2. Developing and retaining talent

Once you have identified the type of talent that is most critical to leading and implementing your organisation’s strategy and have recruited people in line with that, the next step is to develop that talent.

An active talent management strategy requires managers and leaders at every level of the organisation to be committed to developing talent. The board and senior leaders must ensure talent strategies are aligned to the business strategy and objectives. They must foster a culture in which human resource and workforce specialists are valued for their contribution and where individuals take responsibility for managing their personal growth.

Continuously developing the talent you have identified in your organisation enables you to be responsive to change and keep your leadership talent agile and future-focused. As leaders move through to senior levels within your 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. The focus for developing leaders will also shift from technical functionality and business know-how to strategic and conceptual thinking and the ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity – this is especially true for medical and clinical leadership talent.

Developing talent, especially when focusing on future leaders should include experiential learning and the opportunity to shed the silo view of the organisation and enhance the individual’s understanding of strategic system-level challenges. Many successful foundation trusts do this when appointing to clinical director posts, taking the consultant out of their medical specialty to hone their leadership skills in another, unfamiliar area of clinical practice.

The identification and development of ‘high potential’ talent has been and always will be an important strategic tool. A recent survey by the Center for Creative Leadership examining the view from the ‘leadership talent pipeline’ found that people who are formally identified as ‘high potential’ expect more development, support and investment; feel good about their status (although some expressed a feeling of increased pressure and anxiety); are more committed and engaged; and help to develop other talent within the organisation.

In addition to offering ongoing development to those with high potential, you may also want to consider providing a clear leadership path that describes how and when they might be able to take the next step, giving them increased feedback on performance, especially for stretching development roles, and enhanced decision-making authority. Particular attention could be given to developing the leadership skills of high-potential clinicians.

However, it is important to ensure that you develop the talent of all your staff – 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 as high potential see themselves as part of a nameless mass. The collective leadership approach advocates that we regard the bulk of the organisation as the ‘vital many’, that these people matter too, and that the organisation cares for them and invests in them. The performance of your organisation does not rest simply on the number or quality of individual leaders; our research shows that where relationships between employees at every level are well developed, the organisation benefits from alignment, vision and commitment. Where there is a culture of collective leadership, all staff are likely to intervene to solve problems, to ensure quality of care and to promote responsible, safe innovation.

You also need to recognise the diversity of your potential talent pool, and be rigorous in treating all staff as individuals rather than as a homogenous group. You may also need to coach leaders on how to have more effective conversations about talent, discussing it actively at every level of the organisation.

You will need to consider talent development in two ways, focusing both on process and strategies and on value creation – the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sides. For your organisation to stay viable you must ensure you have differing strategies to encompass innovation, patient/user need and quality improvement and that you have the skills and knowledge to achieve those. However, it is also essential to focus on employee behaviours, interpersonal and intrapersonal activities and on creating the right employee value proposition (the unique benefits of working for your organisation) to keep the talented individuals engaged.

Our research into leadership vacancies in the NHS highlights the negative impact that high-level executive vacancies and turnover have on individuals, organisations and the wider health system. The average tenure for an NHS chief executive is just over two-and-a-half years; this is not commensurate with building long-term relationships that improve culture and get results.

Successful organisations invest time in engaging staff all the way through, with a learning and innovation culture in which future leaders are developed systematically and are clear about where and how they can be aligned to the future vision and strategy of the organisation.

Questions to consider

  • Do senior managers and the board of your organisation regularly review the identification and development of leadership talent?
  • Does your organisation have a formal process for identifying high-potential employees?
  • Are your development efforts focused on high-potential employees or leaders at every level?
  • How do you actively engage with the ‘human side’ of your high-potential employees?

Next: deploying talent