What is talent management and why is it important?

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 produced by The King’s Fund highlighted worryingly high levels of board-level leadership vacancies. It found that there is 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.

Talent management is a set of integrated organisational workforce processes designed to attract, develop, motivate and retain productive, engaged employees. The goal of talent management is to create a high-performance, sustainable organisation that meets its strategic and operational goals and objectives.

A wealth of recent reports have argued that health services must adapt to deliver continually improving, high-quality and compassionate care, but today’s leaders know that these demands are made against the backdrop of tighter financial restraints and slower projected financial growth in the public sector. To respond to these current and future challenges, organisations need to ensure that they develop the necessary leadership behaviours, strategies and qualities.

The staff of an organisation is its most valuable asset; managing, nurturing and keeping staff engaged and motivated is key to an organisation’s ability to provide high-quality care. This requires the development of a talent management strategy, which must be related to the organisation’s vision and strategic objectives, be implemented in daily processes throughout the organisation as a whole 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.

In our paper Developing collective leadership for health care we argue that collective leadership, as opposed to command-and-control structures, provides the optimum basis for caring and compassionate cultures. Collective leadership entails distributing and allocating leadership power to wherever expertise, capability and motivation sit within your organisation. This means everyone taking responsibility for the success of the organisation as a whole, not just their own jobs or areas. It contrasts with traditional approaches focused on developing individual capability. The board or governing body of your organisation is ultimately accountable for developing strategies for coherent, effective and forward-focused collective leadership.

Creating a talent strategy isn’t a ‘do it once and forget it’ activity. As with a business strategy, which organisations review and update annually against their three-to-five year vision and their planning, so too a talent strategy must evolve. Complexity, change and challenge are the only certainties in the current health care system. Health care leaders must have a complete and well-aligned talent strategy, which addresses:

  • the business-critical leadership needed to deliver the current and future organisational strategy
  • where in the organisation they have this leadership talent now – and where it is missing
  • whether people are developed internally or must be recruited externally.

What does this guide offer?

In this guide we look at the key aspects of a holistic talent management and succession planning approach. We offer our knowledge and learning based on current research into collective leadership and our work at all levels of the health service. Drawing on this experience, the guide focuses on the three core pillars of implementing a talent management strategy – recruitment, development, retention and deployment – before looking at succession planning.

This guide will enable board members and senior leaders to challenge their current thinking on managing talent and succession planning. It will help them to decide which processes and systems need to be in place to support the recruitment, development, retention and deployment of a future agile and mobile workforce.

Questions to consider

  • How does your organisation appraise its leadership challenges?
  • To what extent do current talent management systems incorporate elements of talent sustainability?
  • To what extent does the entire organisation demonstrate a talent mindset?
  • What percentage of your board agendas are spent discussing talent within your organisation?

Section one: recruiting talent