Why any talent strategy needs to start with some simple first steps

How do you ensure your organisation grows the skills and leaders it needs to face the challenges of tomorrow? By having a strategy that recognises and embraces the whole self.

As an employer, Timpson have some very interesting ideas.

One of them, which gained a lot of traction recently for obvious reasons, is giving employees with children who are starting school or nursery for the first time, a day off to drop them off and pick them up.

Apart from it being an eye catching benefit, what else has this to do with skills, development and succession you may ask? Let me explain.

In our last article we looked at the growing concept of the whole-self, and how providing employees with the tools they need to develop their own careers and interests, within a strategic framework and culture, can provide enormous benefits to any organisation ready to adopt this way of thinking.

It’s all about having a talent strategy that seeks to engage and develop employee skills, and enable them to build a career within this framework.

That strategy lets the employee explore those all-important enthusiasms, to develop their whole-self, while at the same time gaining the skills which will directly enhance the sustainable growth of the whole business.

It may be that some of those enthusiasms may not perhaps, initially at least, directly benefit the organisation, and some might seek to question the value, in the short-term of such an approach.

I’d agree, but only if there is no overall talent strategy. Without it, and the guard rails needed to guide it, any such development is, of course, aimless.

However, with it you have an essential tool to ensure you are building the right skills and experiences which will prepare your employees for new roles, and ultimately, ready them for the leadership positions you will require for the future.

New ways to work, new ways to lead and learn

So far from being merely an eye catching benefit, giving a parent leave to participate with their child’s first steps into education, becomes - if part of a wider strategy - just one link in a chain which allows organisations to ensure they keep the right people, in the right places, to enable them to deliver the overall strategy for success.

After all, we have no idea what that future holds, let alone what skills, soft and hard, may be required.

However, by embracing the whole-self within an agreed talent development framework, we are far more likely to have the widest possible range of abilities and enthusiasms which will enable us to meet those challenges. 

The good news is that we learn new things every day. Humans are learning animals, and we naturally absorb new ideas and concepts. It just happens, and we can’t help doing it.

What’s required is creating a framework that allows individuals to channel that natural ability, to give them the confidence – and freedom – to follow those natural inclinations.

That’s why learning while working is so beneficial. There is a place for the classroom, but by far the most productive way is to tap into the huge thirst for knowledge that lies within us all.

AI and machine learning will help make this process far more efficient (and we’ll come back to this in a future article). For now it needs to be all about letting the whole-self a free run – within a culture that understands and supports that.   

That will require some new approaches beyond just the way learning is delivered. There is already some resistance to new ways of working, and arguments about returning to the workplace full time.

But the cat is out of the bag and it can be a very painful process to get a cat back into a bag. Consider this: there are plenty of forward thinkers who consider a four day working week almost inevitable, and that it will happen within the next five years.

That’s going to lead to all manner of challenges – and provide a lot of opportunities as well.

Rigid and inflexible ways of thinking are not very likely to provide the best answers.  

Plenty of questions. No easy answers

Which leads us to leadership, and the need to have a new kind of leader for this new kind of working world. What will the ‘right kind of leader’ look like? In a whole-self environment, just what will an inclusive leader look and sound like?

How can you create the kind of culture which allow you to grow your own leaders from within?

If so, what structures do you need to enable you to identify them and build and track their careers? As Hamlet says, ‘the readiness is all’. So just how ready is your organisation?  

Equipping your organisation to meet the future and thrive must be an essential goal of any leader.

They probably won’t have the knowledge to provide all the answers.

In that case, they’ll need to have a team around them who, while they might equally not have the answers, at least be able to frame the right questions and have a wide range of skills and experiences, and the open minds required to know where to start looking for those answers. In short, a facilitator.  

So what needs to change to allow you to accelerate the readiness to lead?

Once again, it’s about a culture which allows the individual to tap into their own enthusiasms and desires – but within a framework that sets those free inside a defined route with the guard rails in place.

It’s about offering opportunities such as leading new projects, secondments, the chance to stand in for a leader, or present new ideas to the senior team. Opportunities for building knowledge and skills which enable the whole-self to thrive.   

It may well start with giving new parents a day off to hold their child’s hand as they toddle of for their first day at school.

Such practical and welcome ideas are a clear indication of the kinds of thinking we need to do in order to address the issues we all face in building the adaptable, sustainable, exciting and dynamic business.

But that route finishes with businesses where the best talent wants to work, to grow their careers, and ultimately pass on their learning by leading the organisation which gave them those opportunities in the first place.


Michael Esau is global HR advisor at SAP

Tuesday 14 November sees the SAP global flagship event – HR Connect - come to London with the theme Change Work for Good. To be part of the conversation, register now at SAP | UKI HR Connect 2023