Research by McKinsey shows companies like to promote the idea that employees are their biggest competitive advantage. Yet most are as unprepared for the challenge of finding, motivating and nurturing talent as they were a decade ago. Why?

It is largely because a deep rooted conviction about people development and talent management requires significant long term investment in a world where short term performance is king. However, the thinking now is that seeing leadership development and talent management as central business priorities will be the difference between success and failure.

It is vital that people in NHS leadership positions inspire, motivate and engage with staff, stakeholders, local people and communities

Health and social care over the coming years will require strong leadership and a powerful focus on seeking out and nurturing talent.

It is vital that people in leadership positions inspire, motivate and engage with staff, stakeholders, local people and communities more than ever before.

Equally, local health economies will need to sustain their performance and complement this by developing strategic partnerships and whole health system working.

Local leaders will need to work together, across traditional boundaries, to ensure a consistent and well thought out approach.

Furthermore, leadership skills and behaviours will be required across the whole workforce, not just in those who are recognised as leaders.

It will be important to ensure everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential and this requires organisations to have meaningful appraisal processes and personal development plans for every member of staff. It also means ensuring there are systems to identify career potential and development needs of all staff.

In the North East, a leadership academy was launched at the end of 2009. The academy, a partnership involving NHS North East and all 23 of the region’s NHS trusts, works collaboratively to encourage innovative leadership and talent management.

Its primary goal is to ensure talent management and leadership planning is robust enough to respond to a constantly evolving healthcare system, as well as changes in the regional economy, demographics and local organisational needs.

It will help to identify, nurture and harness the talents of our workforce.

The academy will bring many benefits, including access to master classes and leadership summits, talent pool management, coordination of secondments and stretch assignments, as well as coaching services, best practice sharing and a structured programme for aspiring leaders.

The work of the academy is underpinned by some of the core theories of leadership development and places a strong emphasis on coaching and mentoring - arguably one of the most important influences on personal development.

The focus is on implementation, as opposed to continuously searching for the perfect practice.

The North East is ge ographically compact and links with local authorities, universities and business, as well as other NHS regions. This is an important part of our leadership and talent management strategies - both in achieving economies of scale and in sharing joint learning across the wider economy.

The academy is also looking to champion a talent management system informed by learning from companies like Bupa and Tesco, which will support trusts and in time will be accessible to all staff from across the local NHS.

So the proposition is that investing in robust systems for developing and retaining staff lies at the heart of any successful leadership and talent management strategy.

Targeting talent at all levels will be an essential ingredient. While the research shows that the top performing 20 per cent of managers are twice as likely to improve operational productivity and delivery than the average performer, an elitist approach would rule out the valuable contributions of the capable, steady performers who make up the majority of any workforce. The emphasis should be on seeking out talent wherever it is.

The egalitarian approach requires a deep commitment from senior leaders to developing people and responding to their potential and cascading this through the ranks.

This is a much better foundation for all staff to deliver the dynamic patient centred performance that the challenges of the future require.