War for talent

first_imgRelated posts:No related photos. War for talentOn 19 Feb 2002 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Thebattle to attract the top talent is on, with big corporations offering everbigger carrots to attract those candidates with a certain something extra tooffer. But finding the elite few who have the X factor is no easy task. Thisreport, including exclusive new research, asks what is talent, how do youidentify it and can it be measured? Sally O’Reilly investigatesTalent is a modern obsession. TV shows such as Pop Idol put the emphasis onthe search for a mystery ‘X’ factor that will enable ordinary mortals to turninto manufactured pop gods. In business, the war for talent is on, with firms seeking the elite few whocan help them beat the competition. But is this the best way to foster highperformance levels? And what does ‘talent’ actually mean? While it is obviousUK firms are not looking for an ability to sing, dance and pose for thecameras, it is not always clear what they are searching for. According to talent research company Kenexa, which specialises in helpingcompanies hire and retain highly-talented staff, talent is the component ofsomeone’s ability that cannot be explained by training or experience. It is theelusive X factor – part of an individual’s personality. Ellen O’Mahoney, consultant psychologist at Kenexa, stresses that the requiredX factor will vary depending on the employee’s role. There are jobs that have avery clear personality profile – particularly those that involve dealing withpeople. “In the case of sales people, managers and supervisors, you cansee how they function in the job,” she says. “For instance, youcouldn’t be a high-potential salesperson if you weren’t competitive, nor abrilliant manager if you never talked to your team.” Assessing such personality traits is not easy and organisations seem to lackthe conviction that they can identify talent among the ranks of their ownstaff. Traditionally, when searching for high-talent performers, internal staff atjunior levels have been overlooked. The ‘talent pool’ is still seen to bebright young graduates destined for great things, MBA super-heroes, or starperformers with impressive CVs. This is partly the result of a woolly attitude among employers. “Manyfirms confuse talent with leadership,” says Richard Finn, a director ofperformance consultancy group Penna Change Consulting. “You have to lookat what your organisation needs, which depends on your core competencies. “And you shouldn’t assume that recruitment is the answer. Manycompanies say they have a talent problem when they haven’t looked at the skillsof their own people.” Another myth is that intellectual prowess is an essential attribute of starperformers. But Steve Newhall, head of business development for DDI, aconsultancy specialising in selection and leadership, says firms should belooking for a mix of skills. “You need different levels of cognitive ability in someone who is goingto be a leader, and someone who is fulfilling a research scientist role,”he says. “People have to know when to apply their intelligence and makejudgements, not just have the ability to find a solution.” Some firms are getting it right and are clear about what they need and whereto find it, but they are the exceptions. For example, supermarket chain Tescohas a policy of grooming shopfloor workers who show management potential –several of its main board members have worked their way up the company, andDavid Potts, its head of strategic operations, started as a Saturday boy. Kim Birney, group learning director at Tesco, says – in theory at least –all staff have access to the high-flyer programme. “Tesco doesn’t have atraditional fast-track group, there are different routes in,” she says.”Every manager is a trained talent-spotter, so everyone in the firm hasthe option of moving on to bigger and better things.” Motivation is highly rated – staff can put themselves forward as prospectivemanagement material, without waiting for someone else to spot their potential. Rather than widen the net, most companies are hoping to compete in thetraditional graduate recruitment pool by developing an appealing employer brandand using this to lure potential recruits such as valued customers. For instance, IBM UK is keen to emphasise that it has changed its imagethrough its recruitment adverts, and now deals with new recruits much morequickly. “Over the past 12 months we have started selling ourselves as a totalsolutions company, sending out the message that we are different – we areflexible and we are very responsive to our client base – which in this case isapplicants to IBM,” says HR director Paul Rodgers. IBM also recruits non-IT graduates from all academic disciplines, which itclaims is unusual in the IT sector, and has introduced an online applicationsystem across Europe for potential graduate hires. Ford Europe has gone down a similar path. Although it claims to have‘revolutionised’ its recruitment process in the past year, its most dramaticinnovation is an online application process that has cut theapplication/interview/job offer process from six months to as many weeks. These are typical examples – most firms are not looking beyond traditionalelites when seeking top performers. One honourable exception is the BBC, nowlaunching the third year of its ‘BBC Talent’ campaign, which scours the countryfor new writers, performers, musicians and comedians. This is not in itself going to change the face of broadcasting: in 2002there are just 46 short-term contracts and commissions available under thisscheme, and no-one is guaranteed a permanent staff contract. However, the BBCis carrying this philosophy through to its more conventional recruitmentprogrammes. According to Jo Gardiner, head of training and development team SkillXchangeat the BBC, the organisation no longer runs a graduate recruitment programme perse. Degree entry is only necessary for specific technical roles, such asengineering. Instead, the organisation pulls in between 270 and 300 recruitseach year from a range of backgrounds. Last year more than one-third of its new programme makers were from ethnicminorities. Techniques include a funky, non-traditional ad campaign, andrunning careers events and roadshows throughout the country. “There is anew feel to the way we are selling ourselves – we’re not the traditional,comfortable, Radio Four organisation any more,” says Gardiner. So why aren’t more companies taking this approach? Ken Rowe, joint managingdirector at YSC Consulting, which specialises in talent spotting and successionplanning, says it is because high-prestige institutions are thought toguarantee high-talent recruits. “Organisations decide to upgrade their talent by bringing in peopleperceived to be high status – they go to Oxbridge for really good graduates,for instance, or a small manufacturing firm will go to multinational Mars. Theybelieve these recruits will have high talent and transferable skills. But whatthey need is the ability to thrive in a new environment.” Steve Newhall at DDI is more dismissive: “If someone has a good CV,it’s easier to tick the right boxes,” he says. “But there areobviously many people who are very talented who don’t have excellentqualifications.” Indeed, a study that looked at a range of recruitment methods, carried outby Professor Ivan Robertson of UMIST, found that qualifications alone are not areliable predictor of future performance. “They will show if someone hasintelligence, the capability to persevere and focus, but employers need to useother methods to assess candidates,” says Robertson. Trying to predict future performance clearly goes to the nub of the issueand many firms spend a huge amount of time and money in the attempt. Forexternal candidates, it is the familiar roll call: interviews, assessmentcentres and psychometrics, with some firms also bringing in occupational psychologiststo do separate interviews. The aim is to tease out what motivates staff – whythey have been successful in the past, for instance. Talent-spotting assessment centres are available from companies such as DDI andnew psychometric tests are on the market to measure emotional intelligence andcreativity – both important characteristics of talented performers. New tools that aim to assist HR staff in the talent search include SHL’stransference leadership questionnaire, which looks at how applicants will dealwith specific situations to cast light on their personal qualities.”Psychometrics will pick up the qualities talented people need,” saysRoy Davis, head of communications at SHL. “For instance, if you were tobreak down Tony Blair’s job description, you would look for someone withresilience, persuasiveness, confidence, and high levels of energy andnumeracy.” DDI runs assessment centres in real time, with simulations that putcandidates in very realistic situations. Making someone think on their feet isone way of assessing how they will perform in an unfamiliar job, Newhallbelieves. “We have a fictitious company, with a five-year plan and peopleworking in it,” he says. “The candidate takes on a senior role and has to respond to informationthey receive by e-mail, voice-mail and so on. It shows more about their way ofworking than an interview, which focuses on past performance.” There’s a long way to go, and YSC Consulting’s Rowe says no sector can rest onits laurels, although some have fared better than others. Often, paradoxically,the best performers in talent development are those with the fewest graduaterecruits. “Traditionally, graduates didn’t go into retailing, and they do have agood record of finding talent democratically,” Rowe says. “Banks havemade the mistake of giving people too little variety and knowledge aboutdifferent parts of the business. And manufacturing firms have been good atgetting talent in, but have tended to squash it out by having overly-rigidprocedures in place.” For Penna Change Consultancy’s Finn the message for companies across allsectors is: know yourself and know your staff. “Fast-tracking can co-existwith other methods of developing staff,” he says. “But the questionis ‘are you fast-tracking the right people?’” Weapons in the war for talentPsychometric tests: Based onresearch into the personal qualities and preferences displayed by highlytalented people, these claim to pinpoint similar qualities in job candidates.Newcomers include SHL’s transference leadership questionnaire.Tests which measure EI and creativity include OPP’s innovationpotential indicator, or IPIBehavioural assessment centres:Real-time simulations, in which candidates have to think on their feet, andreact to information flooding in from TV monitors, e-mail and telephone. DDIruns day in life acceleration centres Interview training:Organisations such as YSC Consulting run training courses for line managersshowing them how to conduct systematic but robust interviews. The aim is to”train people to know what they are trying to find out”Psychologists’ interviews:Occupational psychologists will conduct separate interviews and feed them intothe assessment processCareer pathing: The new ‘portfoliocareer’. Instead of leaving high-flyers to get on with it, firms are guidingthem through the process – even when they might be leaving to join anotherfirm. Portmanteau: term covering a range of measures to helpstaff, including coaching, mentoring and work placements. Also may include anyof the initiatives below:Executive resource boards: Setup to ensure that talent belongs to the organisation, not the line manager.Should involve CEO or board members. Their role is to monitor and oversee thedevelopment of high potential people, and remove barriers to their progressCareer action centres: Run byfirms such as Sun Microsystems in the US, these set about developing specialistskills for an entire industry, not just for the individual companyCommunities of practice: Majorconsultancies set these up to establish networks of highly talented people, toenable them to exchange information informally. These may be formal projectgroups, or less formal talking shopsAcceleration pools: Groups ofhighly talented individuals who are being groomed for non-specific leadershiproles. Instead of expecting to take on a particular position, talented staffare helped to develop portable skills which could be used by the organisationor elsewhere Talent segmentation: Eachfirm’s analysis of what it means by talent in terms of its own business needs.A breakdown of the different talent groups within an organisation, and whatthey needCase study: Civil Serviceselection boardsInnovative approach reaps rewardsOnce a bastion of old school tieelitism, the Civil Service selection board has long since mended its ways. Infact, it is so cutting edge that in 1996 it outsourced most of its recruitmentprocess to an private company, Capita, and has now brought most of that processback in-house to give more personal attention to prospective employees. Andit’s also dealing in big numbers – in 2000 there were 14,500 applicants for 560vacancies. Hardly surprising when you consider the range of jobs the boardis recruiting for includes the diplomatic service, the Inland Revenue (thoughtit runs its own selection boards at the interview stage) and graduatemanagement trainees for GCHQ, as well as economists and statisticians.There are two stages to the interview process – qualifyingtests that assess verbal and non-verbal reasoning, biodata (questions aboutpersonal preference) and objectively validated tests, and then a two-dayselection board. Each one of these will see four or five candidates. These arerun by a panel of three: a senior civil servant, an occupational psychologistand a more junior employee who has reached the level which new recruits canexpect to reach after six or seven years. The selection board consists of a number of exercises,including written work, one-to-one interviews and group exercises. Qualitiesthe boards are looking for include awareness of others, intellectual skill,drive and resilience. Two changes have been made recently. Applicants are nowassessed in terms of competencies, and there is more emphasis on innovation andcreative thinking. Michael Herron, head of Fast Stream, European andRecruitment division, says the aim is to make the process fairer.”We used to assess written and verbal skills, looking atwhether people expressed themselves eloquently,” he says. “Thisinadvertently created a ‘people like us’ syndrome. And we used to havetopic-based interviews, in which candidates would make the case for aparticular point of view, and the young civil servant would make the caseagainst it. This was too much like the tutorial system [which would have givenOxbridge students an unfair advantage].”Other attempts to attract a wider cross-section of applicantsinclude going to new universities to spread the word about the Civil Serviceand taking on 60 or more students every summer. On-line applications are alsobeing developed, and the Civil Service website is being improved.The whole focus is on being more user-friendly – and this ispartly why the selection process has been brought back in-house. When the functionwas outsourced, there was less contact between applicants and civil servicestaff. “The best candidates are getting four or five job offers at thisstage and we need to meet them and give them a flavour of what the civilservice is like,” says Herron. Capita will still be used for the earlierstages of the recruitment process.Other areas the service is looking to include is the locationsfor stage one exercises and computerised qualifying tests. Image is the final frontier. Like many traditionalorganisations, the civil service has strong brand recognition, but what peoplerecognise may be its past, rather than its present reality. “In somegroups, we are held in high esteem. In others, the attitude is ‘ I know aboutthat, and it’s not for me’. In some, recognition is very low – it’s just notpart of their world.”Once in positions, entrants who had visions of a stuffy SirHumphrey time warp will be pleasantly surprised. They are expected to do a realjob from the beginning. “People just don’t leave for the first couple ofyears,” says Herron. “What motivates people to stay is the earlyresponsibility they are given. “This is counter-intuitive to some extent, in that thereis actually a lack of hierarchy. People are given a lot of scope early on, theyare out there, flying to Brussels, doing it; which isn’t necessarily true oftheir peers in commercial organisations. There are also diverse employmentopportunities – they could move from working in employment policy to theenvironmental sector, or to working with a government agency.” ResourcesGrow Your Own Leaders: AccelerationPools: a new method of succession management (DDI press)Winning the Talent Wars: How tomanage and compete in the high-tech, high-speed knowledge-based super fluideconomy Bruce Tulgan (Nicholas Brierly)Managing Talent: Exploring the NewPsychological Contract, Henley Management CollegeRetaining Talent: A benchmarkingsurvey, DDI (Feb 2001)ContactsWilliam M Mercer – 020-74235508Kenexa – 020-7484 5056SHL – 020-8335 8000OPP – 01865 404 500Chiumento – 01865 882 100Robertson Cooper – 0870 3333 591Henley Management College – 01491 571 454DDI – 01753 616 000Penna Consulting Group – 01753 784 000 Previous Article Next Articlelast_img

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