is too great.  The natures of the people that you are working with are too great for you to be able to do that and we get failure happening in more senior levels because we don't make those initial first transitions and we don't help people to make those.  I think if we can get better at that and we can understand the mental shifts and the sorts of behaviours and competencies and potential that you need to be a great leader and to deliver success to people, then we can be much more successful in building our senior management population.



Simon Haben

I think that's definitely part of it.  I also think, and what we are increasingly doing and we are not 100 per cent of the way there, but some of the more senior people would agree here.  We are not only looking to fill the vacant role, but we are looking to see what might be a succession for that individual as well, be it external or internal.  So just looking at the role beyond that, that we are actually seeking to resource.  And that kind of messaging starts to really, you know, send a powerful signal to the organisation.  It is about developing people.  It is about the leadership potential.  It is not just about: have I got the right skills for that particular role?  It is an ongoing journey for people and a shift for us.  But an important one.

Chris Roebuck

It is interesting that of all the stuff, we did lots of stuff at UBS and it's part of the business case study on it, and all the rest of it.  One of the last things I did when I was there, we were looking at: why are we not getting all these high potential people doing quite as well as we expected?  And first of all, it was because we didn't think the line managers were fully engaged in the agenda, so we spent a lot of time getting the line managers engaged, by altering the psychological cost benefit analysis of doing talent.  And then    this sounds slightly bizarre.  We actually put in a basic line manager management and leadership course, focused on what you should be doing in terms of helping your people perform better and helping your people develop.  Because over the previous years, in a lot of parts of the organisation, these have been cancelled or taken out, due to them costing money. 

And it was interesting that the number of people who went on to that programme who actually came off saying "I now understand what I am supposed to be doing and I can now do it because I have the skills to do it".  And then subsequent to that, the responses of members of your team they spoke to say "Actually, I can perform better, I actually enjoy coming to work more because this particular person, my line manager, is actually making me perform better; in the sense of giving me the capability".  And it really goes back to just absolute basic common sense stuff, about organisations and training line managers up and that sort of stuff.



Peter Crush

These are the things that are precisely possible in this climate, potentially, is  



Chris Roebuck

I don't think you have to, because I think if you are slick and you can use internal resources.  We all know what the generic content of this stuff is.  It is really common sense, basic stuff.  If you get some really good internal faculty, senior line managers who you can persuade to act as faculty on a short, sharp totally business focussed programme to develop these skills, you can make it happen with virtually no external input whatsoever.
 


Stuart Taylor

You shouldn't actually have to persuade your people to do this.  You should actually be incorporating it as part of the responsibility, because each of us have actually just said: they have to have the responsibility to develop talent and develop people in the organisation.  That is part of the process.

Chris Roebuck

You have to be faculty on a programme or whatever.



Stuart Taylor

It's being able to share your own experiences and your own stories.  Part of the way to do that is spending time with people and it could actually be counseling or mentoring, or it can be through training courses.  I think at this time, I go back to actually what we said earlier, which is: at this point when it is so easy to become very insular and focus on yourself rather than your people, it really is a great time to make a positive impact by going out there and showing, at that sort of level, leadership and stewardship.



Tim Jones

If you talk about the retention piece there, as well, and you're saying "How do you retain talent?"  We found, again because of prudence, we are trying to manage our learning budget sensibly.  We are spending less more, but doing more training, because we are actually using internal people.



Tim Walker Jones

Exactly.



Tim Jones
 
When you can get people that are fantastic on their feet    which we have got quite a lot, because of the kind of roles that they are doing    the people that are outstanding at leadership or development and actually getting them to train our people; that is developmental for them, and actually I think it is more value adding to the people that they are training than rolling in people from outside.



Tim Walker Jones

And you are building capability in your business, not building it in some training consultancy.



Simon Haben

I think what we are doing is absolutely that: trying to increase some of the internal provision of some of our programmes now.  But at the same time, trying to balance that with more focus on the individuals, trying to see some of this internally themselves.  So increasing, I suppose, the focus on mentoring and poaching within the organisation; and really trying to think about how can people in their development plan generally think about not only the skills, but think about exposure and experience and other aspects that will help them develop, which will be over and above a programme covering the basics.  So, you know, it is looking at it more holistically from that perspective; a lot of which can be delivered internally, from a budget perspective, which for us is  



Peter Crush

Can I be slightly controversial?  I interviewed Ruth Spellman a while ago, who is the CEO of the Chartered Management Institute.  She was pretty fed up, actually, because she saw the increasing burden on line managers' shoulders as being something that she wasn't happy about her members experiencing.  And I was wondering: is it too easy to blame ineffectual line management for this?  Or is it part of your jobs, as head of talent, to be thinking about  


Simon Haben

It depends what she means by "burden", I suppose.



Peter Crush

I think she felt that it just wasn't their job to do that, but you seem to think it is.



Chris Roebuck

That is wrong.  That is complete rubbish, I am sorry.  I go back to my    and you can print that I said it is complete rubbish. 

Look, if I go back to the very dim and distant days of my career, I actually went through an organisation called the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and I wore funny green clothes for five years.  Now, one thing that taught me was that it is down to the leader, the line manager, to keep their team running.  If you look at John Adair's basic leadership model: team need, task need, individual need.  It is a very, very good way for any leader to think.  And if you look at the services and the way they achieve their objectives, you do not see people running round in Afghanistan with a big sign on their back saying "HR".  They don't have personnel officers running round, because the line manager does it.  Until we can get people in business to accept that that is part of the role of me as a line manager, then we are never going to get world class organisations.

Now it is not, as she is implying, dumping responsibility on them without giving the tools to deliver the goods.  That is the key point.  So we can't abrogate responsibility in HR. 

But everyone is involved.  The CEO has got to give an example, because if the CEO is not leading by example and their behaviour is conflicting with the message you are saying, people will do what the CEO does.  The fact that people have to think that this is a business agenda, not a HR agenda.  The fact that they are confident they have the skills and ability and support to do it.  The fact that there is a benefit to them.  You know, you get CEOs saying to people "You should do this because it is good for the organisation".  And yes, okay, it is good for me as a CEO, because if the organisation does well and the bottom line goes up, I will get lots of share options and a bonus.  For your middle manager and your lower first line manager, the CEO saying "Doing this is good for the organisation" does not hit the cost benefit spot at all.  They need to have some other driver.

But I have found that in any number of organisations, from the army through to not for profit through to others, if you get to speak to line managers, they want their people to perform well.  They want to perform well.  It's just that they haven't been told exactly what their responsibilities are, exactly how they can do it, in a simple business focussed way and they haven't been given the tools.  That is our job.



Tim Walker Jones

I think it is about partnership, isn't it?  It is not about us saying "This is all about bad line managers" and equally it is not about us saying "Actually, HR can come in and do this for you".  It is a partnership.  And if the business believes that the interventions will drive performance in those teams, then it is in everybody's interest to do it.  I think that it is about how is HR, and particularly as a talent function or as talent leaders, talent directors, whatever it might be in our organisations, how do we equip our business and have those conversations that help people understand the benefits of doing this so that they see it as important?  And also, how do we make it easy for them to do it? 

And I think one of the things that HR has not been good at in the past is creating a holistic, integrated way that managers can work with their people.  We are a function that tends to be very solid; so reward, talent, L&D, recruitment often all work separately and I think that is an area where we need to get our game much improved so that we make it easy for line managers to be great people managers, so that we have a common language, a common set of processes across all of these things.

So we are not telling them, from a talent side of things, that being collegiate and teamwork is the most important thing and then rewarding them for individual contribution.  We create, in businesses, a lot of inconsistencies and confusion for line managers, but we can get better at that.  But we shouldn't be doing it for them.

And I think what we don't want to see is enormous HR functions that are taking some of the line managers' jobs from them.  I would rather see more people on the front line and smaller HR functions, but with better managers who can delegate the doing, which frees up the time for them to be great leaders and great managers and worry about the development and all the other things.



Peter Crush

Some of the    maybe you can tell us what you offer to your line managers; how you offer it.  What tools you offer them.



Martin Nicolls

To do their job?



Peter Crush

Well, to do what we have been talking about.
 


Martin Nicolls
 
Well, the sector I'm in is mainly blue collar, so it is people that work on the roads and the railways.  And it is very simple; we have a job description which sets out the tasks and the competencies required for that job.  The recruiter creates that.  We have a performance management system.  We track the people who do it.  This is all very, very basic stuff

We have a shared service centre; so in terms of the contact with the line managers, that is fairly streamlined.  We have some talent tracker sort of practices in place where anyone can put their name forward for it.  It is not up to the manager to nominate someone; it is totally free.  And we have, on the back of the appraisal form, there is a needs identification for development needs; and we have a roster of external courses in place to do that.

So that is basic, basic, basic, basic stuff.  And there are some inconsistencies in how that is used, in different parts, and that is no different to any other company.  I think re jigging the chairs on the structure of how your HR area looks does not solve an awful lot.  I think it is on a much more practical, tactical level that things need to be done.  And I think in some cases, that's revisiting those very, very basic things.


Tim Walker Jones

In United Biscuits, we are upping our spend on developing our people; despite the current economic climate.  I mean, I think exactly as Martin said, it's about doing the basics really well.  And there isn't a need to be really clever here.  There is no rocket science.  It is doing the basics really well.  So we look to make sure that everybody absolutely understands what "good" looks like in their role, through competencies, through clarity, through line of sight.  If you don't know what "good" looks like, how can we expect you to deliver it?  I think that is a really important piece

We then look at a group of areas about: okay, if that is what "good" looks like, if that is what we need in terms of capability and talent to deliver the strategy, then how do we go about building that talent?  And we have processes around talent planning, in terms of talent mapping, identification of high potentials, in terms of segmentation of the population, succession planning, et cetera.  So some talent planning work.

And then two other streams.  One around learning and development so: okay, if we now know where the gaps are, how do we build that internally?  And that can be anything from NVQs that we offer across our factory floor population, right through to senior leadership programmes for people who we are expecting to make the jump from a functional leader to a business leader.  So comprehensive L&D.

And then the third piece around building your talent is around recruitment.  So if you cannot build it, you have to buy it in.  So how are you going to do that in a way where you are targeting the skill sets and the competencies and the fit that you need, and you do it in a way that works?

And then we have some processes which are around: how do we deploy that talent?  So if we've built the talent need, how do we deploy it?  That is around performance management, so making sure that everybody is clear on what we expect of them, how that aligns to the strategy; what is expected of the people above and below them; absolute clarity on that and that we are managing performance, because ultimately that is absolutely key.  Pieces around reward and recognition, so that we make sure that we are rewarding people and recognising the things that we need; not some arbitrary other list of things.  And then a piece around leadership.  And if we get those three right, then we are going to deploy the talent in the right place.  If we get all six of those levers right, then we will have an engaged set of employees who are going to deliver the discretionary effort that Chris was mentioning and will execute our strategy for us.

So for me, one of the things that I have been trying to drive in United Biscuits is: how do we bring all of those elements together in a holistic talent management approach?  And of course at the end of that, you have got    you are measuring it.  How do we measure each of those stages from that clarity of line of sight, right down to that level of engagement?  And I think that's the approach we are trying to take.  But at a practical level for line managers, it's the first line management programme.  So if you are going to start managing people in our business, we want you to go through the programme.  We are going to explain to you what being a manager in UB is about and what "good" looks like, so that you can do that.  Because if you don't know and you have never been a manager before, well, just giving you the job title is not going to cut it.

And then the other key intervention along that chain is at the end of the talent pipeline, where we are looking at a senior management programme which is around: how do I make the move from a functional leader to a business leader?  How do I stop making decisions based around technical and professional judgment and start making them around long term profitability?  How do I just stop managing people that do what I do within my area of specialism to dealing with much broader populations, external stakeholders et cetera?

So we are looking at supporting people in that line journey, at each of those key crossroads that people need to develop on.



Peter Crush

Do you think, guys    have you, hand on hearts, spotted new talent that was in your organisations that you wouldn't have done before, had the current economic climate not been here?  So i.e., because you are not recruiting maybe as much, you are actually interrogating your own talent pools, and talent systems harder and unearthing these people that might have passed  



Chris Roebuck

Two issues.  Better systems, but also the current climate.  Don't forget, optimal leadership in this climate may not be the same type of leadership as we had before, particularly if you look at financial services.  When times are good, a certain leadership style, you can get away with it.  But when times start getting bad, then actually it is a different type of leadership you need.  Is that fair?
 



Simon Haben

Yes, I think that's fair.  But if I could come back to the fact, I think we have got better at managing and developing talent per se.  And the economic climate is an influence, but it's not the only influence.  There are lots of other influences.  So all of those things combined, I think over the last year we have identified some talent we didn't know existed within the organisation, and it has been fantastic.  So there are people, more engaged, the executives are more engaged and demonstrably so.  Not just with words, but with actions at the same time; all of which I think is very positive, all of which is having quite a positive effect.  And so the economic climate is just an aspect of that, but it is certainly not the only driver.

And I think your point is absolutely right.  It comes back to, again: what is it that you need from some of your people in the economic climate now; and it is quite different from two or three years ago.  And your talent agenda will inevitably change.



Chris Roebuck

And that is very interesting.  Because, you know, talking to organisations and looking at some of the competency models that are being created, they are based on what was being done by leaders two, three, four years ago that was perceived as being optimum, are potentially actually looking for the wrong things in some cases, and that is very, very interesting.  Because I have always said to people, you know, "Think about, when you are looking for effective leaders, there are a number of core leadership capabilities that produce an effective leader, wherever they happen to be".  But if you start making it too sharp, in terms of focus, you are actually looking for a leader that works in one situation; not any situation.  And I think some organisations have got themselves into that.

And in terms of    you know, the terms of how people view development and what they should be doing, it is quite funny.  The Roffey Park survey last year, on one page it said that over 70 per cent of managers felt that their role in development was extremely important.  Ten pages down the report, over 50 per cent of middle managers and 76 per cent of first line managers said they felt they weren't being developed effectively.

So this is quite interesting, that psychological disconnect.  I think development is important for me, but can I be bothered to do it?




Simon Haben

And that is symptomatic, actually, of some research that we have done with Exeter University in Royal Mail; but also in other organisations as well.  
        
Chris Roebuck

It is the disconnect.  There is a disconnect somewhere, between    and you were saying about: we've got all the systems in, we have got the appraisal system, they are told what to do.  And suddenly magically, when they get into the working environment, they become disconnected from this "I know this is what I should do, rather than "actually this is what I am going to do".  And that is cultural.  It is cultural



Martin Nicolls

It seems to be common. 
 


Chris Roebuck

One of the things we found at UBS was that it was because there is an intellectual and logical understanding that they should be doing this, in terms of their role, and they know they are being appraised on it.  But what seems to happen is that they take a number of signals from other sources which is: what is the CEO doing?  What is my boss doing?  What are the people respective in this part of the business doing in terms of their behaviour?



Tim Walker Jones

The bonus.



Chris Roebuck

Yes, the comp and bens.  And how much pressure am I under to deliver the results?  It is interesting that all of that then flits back the basic leadership stuff.  Because going back to that time management thing; unless you can distinguish between what is urgent and important, urgent and not important, but the key one: not urgent, but important, i.e., maintaining the team, building the capability and all the rest of it.  Unless you can do that, you are inevitably going to be focussing on the stuff that is urgent but not important

And I think this is about the integrated approach to making    these people are thinking like a human being.  They are responding like a human being and you can't just give them one factor that will make them change their behaviour.  It has to be a total approach.  I think it's: we can help you do this, we can give you the tools to do this, the CEO is doing this, you can see he is doing this, your line manager is doing this, you can see he is doing this.  You are going to be rewarded on this.  There is a personal benefit for you to do this.  And then people, I think, start making the connection with "This is what I should be doing".


Stuart Taylor

There is the question as well about: are we identifying any new talent as a result of this economic climate, as well as this thing with tools?  I would just like to give you an observation from some of the things that we have seen, which is, you know, it goes beyond leadership in terms of some of the things I have seen which takes us down to, let's say, some of the most junior people; because we have different expectations of them and obviously we have very clear expectations of the people that are leaders.

In the services industry, what you tend to find is that people who are more junior, if they have actually got talent, they will be creative.  They will have an energy and enthusiasm.  They will have a productivity about them that sometimes you wouldn't necessarily get the opportunity to see, because of the peer group that they operate within, they all have a variety of different activities going on at any one time.  But in an economic situation where life is always a bit more difficult, the individuals that have still got that spark and that drive start to come to a fore; and as a result you do actually start to see some of the talent evolving.  They may not necessarily be doing all the right things that you would expect them to.  But it gives you an opportunity to start to highlight individuals who have potential and who you can start to think about how you can help position them to actually move forward, which I think is interesting.
 


Peter Crush

I think we have got a dessert course.  (Pause).

Tim, you had an amazing pearl of wisdom.



Tim Jones

I'm not sure it's a pearl of wisdom, but I think we have to take responsibility as a profession.  I think sometimes we over complicate the talent initiatives, so the agendas, whatever they may be, the frameworks, that prevent us and our managers spotting a talent.  And I think that's one of the big problems; if we do get into HR people over complicating things and detaching themselves from the business.  In my experience, the more you can partner the business and almost to get them to come up with these nimble frameworks that work for them, rather than what work for us, you have more chance of them using them.  I appreciate there are some psychological challenges, but actually if you can reward these people    I don't mean financial reward, but actually reward them and say "We are going to assess you on your potential and some of that potential is about your ability to grow and develop talent as well and you have more of an opportunity".  In my opinion anyway and experience, actually they will start to do it.  I think when you give them procedure manuals that are this and that, an inch thick, from the magazine's point of view, when it's that thick, they just use them as a doorstep.



Tim Walker Jones

Absolutely.



Chris Roebuck

And the interesting thing is that having spent some time in financial services with UBS, et cetera, people who have come from other industries have found the    how can I put this politely?    the honesty with which certain people within the hard end of the financial services give feedback in relation to HR, in terms of "Here is a competency thing, we want you to fill this framework out, it is going to take you about two hours or whatever".  The response of an FX trader is somewhat less than polite.

The point about that is what that does is, it actually forces people to have complete clarity about: why am I asking this person to do this job?  Because if I can't within five minutes or five slides explain why I am asking you to do it, what the business benefit is, what the benefit to you is, how long it is going to take and what is going to happen as a result, then I shouldn't even be talking to you.  And that, I think, if only everybody in HR had that discipline when approaching the business, the business would be much more happy to give us a place at the table; because then they feel we are business focussed.




Peter Crush

Something I haven't asked which I wanted to ask before we left, was: going back to the climate situation, it is all very well to have talent strategies, but when business roles aren't being created, have you got anything to move people into?  This is the problem, isn't it?  Or is it?
 


Chris Roebuck

It is always a problem.



Martin Nicolls

it is not just about roles, though.  You give them different levels of experience, so different parts of the business, a secondment.  It is a much broader range of options than just putting people in the next box up in the structure.



Tim Jones

And I think that is one of the problems with succession planning, though, because often the model looks at existing incumbents' roles and I think the brave decision is you actually say "What are our critical roles in the business moving forward, where the future is?"  Because it may be that a lot of your current critical roles are not important in the future.  When you understand what your future direction is and what roles you will then need, you can identify who the right people are and the skills to fulfill them, whether that is internal or external.



Stuart Taylor

And it's not just critical roles as well; it's actually critical skills.  Because if you listen to a lot of the things that people are saying at the moment, if you look at the workforces, there are some very big workforces in, say, the Telco marketplaces or let's say the media and digital industries.  These guys are recognising that even though they have big workforces, they need to keep evolving those, in order to keep up with the new technology.

The other point I just wanted to briefly make was: you were talking about working with the business, this point about future skills.  One of the things that we found which seemed to work very effectively is if you actually take a three year plan or a three year view of the business and actually look at the broader human capital strategy of the talent, the leadership, the culture, even the operating model and what have you, and try to holistically think through, for example, how that will help achieve the three year business plan, you start to engage in a different type of conversation because you do ask the questions about: what skills do I need?  Where am I going to source them? 

And then you tie it back to the context, for example, of: well, actually we know there are not enough graduates coming out of university today with the skills that we want, for example, in the UK.  So if that's not the case, where would you source them?  And that takes you to a question in your existing operating model and therefore it leads you down a different route as well, in terms of your end game.
 
So I think that human capital strategy is a very effective way of actually flushing out not just what you need to do, but also some strategic things as well.



Chris Roebuck

But In HR, we are bad at that.  If you have conversations with, for example, of somebody who is in charge of comp and bens and you say "What is the core objective of what you do?" and they will say "It is to provide comp and bens support".  It is not to incentivise people in such a way that they help the organisation    they perform better, so the organisation can perform better.  They don't think about it like that. 

And I got some people together and said: look, if we were to say that your key role is not to deliver your HR product, but to actually create an environment whereby people can perform at world class levels, would you do things differently?  And the answer came back from some of them: yes.  And that's, I think, the issue.  Sometimes we miss the point about what we are trying to achieve.  We start delivering the product, not start delivering something that makes a difference to the organisation.

And going back to the sort of hypo point in succession planning.  One of the things I always find amusing is CEOs start getting on this talent thing.  You know, "Talent, we have got hypos coming out of our ears" and all the rest of it.  Then you say "Where are we going to put them?  I mean, they have to go somewhere.  You can't just keep them hanging on."  And actually the "somewhere" has got a current post holder.  So if you have got somebody who is currently there who is not leaving, who is actually doing a pretty good job, how do you find the space to put the hypo in?  What do you do?  And I think there are a lot of issues about if you are going to create an environment where you are developing and giving your high potentials opportunities to move up, to take on further challenge, how you handle the people that are currently in the roles that might be considered as blockers?



Simon Haben

How do you handle it?



Chris Roebuck

A lot of sideways movement, some fairly flexible stuff about getting people to act as internal mentors.  You know, people who, for example, have come from a client    within private banking, come from a client facing role, who are now in a senior management role, who are then asked to go out and do more client facing work full time, as an sort of ambassador, that sort of stuff. 

But the key risk, I think, is that if you don't treat the people who are    sorry, if you don't move the hypo up, they are going to leave.  If you don't treat the person that moves out of the role that the hypo goes into well, they are going to leave; with consequent loss of organisational expertise, et cetera.  That is one of the elephants in the room that I have often brought up, when people are talking about: great, you know, we have got 150 hypos, and then you say: but how many roles have we got to put them in this year?  Oh, that's a different  





Martin Nicolls

It is actually trying to flex the role around the individual, because there are times when boxes on the org chart aren't going to match.



Simon Haben

The reason I asked the question is that it is often an argument put back.  You know, it's sometimes an argument put back by the line managers about why they develop this talent and then actually, there's only one of me, and you know, where do they go?  It is about looking at what those individuals could actually do, beyond the area that they are currently in, getting them to think about all that.  The holistic    it's how we try to do it.  But it is a different mindset.



Tim Walker Jones

It is.  And how you get people and managers to think about how they are building capability for the wider business, and not just for their own team and the success for their job.  It is absolutely key to doing that.



Chris Roebuck

Well, strategic projects and that sort of thing.  You can broadening the perspective.



Tim Walker Jones

Broadening people to be future general managers, rather than just waiting for dead men's' shoes, is obviously really important.  I think we faced exactly that thing where we were identifying too many high potentials; and telling them they were high potentials and then not being able to do things with them and creating expectations. 

And I think one of the changes that we are looking to make is to help our business to understand potential better and therefore to be able to discriminate what true high potential looks like, far more effectively; identify fewer truer high potentials.  And that could be from really basic stuff like: if you are not mobile, to some extent you limit your potential in this business and you take yourself out of the game.  Right through to actually understanding what potential is about and how you identify it.  But that has created two wins for us.

It's back to giving line managers what they want, rather than what we think they want, so we've helped them to identify potential and to have better quality conversations around that and understand it better.  But it has also meant that we now have a smaller pool of truer high potentials that we can more effectively manage and meet their expectations. 

And I think you have to look at it from both sides.  What is the expectation of a high potential and how you are going to manage that; and what is the need of the business and how you are going to fulfil that?  Because you can create a lot of expectations by telling someone they are a high potential, but it is then very difficult to fill if you can't manage them effectively.


Chris Roebuck

Well, the issue, in terms of why these things fail, the issue about transparency and communication is absolutely key.  Not only communication to the hypo as to why they are a hypo; equally communication to people who don't end up being hypos, as to why they are not a hypo and how they can have the opportunity to become a hypo in the future.  And the comment to the hypo that: look, if you develop your career properly, you are not likely to be a hypo at every single point in time during your career.  Because when you get promoted, you are unlikely to be performing at that level, in the next level up.

And you know, organisations have this    some CEOs have this headlong rush for: we must produce hypos.  And just to diverge: one situation I was in, a major organisation, sort of    was advising global spread.  And the comment was, "We have 3,200 hypos.  Great."  I said, "Okay.  So you have a group programme.  How many people do you feed through the group programme?  How many people do you feed through your business division programmes?  Fine."  Added it all up: 2,300.  So I said, "Actually, what you have got here is 900 hypos across the world who have just been told they are hypos, but get nothing for it.  Is that not a problem?"  And they hadn't worked it out.  No one had actually added the figures up.  So they said quickly "We will do some regional things, at least something".

This, at least, somehow epitomises that in some organisations, there is this rush to do this thing without thinking about the bigger picture.  How can I describe it?  It is like getting    for the CEO, talent management is like getting a jigsaw at Christmas.  He has got this nice picture on the front.  This is where he's going to rush off to.  This is going to be the perfect world.  When he puts the pieces on the table with the HRD, in the middle of the picture, there is the house or whatever.  That is easy to put together.  That is the really obvious basic component.  What we will do is we'll have some mentoring.  A few development programmes, a bit of coaching, et cetera.  A little bit of hypo identification.  But then it is the difficult bits around that create the framework for the picture, like the transparency, the communication, how you deal with people who are in those other roles, that a lot of CEOs aren't particularly bothered about and don't understand.  It is just the centre of the picture.  But if you miss those other components around the outside that make it work in practice and make it fair, you haven't got the whole picture.



Peter Crush

We have got two new guests.  I am sure as you have noticed, we have got new two people who have come.  Would you like to introduce themselves?  These are our two guests from Sum Total.



Andrew McLellan
 
My name is Andrew McLellan.  I am a business development director with Sum Total.  Who we are as an organisation: we hopefully enable people to have talent management strategies with our piece of technology.




Erik Finch

My name is Erik Finch.  I am a talent management specialist in Sum Total.  So we work with our clients to actually develop the programmes and implement these.



Peter Crush
 
I feel I want to bring you in.



Andrew McLellan

We should have been here.  Apologies.  



Peter Crush

So we have been talking about the question about whether you raise too many    you know, if you are doing talent management and you are raising expectations of people within organisations, whether    we are talking about, obviously in this current economic climate we are in, whether you have got the room in your company to facilitate that.  I don't know if you can jump in on that.  You have probably had a very short space of time to think about it.



Andrew McLellan

We have worked with a number of organisations, particularly one law firm, one of the largest in the world, which had an issue where lots of people were being told    I think this is the point that you made earlier    sorry, I don't know all your names, by the way.  Where they had a belief passed down from their managers that they were the rising star in the organisation.  But the reality was that they weren't, actually.  They found a lot of people became very disappointed with their careers.  They thought they were on this fast track, but unfortunately that fast track never appeared for them.  This is the sort of situation I have come across recently.
 
And also they found that there was a lot of deadwood within the organisation, but they couldn't sort out where that was.  Again, by looking at talent management strategies, they were able to identify all the people within the organisation that, you know, "I am sorry, your career now is not going to go anywhere".



Erik Finch

The big issue for them is all about consistency.  You have each manager determining what a high potential employee it.  How you get consistency within a region, and in this case they were global organisations.  How do you get consistency within the UK, versus within France, Germany, Hong Kong, et cetera?
 



Tim Walker Jones

I think you raised another really good point there, which is that talent management is not just about how you identify and manage your high potentials.  That is just one aspect of a holistic talent management approach, and it is as much about how you identify and then work out ways of managing and motivating the people who are great performers, but who have limited potential.  The people who you are going to need to keep driving the business forward and also to coach and mentor your high potentials as they come up and then ultimately go past them.

Also identifying the people who are poor performers or maybe who have skills that are no longer core in your business, and you need to be looking at your strategies for removing those people from your business or for finding new roles and developing new skills and re energising and motivating them.  And it is that holistic part of talent management which makes it, for me, a really interesting job and a really challenging job, but also that makes it successful.  Because if you just focus on your high potentials, actually you are focussing on 1, 2, 3, 4 per cent of your business.  You are not focusing on the engine room which is driving your business forward and you have to do that.



Chris Roebuck

In practical terms, if you have the top 5 per cent of your organisation performing at world class level, but the other 95 per cent, not knowing what they are doing, not knowing why they are doing it, not particularly wanting to do it; you are never going to be world class.  It is that core issue.  If I look at organisations, I can see organisations that are moving up the talent management road and they recognise they need to learn and they are trying to get things right.  There is also a number of organisations that have been doing it for a bit longer so who are, I describe them as the "strategic veneer" and they are doing exactly what you were saying.  They are focusing on the top 10 per cent rank wise, because they are the important people.  They are focusing on the top 10 per cent from middle management up performance wise, because they are the leaders of the future and that is what we should be doing.

And the HRD and the Chief Executive, because they are doing this, because they have got talent management    sorry, development programmes, because they have got some coaching, because they have got some mentoring, they think they have done it.  And there's this strategic veneer of self satisfaction that actually means that they are not taking their organisation forward. 

And then the next stage up is the point where the CEO and the HRD realise that unless everybody is on board, not just the high potentials, not just the senior management, that is the point, when the whole thing cascades down and is embedded and you are getting a 30 per cent discretionary effort from everybody 
 


Peter Crush

I asked a question.  We actually did some research with House Interactive(?) recently about whether they thought their company would describe them as talent.  And interestingly, it is what we call a "from the floor survey" where we actually ask employees this.  And doubtless to say, many of those people work in organisations where their HR people were saying: this is our talent.  But the picture from the floor is that people don't really feel like they are talent.  So I don't know whether that's  




Chris Roebuck

It is a very dangerous word.  It is extremely divisive, the use of the word "talent" in that environment.  Because if somebody is labeled "talent", it implicitly implies that people who don't have that label are not talented and that is totally unacceptable.  It is like the use of the word "hypo".  You have to be extremely careful because it implies that people who don't have that label don't have potential

Peter Crush

Surely if you call everyone "talented", if you say everyone has got talent   



Chris Roebuck

Ah.  Now, exactly.  This goes back to the point about: the strategy bit is easy.  The practicalities, the words that you say to people are so critical, but so complicated, and it is a case of: you are absolutely right.  We used to say: everybody in this organisation has talent.  They have the right to expect that talent to be developed by the organisation to the full.  But we recognise that at certain points in their career, there may be individuals who would benefit from accelerated development for a certain period of time and we are happy to give that.



Stuart Taylor

What other terminology are you hearing there, to describe this?  Or is there terminology or the way that things are presented?



Chris Roebuck

I think it is a case of using words such that the person feels that they are appreciated, but a set of words that does not then make people who are not having that applied to them feeling unappreciated.  And that is quite difficult.



Martin Nicolls

How about "human resource management"?



Stuart Taylor

That's horrible.



Martin Nicolls

That's what we call ourselves.



Chris Roebuck

"Human capital management".  Even better.



Martin Nicolls

I have just pointed out a bit of a contradiction.



Peter Crush

What do you think?



Andrew McLellan
 
From what I see, dealing with my customers, the issue really is how you get people involved within the process, in terms of actually drawing them in, almost from day 1 within the organisation, so they can see how they are fitting into an organisation's top level goals, through the division of the department and down, as part of the organisation.  The other piece to them is actually making sure as you are bringing those people on board through the organisation that each individual has some sort of development plan, because then they do involved in the organisation and do feel appreciated.  They can see themselves taking step by step growth within the organisation, shall we say.



Chris Roebuck

How many organisations here have line of sight from individual objectives to corporate objectives in the appraisal process?



Tim Walker Jones

We do it in United Biscuits.  We have what we call a "strategic architecture", if you like, where we start with the strategic objectives of the business and then that cascades down.



Chris Roebuck

I makes the point, but it is so basic in terms of where people see they fit in.  But there are so many organisations that are still not doing it.






Erik Finch

You have to be careful when you do it, though, because what happens is that if you have too many levels of cascading, you have a lot of dilution, don't you?   (All talk at once)





Chris Roebuck

How I fit into the bigger picture.  How I contribute.

Tim Jones

there has been some research done that when you do things around hypos, your point about an organisation that had more hypos than they were able to invest or develop in.  More often than not, a lot of the hypos leave and you are almost better to look at those around the    I am not saying you put a percentage on them, but the really strong performers who are around the 85 per cent, in terms of performance, that are actually the real solid ones that work and make a big difference.  Because ultimately everyone is talented.  In a lot of ways it is how we, as a business and organisation, how we harness people's talent.  I think we can focus too much on    too much focus at the top end, as we have been describing.  Because there are a lot of pitfalls in that.  A lot of egos, a lot of people who want progression which I don't think many organisations in the main get right and can harness those talents.  It is about getting the balance between the two.



Chris Roebuck

There is research that shows that the impact upon the organisation of a departure from that band you are talking about, not the top 10 per cent, but the sort of 70 to 90 per cent, the stalwart, the workforces that keep things running is actually as bad as losing a hypo.
 


Peter Crush

Can you bring in    you were about to say something.



Erik Finch

Yes, BP takes an interesting approach to it, actually.  What they do is the actually map out the high potentials but they also map them against the difficulty of the job.  So we can look at: is this person a high potential employee in a difficult job, versus a high potential employee in a very simple job?  And they also match that or overlay that with the impact that that job has on the organisation.  So not only identification of high potentials, but also high potentials who are exceeding in very difficult jobs that have a high impact on the organisation.  And they can also turn that around and they can look at where our low potentials are, low performing employees who are in those key jobs that are very difficult, not very easy to perform.  So you get some great data, if you will, and they can match up the high potentials with the different jobs.



Tim Walker Jones

We have done something similar at United Biscuits where we have started our line managers in rolling out some new talent processes which are holistic and are not just about those key individuals and those hypos; but understanding what our critical roles and critical skills and critical individuals are.  And the individuals should be short term; it shouldn't be a long term thing, but there are individuals in your business who hold key relationships or key proprietary knowledge or are doing key project roles that don't    that nobody else is doing at that time.  So what are the key roles?  What are the key skills?  What are the key individuals, having managed those?  And then also the second piece, looking at risk.  So looking at performance risk and also looking at legal risk.  And by looking at both of those things and bringing that into our talent management piece, then that's what enables us to do that in a way that is more meaningful.

And you are right; we don't want to be investing hugely in somebody who has a high likelihood of leaving in the near term.  But equally, if we can understand those risks, we might be able to turn around that person and stop them from leaving.  Understand what it is that they are not getting from us that might make them likely to leave and start to deal with those things.  So there is an element to which good talent management is about good risk management; that you have to get right in the mix.



Chris Roebuck

And it is about good communication.  Because I know of a major global organisation that had somebody down on a succession plan to go to India.  Brilliant succession plan.  They hadn't told him that he was going to India.  The role came up.  He was told he was going to India and the comment was, "No, I am not going to India.  My wife doesn't want to go to India.  My children don't want to go to India and if you make me go to India, I will leave."  It is about this communication thing, about what is expected.  I was at a conference a few days ago and everyone was  



Stuart Taylor

Did he leave, then?



Chris Roebuck

No, no.  He was earning too much money for them so they found him another job.  Such is the world of banking.
 
But I was at a conference a few days ago and we were talking about clear expectations and communications and all the rest of it, and people would be moaning about the fact that there were communication difficulties in organisations and they didn't understand what was happening in terms of talent, you know; it wasn't cascading.  And I just said: hang on.  Don't I recall that in the late 1970s/early 1980s, the industrial society created a concept called "team briefing" that allowed organisations to cascade messages effectively and consistently down the organisation, by line managers briefing their team on a regular basis about what was going on?  If that was 30 years ago, why are we still having difficulties communicating to our people about talent management, what it is all about, how they can get involved and to try and motivate them?  It goes back to the basics.
 


Tim Walker Jones

But also, I think it is about a two way conversation.  It is not about a one way information cascade.  Because what was missing in your example was that the fact that they had not had any conversation about somebody's aspirations or somebody's mobility.  You cannot do succession planning.  You cannot manage talent effectively if you are not having a two way conversation; because the role that you think is right for somebody  




Tim Jones

I have got to go guys.  See you later.


Tim Walker Jones

If that doesn't fit with the individual's aspirations then it is an irrelevance and you are wasting time and you are also creating a risk.  Because when that vacancy came up in India and they've been banking on this individual going and he said "no" or she said "no", then suddenly there is a risk because there is nobody else that is in the plan to go and do that role in India.



Simon Haben

The other side of that argument is that actually it can raise expectations so people might think that: I am on a succession plan, but this role within a certain timeframe, if I don't get it, I start to leave as well.  And actually by them not going, it might actually manage their expectations better.  And I also think that the succession plans don't have to have a single role in a single timeframe.



Chris Roebuck

You are absolutely right.  Absolutely right.  Yes.

Simon Haben

Keep it a bit more confidential and there is a fine line, I think.  There is a definite struggle both ways and we are having just to start to overcome some of the issues.



Chris Roebuck

It is about making people know that they are valued; but they are not valued for specifically what.  And also, the risk    you know, one organisation I worked with, absolute star performer at senior management level and everyone had done their succession plans and this worked beautifully.  The only problem was: when you put the different divisional succession plans together, this guy was up for seven roles.  You just think: hang on, you just need to talk to each other.



Simon Haben

But that is part of the role, I think.  In our organisation, part of the role for the talent focus is actually to spot where you have got those people on multiple roles.  You start to think: actually, is there a high risk here with this particular individual, all these roles that they are associated with?  And what is the  
 


Chris Roebuck

About three, probably.





Erik Finch

We actually call that "coverage".  When we go in and we look at how customers actually create succession plans, and it really is all about that coverage.  You have one person who, you may look at your overall succession plan and say "I am perfectly covered.  Regardless of who leaves, I have someone who can move right into these key positions."  But they only later, once one of the key positions becomes vacant, find out that they have one person targeted for three or four different key positions, and they did not have a number of different individuals as fallback positions.  You need to be able to cascade that.



Peter Crush

Do you    I am trying to think.  Do you talent manage for roles or for the people?



Chris Roebuck

We have to do both.  It is a supply and demand situation.



Simon Haben

And actually, not necessarily that.  It may be (inaudible) because the specific roles that exist now might not exist in the future.  Because actually, you want to think about generally in these types of roles, individuals could be appropriate at this kind of level.



Chris Roebuck

The comment earlier about there being movement in terms of key roles.  Certainly where I was previously, over a period of four years, 25 per cent roughly of the roles that were key roles in 2002 weren't in 2006 because of changes in the business.



Tim Walker Jones

But that is about that idea of strategic talent management, about understanding your current, portfolio, if you like, of talent.  What are your needs today and what have you got today and where are the gaps?  But also looking at that strategic view and saying: what will I need in the future and how does that relate to what I have got now and what are the gaps?  And then that third view, the dynamic view that says: and how has what I have got changing?  Have I got bubbles of retirement coming up or restructuring changes that will suddenly create risks and demands?  And if we are doing those things, it comes back to the conversation we were having earlier.  It is not rocket science.  It is about doing the basics really well and thinking things through, so actually you can cover these risks.






Peter Crush

Should there be a magic 10 per cent of high potentials of any company?  Or should it be 15 per cent?  Should it be 20?



Chris Roebuck

You can't do that.  If somebody is exhibiting the behaviours that demonstrate    they should be on the list.



Andrew McLellan

The key thing is a lot of organises tend to have a lot of information about their people.  What they don't really have is knowledge or even intelligence about their people.  And that is the difficulty.  I did a lot of work with Rothschilds where they had different things going off round the world; there was management, spreadsheets, it was in Excel, it was in Word.  They couldn't really pull all that information together to create some worthwhile knowledge for the organisation.  It was just really pulling it all together and that is what it enabled them to do, to actually take a whole global view for a change, as to what people had, in what positions around the global, who could we move to this area.  Who could speak a foreign language and could move to the French office or vice versus.  There is a lot of these things that you have on people, but you don't have it readily available to make intelligent decisions.



Tim Walker Jones

And that is one of the big changes, I think.  Big organisations have done it for a while, but more organisations are tapping into; is some of the benefits that systems can drive, particularly some of the, you know, software as a service and internet based solutions that you can get there, that enable companies not to have succession spreadsheets and talent planning spreadsheets in every team.  But almost impossible, you need an army in the talent function to pull them together.  But to actually start to get some robust management information around succession and talent because you can see how it wraps up.  You can look at it cross functionally.  You can look at it globally and across geographies

But also, you can start to have one system that pulls together your talent mapping and talent management approach with your performance management and 360 and your goal cascading, and so on.  And your compensation, your competencies.  All of those pieces.  Because that is when you can start to really look at it holistically and see how the bits come together.  And also see where you have got one person in seven different teams.  Or the other extreme which is that people are only looking at potential within their own functions and we are being siloed and we are not breaking silos and looking at: well actually when I am looking for a successor in my team, what about a guy sitting in a completely different function or a completely different country who is a really good fit and where we would be building general managers for the future?

And the systems that are coming through now give us that capability and I think that's a big piece of easy potential for us to grab hold of.






Chris Roebuck

There are organisations that just don't have that.



Peter Crush

Yes.  We are getting to the end of our time.  I was going to say: if anyone wants to wrap up with any thoughts that they hadn't said or they want to go, they can do.



Chris Roebuck

Why don't we just summarise and say what they think, each of us, the three or four things that talent functions need to do, over the next six to nine months.



Peter Crush

Yes, go for it.  Yes okay, where shall we start?



Andrew McLellan

I haven't been involved in all the conversation, so ...



Simon Haben

I think and this is general, this isn't just for Royal Mail, for the record.  I think there is something about being holistic and therefore joining everything up, not having things isolated.  I think understanding the true business agenda and it doesn't    and therefore ignore the fact whether we're in a downturn or not.  I think there is something about understanding the    being clear and consistent about identifying talent.  And then the fourth thing is probably looking at trying to make sure that we develop those people who we regard as talent, that it is quite well rounded and you maximise your internal resource and don't rely on external, would be my four things.



Martin Nicolls

I would go along with those.  I would add, keeping close to the business.  I think it is easy at times to lose track of why we are there.  And the other one I would say is try and keep it as simple to the business as you possibly can.



Tim Walker Jones

I think that's a really good summary.  It's about understanding the business and your customers' needs and deliver what they want; not what we might think is good for them.  It is about keeping it simple and giving them an integrated holistic set of tools and understanding and knowledge that they can use; and it's about balancing the long term and the short term.  And in the short term economy, making sure that the business keeps that long term view on talent.

And then I think the one point that we talked about quite a bit earlier on is around that line manager capability.  And supporting    building that capability but also when we do develop people with that capability, making sure that they get the space to do the things that we are telling them they ought to do.  Making sure they create the space in their day, and that they are supported by their line manager and by the culture of the business to focus their efforts on managing and developing and coaching their people.  And that's a big win, particularly in an economy where people are going to be very short term and very task focussed, getting them on focus on that long term building of capability would be key.
 


Peter Crush

Thanks.



Stuart Taylor

All I would say is that HR is a strategic function.  It is more strategic now than it has ever been and it is fundamentally important, therefore, that HR, as a function, takes full responsibility for executing that strategic responsibility.  I think it does mean it has to stay close to the business, but when we say "Stay close to the business", let me be specific: it has to work directly with the business, in order to ensure that its plans align directly to how the business objectives are going to be met.  And not just a short term thing; that is also looking to three years ahead.  Because talent management agendas are driven by looking further ahead.  They are not just driven by looking six to nine months ahead.

I do think the other thing we should take into account here is that whilst there are arguments that you should look at your top 100 or your top slice of your talent, for an organisation to be sustainable and develop talent from within, over a longer period of time, there needs to be a more effective integrated talent management approach that enables people to spot talent earlier on and help coach them and develop within their careers, so that they get the breadth of experience and they really do understand what is happening across the organisation; so that when they get to the top and they really rise to be part of the cream, that they are already an individual that can really be the organisation.



Chris Roebuck

And I think really, it's: keep it as simple as possible.  Keep it business focussed.  Create a value chain from top to bottom for both organisation and individual, in terms of development in what they do.  Keep it clear, fair and transparent so everyone knows where they stand and in terms of expectations.
 
And I think above all, take a proactive approach.  There seem to be too many heads of talent or heads of HR that are waiting for it to happen to them.  They are waiting for the CEO and CFO to say "Well, we have just arrived, your budget has just been cut by 25 per cent".  Don't let that happen.  I would just say: think about all those things that everybody here has said.  Think about how I can produce a low cost, high return on investment solution, in terms of performing, getting talent to perform, and getting everybody to perform in this organisation.  And I can take it to the CEO and I can sell it to show that we are being proactive, we understand the business and we know what makes a difference.

And if you are going to do something, I would say: do some mentoring to show value, do some line manager development to show value.  All of that is minimal cost and can be done internally.



Erik Finch

I guess the only thing I would add to that is that we have seen    I agree with absolutely everything has been said.  I mean, wide research has shown that HR organisations in the last ten years, they have all tried to implement these effective talent management strategies.  But costs and effectiveness has not gone down, because they are not integrated.  You know, you can't    it's great if you can identify your high potentials but if you can't then create a development plan for them, you are going to have no success.  So I would say also: don't just look at weaknesses.  So if you look at high potentials and you try to fix their weaknesses; most of the organisations we deal with, they have success in enhancing people's strength.  So if you have a high potential employee, focus on their strengths and look at other ways to fix the weaknesses within that individual.



Tim Walker Jones
 
Yes, absolutely.



Andrew McClellan

The only other thing I would add is the last point made just a bit earlier.  It's about information, and using that information to create knowledge and intelligence about people and you know, coming from a systems background, using a systems part of that, so be it.  But I think the message is: don't waste that information.  Use it to better the organisation.



Peter Crush
 
Great.  Thank you very much.
 



Transcript was produced by Merrill Legal Solutions