HR and employers generally must be much more “open and brave” about how they spot and manage talent, according to Neil Wooding, chief people officer at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
Speaking on day one of the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition, during a session entitled ‘Creating strong pipelines – linking learning to talent management’, Wooding said that traditional talent management programmes risk “immediately suggesting that 90% of people are untalented”.
“You create a distinction that says ‘we are not bothered with the majority of people'. Our view is that’s very narrow minded, locally driven and provincial in terms of how you judge talent,” he said, explaining that the principle behind the MoJ’s talent scheme is that “everyone is talented at something”.
The Civil Service is still a place that attracts a lot of ‘Oxbridge’ and Russell Group university candidates, Wooding conceded: “Some of our work is trying to move away from that,” he said.
He added: “The Civil Service has a very gradeist approach to how it measures talent. There is a cultural tension around being able to recognise people for talent beyond how the organisation values talent. Often the things we value more highly than others have come through a particular education framework. So there’s something about challenging ourselves to say talent will come from many different spaces.”
Also speaking during the session was Tony Cooke, HR VP region West at Adidas. He agreed that organisations must think much more openly and creatively about ‘top talent’ now.
“You need to make sure you don’t leave your other talent out,” he said. “If you’ve just got an elitist club people will feel left out.”
Cooke described the journey Adidas has been on over recent years to instigate more of a dialogue with high-potential talent, or ‘hipos', right from the start. HR “went out and asked hipos” what they wanted from their own development. “Saying ‘you’re hipos, well done' is not enough,” he said.
The Adidas team discovered that such hipo individuals “want to see what the plans are for them”, they “want to be thrown in at the deep end rather than being cosseted in cotton wool”, and “they want to be in a position where they can go away and learn things themselves”, said Cooke.
Wooding agreed that talent management must place greater emphasis on the individual owning their own learning. “It’s a 50/50 partnership with individuals,” he said. “We do need them to take responsibility for talent.”
Cooke spoke on the particular importance of leaders across different functions taking greater ownership of talent-related matters such as engagement, recognition and succession planning. The challenge here is empowering managers to do this on top of busy day jobs, he said. Adidas found the best way was to incentivise this with monetary reward at first until “it [became] a habit and we [won] hearts and minds”.
Resistance tends to come most from marketing and sales managers, reported Cooke, “because they have a million and one things they have to do commercially”.
“They would prefer all of this stuff to be HR… it’s only when you show them the results of surveys and what people have said about them that they sit up and take notice. They are not brought up to be people developers, but to have consumers on the edge of their seats about the latest shoes.”
Responding to a question on the value of the nine-box grid in modern talent strategies, Wooding said he thinks there is still a place for it as long as it's used in the right way. “It can confine and consign individuals,” he admitted. “Often it doesn’t matter where you place someone; they’ll recognise themselves in contrast to the boxes on the grid. So I think it needs to be a collaborative process – it’s for managers and employees to talk about where they are in relationship to it.”
He added that particular care needs to be taken in relation to those sitting in “the magnificent middle” of the box, so neither seen as “talent” but also not under-performing. They “can often feel judged inside that space”, he said, meaning the grid should be used primarily to encourage “healthy conversations” about talent.