· 5 min read · News

What are HR directors' biggest talent concerns?


What are the talent concerns facing some of the UK's largest organisations in the current climate? Stephen Hoare spoke to eight HRDs about the issues that keep them awake at night.

- MICK HOLBROOK, director of organisation & people development, PwC

PwC is taking an optimistic approach to talent management in the downturn. This year the firm intends to recruit 1,000 UK graduates. Holbrook says: "We regard ourselves as a foundation of the financial marketplace. Our training supplies not just our own talent needs but the wider industry's." Holbrook is responsible for an emerging leader programme where talent is identified and fast-tracked through a CPD partnership with London Business School. But the credit crunch has caused the firm to rethink its core business to meet new opportunities in business restructuring, insolvency and business recovery. Holbrook says: "We have moved away from a talent culture which divided potential partners from the rest. We now take a broader view that develops our people, our intellectual capital and our relationships." PwC believes failing to recruit talent through a downturn could have serious consequences for its business. Holbrook says: "During the recession of the 1990s big firms experimented with reducing the graduate intake. When the upturn came management skills were in short supply and we were left with real gaps." - JACQUELINE DAVIES, head of talent and executive resourcing, Lloyds Banking Group

Created from the merger between HBoS and Lloyds, Lloyds Banking Group is building a new brand and a new organisational structure at a time when banking and the economy are recovering from crisis. Davies says: "We're positioning Lloyds as the place where talent is going to want to come and work." Her responsibility is to create a talent strategy that will bring the merged organisations together. All graduate trainees from across the organisation are invited to a conference later in the year to brainstorm the future of banking. Suddenly risk management specialists are the hottest property in town. Davies says: "Talent wants a challenge more than it wants money. From a graduate perspective we are rewriting the future of financial services. You don't get a bigger challenge than that." Talent management will be integrated with succession planning in a process that can be operated by the line without a huge HR resource. Four elements form the basis of line manager-led appraisals: performance track record, manager nomination, personal aspiration and assessment of potential. Davies says: "We are making sure the performance process is also the talent process. Talent management and succession planning are two sides of the same coin."

- KAY WILLIS, HR director, Lovells

Talent management is becoming ever more vital to the legal profession. Willis explains: "Professional services has shifted from local or national organisations to an international client-led business and we need to raise our game accordingly." The recession has piled on pressure to increase efficiency and talent management can make a major contribution. She explains: "In an international organisation it's important to build more formal structures to build consistency." Lovells' talent management process adopts a merit-based approach that benchmarks performance, creating a pathway to partnership. It is an important move away from promotion based on years of seniority. Willis says: "We've put career stepping stones up to partner level. Our model helps lawyers understand how their career is developing and gives clients confidence they are not dealing with an associate or a trainee." But the recession is the grit in the oyster. Law is not immune. Willis says: "We're a broad-based business so we are relatively well-hedged. But our two priorities are to run the business sustainably and attract the best people to work for us."

- GARY DODDS, regional vice president HR (UK), Marriott Hotels

The key for me is the culture, says Dodds. "Talent management says something about the organisation - who we are and what we do. Being made to feel special is what brings guests back and customer satisfaction drives profit and turnover and return on investment to turnover too." As a management company, Marriott achieves a consistent approach to HR and people processes through communication and employee engagement. The hotel chain invests a significant amount of its talent management budget in its corporate intranet, a user-friendly site which keeps staff up to date on all aspects of the company performance, policies and opportunities as well as a recruitment website with internal and external vacancies. As a response to the downturn Marriott has put a temporary freeze on recruiting. Despite this, it is continuing to leverage its talent spend by putting an emphasis on retention, engaging with its workforce and on continuing to develop talent from within. Dodds says: "We have invested time and money in creating employee brand awareness. We'll keep investing in it even during an employment freeze."

- ADRIAN POWELL, head of leadership and people development, Co-operative Financial Services (previously Britannia Building Society)

Powell says: "Commercial priorities and investment in people is not an 'either or'. We recognise that what our leaders do shapes the culture. Our investment in leadership and talent will take us forward in terms of where we need to be." The bank is focused on growing its own talent. There are two strands - succession planning for senior management roles and career development for all. Powell explains: "We have a robust values-led talent process. We believe everyone has the potential to grow in their role and to exhibit a degree of leadership in different ways and at different times." This distributed leadership model is motivational and democratic. The merger with the Co-op forced the company to look for economies. Says Powell: "We've delayed a number of projects and staffing has been reduced by 500 mainly through natural turnover and keeping redundancies to a minimum. But we are still recruiting front line customer facing jobs for our branch network. Where possible we are redeploying and retraining people in line with our values."

- BRIAN FITZGERALD, HR director, group talent management, Atkins

Engineering consultancy Atkins has not been deflected from its strong commitment to talent management. It is retaining its annual training budget. Fitzgerald says: "As a world-class supplier of technical infrastructure solutions, our national and international reputation can only be maintained by continuous investment in professional development. Talent management is seen as a strategic imperative." The company is making one small concession to the downturn in the shape of a half yearly spending review so the training and talent budget can be reassessed. Despite being a large company (17,000 staff), Atkins has an agile approach to talent management. Graduates and middle management attend development centres to discuss their capabilities, development plans and career direction. Fitzgerald says: "Managers engage as much as they can with people at all levels about their performance, their personal growth and their training needs. For management development this could be by giving people stretch experiences, coaching or targeted development programmes."

- ALLISON CAMPBELL, HR director, Bacardi Martini UK

Bacardi-Martini's HR department has a clearly defined talent management strategy that prioritises succession planning. Campbell explains: "It's all about making the connection between personal growth and corporate good. Talent management is a part of the process of helping people understand where they fit and where they contribute." The recession has prompted a review of internal mobility and people are now expected to stay longer in their jobs to encourage the development of true expertise. Campbell believes flexibility is the answer. She comments: "I believe there is a propensity to over-manage the talent process." Giving business heads and line managers more control over the appraisal process has ensured Bacardi Martini has remained agile and competitive. Talent management outputs are closely linked to business priorities. Campbell goes further: "Companies should constantly revisit HR practice in line with what's happening in the economy. I think there is a need for managers to display more of an entrepreneurial spirit. In this downturn if you see an opportunity, you've got to be able to seize it."

- SARAH MYERS, director of talent, BSkyB

BSkyB's view of talent is that it takes in everyone in the organisation. Myers explains: "It's about creating career development opportunities across the organisation and giving our people the skills to make the most of their potential in line with business needs." Everyday talent management resides with the line manager whose appraisals inform development plans and feed in to closing skills gaps and business planning. Myers says: "Talent management is a joint responsibility between HR and the line manager." BSkyB implemented its new approach more than a year ago as a way of making the business more agile and more effective. It means developing BSkyB's employer brand and attracting talent to the business. This feeds in to the recruitment and selection process and subsequently to training and leadership development and finally to succession planning. Myers says: "We believe talent management is even more critical in a recession. In the good times there is more budget and often bigger head count. In tough times the talent pool has shrunk and people have to do more with less. It's an opportunity to demonstrate what they can do."