Chris Roebuck explains how human resources is vital to develop the next generation of leaders in the health service

It is critical to create a pipeline of leaders across the NHS, including those from clinical and professional backgrounds. Senior managers have wanted this for some time and this need has been confirmed by the next stage review. The service must be able to identify leadership talent wherever it is, be it among managers, clinicians, nurses or other staff. It must be able to develop those people and move them to where they are needed most and retain them.

So as talent and leadership start to become NHS priorities, human resources will be the key source of advice to senior and line managers during implementation and will be critical to success. What is the full potential of talent management and development? Nothing less than the transformation of the health service into a world class organisation delivering world class care. To achieve this, HR must continue to deliver excellent operational and transactional services - making sure people get paid - and then take on more strategic and transformational activity - helping line managers identify and develop talent.

Getting started

In 2005 I developed a three-stage process to help reach world class performance using talent and leadership. Sadly, most organisations are still in stage one, unaware of how much more they could achieve. Stage one is getting started. Typically, due to some problem, HR is asked by the chief executive to identify the key positions and potential leadership at senior level as a risk mitigation measure. This is implemented by HR with chief executive support, and HR has to deliver succession planning and development to those identified.

But HR must make clear to the chief executive that identifying talent only at senior level will not keep up a steady flow of good leaders for the future, nor make the organisation world class. Very few organisations take things further than this, primarily as their HR teams do not have the vision to see what they could achieve, and neither does the chief executive.

Stage two starts when the chief executive and HR realise that those top people identified are not all performing at their best: the initiatives are in place but the performance change is not happening. Why? Primarily because the individuals' line managers are not developing them and enabling them effectively on the job. This is the critical tipping point where talent development ceases to be an HR initiative and must become a critical strategic leadership issue. HR must put across to senior management that the day to day identification and development of leaders, talent and performance is not the role of HR - it is the role of line managers.

Identifying candidates

HR cannot do this as it is the line managers who see the people's real performance, and who have the maximum impact on improving performance by creating engagement and development on the job.

Furthermore, line managers must identify and develop leaders not just at senior levels but at all levels to feed talent up through the organisation and to enable excellent performance at middle and junior levels as well.

This is the message chief executives must drive throughout: line managers identify and develop leaders and will be measured on this; HR is there to facilitate and support them. At every stage, HR must give the chief executive and others who "champion" the case the evidence that there are benefits in implementing talent initiatives, both organisationally and personally for the managers who do it.

It is a fact of life that the average line manger won't implement this strategy unless they see some personal benefit as well. So HR must provide and pre-position tools that will let them to do it quickly, simply and effectively while delivering their operational objectives.

Line managers must become excellent at managing and leading, performance management, coaching, talent identification and development. If they are, it could increase the potential of every talented person by over 35 per cent. Well worth the resources invested.

Together with messages from the chief executive and the individual's own manager, all of this means the individual manager now sees it is viable for them to identify and develop talent. If you can implement stage two successfully, it will give your organisation a cadre of world class performers at all levels. Stage three is then relatively simple: getting your line managers to apply the skills they use with top performers to everyone else.

Spread the learning

Good line managers can increase any individual's discretionary effort by over 40 per cent. This enables everyone to develop and perform at his or her best, not just those at the top, not just those identified as leaders. By using the three stage approach and driving this process in partnership with line management, you can not only make HR a real "business partner" but also take your organisation and HR to world class performance levels. This starts to create the environment Lord Darzi wants: good leadership enabling everyone to perform at their best and deliver world class care. Not bad for three simple steps.

But there is more: the second and third stages rebalance the HR/line manager relationship so line managers do the things they should be doing - managing and leading their people - which many have expected HR to do for them. This is not always line managers' fault, as often no one has told them they have to do these things. In most organisations there is an appalling lack of clarity between what line managers must do day to day for their people and what HR must do.

But when line managers start to do these things and are trained to lead and manage well, the effect is significant for HR. It reduces the time previously taken up by HR doing things that line managers should do themselves or in dealing with the "fall-out" produced by poor management and leadership.

That is why an amazing potential opportunity for the HR community in the health service is approaching. There will be greater strategic influence, better service delivery, personal and professional growth and above all delivery of world class HR that proves the NHS is as good if not better than the private sector at HR delivery. This makes possible what your chief executive and Lord Darzi want: world class care. But it is up to you to make it happen, so don't miss your chance.