Successful talent management is an ethos and is core to developing a safe, compassionate culture. Sarah Massie and Katy Steward outline four key components of a successful strategy for developing future leaders

Developing leadership that is “fit for purpose” is often cited as the most common workforce challenge facing all sectors – public, private and not for profit. The health service needs to take this challenge seriously.

A recent report published by the King’s Fund highlighted worryingly high levels of board level leadership vacancies.

‘The staff of an organisation are its most valuable asset’

It found an increasing reliance on interim and expensive agency staff, with organisations experiencing a high turnover of senior leaders as the complexity of the health system increases.

This situation could easily worsen unless organisations have a strategy for developing future leaders.

The staff of an organisation are its most valuable asset. Managing, nurturing and keeping them engaged and motivated is key to an organisation’s ability to provide high quality care. This requires the development of a talent management strategy.

Talent management is an essential element of an organisation’s leadership strategy, which in turn must be based on developing the behaviours, skills and values needed to promote a culture that delivers high quality compassionate care.

The latest in our Leadership in Action briefings outlines four key components of a successful talent management strategy.

1. Recruiting talent

As complexity in healthcare increases, leaders who can adapt quickly, are resourceful, who thrive on change, and can make sense out of uncertainty for those they lead will be needed at every level.

The emphasis should be on “recruiting for what?” At all levels of an organisation, not just in relation to senior leaders, it is essential to recruit not just to meet today’s needs but with the organisation’s future vision and strategy in mind.

When recruiting, organisations traditionally focus on competencies, knowledge, skills and qualifications as these are generally easier to articulate, identify and measure.

However, values, traits, behaviours and motivational drivers are equally – and in some cases more – important. While competencies and knowledge provide valuable information and insight about an individual’s readiness for a particular role, traits and drivers help reveal a person’s potential for leadership.

‘Traits and drivers help reveal a person’s potential for leadership’

Boots UK recently refocused its recruitment criteria to reflect its changing business model, which has seen pharmacists move to more “front of shop” healthcare consultancy roles. Instead of identifying people with highly technical knowledge, it now focuses on people who have communication, consultation and relationship development skills.

One particular issue to be aware of is diversity. This is currently an Achilles’ heel for the NHS, with a chronic absence of members of black and minority ethnic groups and women in senior and board leadership roles.

A recent report from the management consultant McKinsey found that, among other benefits, diverse organisations are better able to recruit top talent and improve employee satisfaction.

With increasing evidence that a diverse workforce is business-critical, not just an add-on, this should be central to every talent management strategy.

Questions to consider

  • Does your organisation have clear recruitment policies related to its business vision and strategy needs?
  • Are all aspects of talent management processes inclusive?

2. Developing and retaining talent

Once an organisation has identified and recruited the talent it needs, the next step is to develop that talent. There are a number of different approaches to doing this:

  • an inclusive approach where everyone in the company is considered part of the talent management programme;
  • the executive talent pool approach where the focus is at senior management level;
  • a future leaders approach, which focuses on staff at all levels who are identified as having leadership potential; and
  • a succession planning approach, which identifies staff with the skills and abilities to fill key roles when people in these positions leave or retire.

A blend of these approaches is most likely to be successful. As leaders move through to senior levels within an organisation, the focus will be less on their broad potential and more on their degree of “fit” or “stretch” in relation to a specific leadership role.

It is vital to ensure that the talent of all staff is developed – not just those identified as “high potential”. If talent management is seen to apply only to a select few, the risk is that staff not identified for development will see themselves as part of a nameless mass.

Questions to consider

  • Do senior managers and the board of your organisation regularly review the identification and development of leadership talent?
  • Are development efforts focused on high potential employees or leaders at every level?

3. Deploying talent

The overarching principle of a sustainable approach to talent management is to have the right people with the right capabilities, motivations and commitment in the right part of the organisation to deliver and lead its business strategies.

Successful deployment of workforce talent often means rethinking an organisation’s view of its employees.

‘Ensuring that staff feel valued and their contribution is recognised is vital’

Instead of seeing them as assets to be managed, they should be viewed as people with options who have chosen to invest their aspirations and motivations with an organisation for a while, and who will expect a reasonable return on their investment in the form of personal growth and opportunities.

Ensuring that staff feel valued and their contribution is recognised is vital, with appraisals an essential part of this. Yet most NHS organisations score poorly on this in the NHS staff survey, with only 40 per cent of staff reporting that they have well structured appraisals.

Working with Aston Organisation Development, the King’s Fund has created a culture assessment tool, which is offered to organisations to help them measure the effectiveness of their culture in delivering high quality, compassionate care.

One of the key aspects of culture measured by the tool is “goals and performance” – the degree to which individuals within the organisation have clear objectives and receive feedback about their work. This is linked closely to staff engagement which is a powerful predictor of an organisation’s culture.

Questions to consider

  • How aligned are your organisation’s business, workforce and talent management strategies?
  • Are its talent management processes meeting the most critical business needs?
  • How creative are your organisation’s approaches to deploying talent?

4. Succession planning

Succession planning is the identification of critical job roles that may arise due to retirement, attrition, business growth, innovation or change, and thinking strategically about how internal candidates might fill those roles.

‘Succession planning should preserve organisational memory and enable an organisation to remain viable’

It can be seen as developing a safety net for an organisation, protecting it from risks that may result from gaps in critical leadership skills and vacancies in the future. It should preserve organisational memory and enable an organisation to remain viable.

A succession plan should not target individuals; rather it should develop capability to ensure a suitable pool of potential applicants as and when vacancies arise.

Questions to consider

  • What is your organisation doing to ensure the sustainability of its leadership?
  • How does it keep engaging its talented staff?

Talent management is not a “do it once and forget about it”. It is a strategy which, like any other, should be regularly reviewed.

‘Successful talent management is core to developing a safe, compassionate culture’

It must be related to the organisation’s vision and strategic objectives, be implemented in daily processes throughout the organisation, and – most importantly – be explicit about how human capital is valued.

In short, successful talent management is an ethos – part of “how we do things around here” – and is core to developing a safe, compassionate culture.

Sarah Massie is a senior consultant in leadership development, and Katy Steward is assistant director of leadership development, both at the King’s Fund

Further information