Dr. Steven Moir is the Executive Director of Resources at The City of Edinburgh Council. He spoke recently at the HRD Summit, on the topic of human capital risk. Today, we discuss why HR leaders must focus on taking a holistic approach to overall talent development.
Are leaders waking up to the importance of a well-defined and effective people management programme?
More and more organisations are recognising that high performing organisations are wholly reliant upon well-defined, strategic approaches to people management. More CEOs are becoming attuned to ‘people issues’ being central, not only to defining and differentiating their offer within a market, but being the real basis for their competitive advantage.
One of the most compelling pieces of research i read on this subject was by Professor Michael West, who sighted good engagement levels leading to reduced mortality rates in hospitals – you don’t getting better outcomes from adopting a great approach to people management than that.
“Defining talent as a select number of senior roles misses the point for me about talent management and talent development.”
What mistakes do leaders typically make in the area of talent development?
Many leaders and boards still take the approach that talent development should focus on ‘top talent’ only. Defining talent as a select number of senior roles misses the point for me about talent management and talent development. Talent management has to be an inclusive approach across the whole business – it needs to look at attraction, recruitment, retention, development and progression as a holistic issue, not a series of partially connected processes which have ‘hand off or hand over’ points.
The second major issue that I observe is that many boards and leaders see talent as very much the ‘HR agenda’. Whilst HR is a real enabler of good talent management, it’s a core leadership responsibility and viewing this as a HR issue tends to make talent less integral to overall leadership performance. Lastly, disconnecting talent from diversity and inclusion is a major flaw in many organisations approaches.
If you start developing talent from a pre-existing pool of un-diverse people, then you simply create a bigger diversity problem for the future. Bearing in mind that diversity and inclusion should also include key issues like cognitive diversity to foster innovation, then the application of a talent approach with diversity and inclusion writ large from the outset stands to create much better business and individual outcomes.
“More and more organisations are recognising that high performing organisations are wholly reliant upon well-defined, strategic approaches to people management.”
Are there any commonalities between the organisations that do this well?
The organisations that do talent management well are the ones that understand the strategic importance, don’t see it as a ‘tick box’ exercise and really focus on not just talent assessment or even deployment, but future talent planning. They see talent as a long-term investment and ownership of this agenda is well embedded within individual business units. Too often individual leaders become very protective about talent in their areas and don’t want to be seen to lose good talent, even if that’s for the greater benefit of the business. Good organisations do exactly the opposite, they lean talent into their biggest business issues and develop people through experience of leading and delivering upon the most complex challenges facing organisations. In turn, that creates for more satisfying work and is also likely to retain the talented individuals that are supported to grow through such experience.
“Many people are still promoted and become managers based upon knowledge and skill in their previous role, not necessarily knowledge and skill within a leadership role.”
Do leaders sometimes ignore their role in people development and ‘just leave it to HR?’
If there has been one experience that I’ve seen consistently in all my roles, it’s the tendency of line managers and senior leaders to want to leave the ‘people stuff’ to HR. Many professions focus on technical competence, which is important, but they rarely engage with with behavioural and leadership competence, before people are already in their first management position.
That means that many people are still promoted and become managers based upon knowledge and skill in their previous role, not necessarily knowledge and skill within a leadership role. So bridging that gap is important.
Equally, being able to vary a leadership style in order to work well with diverse teams and individuals is a big ask of leaders, and will take them outside their comfort zones. Most people don’t like being uncomfortable at work, so helping people foster a growth mindset and a willingness and curiosity to learn as leaders really matters.
Lastly, it’s important to bring leadership back to first principles, by focusing on positive behaviours, such as: being appreciative, honest, open, humility, and humanity at work are all fundamental. People management and development shouldn’t be something to hand off to HR, it should be the first and most important thing that leaders focus upon – because they personally set the culture and climate within their organisations through their own actions. Not being prepared to lead people well sets a very strong message and tone from the top which no organisation should want.