Our business environment is changing rapidly and radically; with heightened global competition, shortening development times resulting from new technologies, and continuing economic uncertainty, businesses must be agile, innovative and future-focused to keep ahead.

If you see a bandwagon, even in the distance, you are too late; you have missed it. The workplace too is changing rapidly and radically. Lean structures, and new ways of working are evident everywhere with people working in multiple, flexible teams, remotely, and across boundaries.

In this new workplace, reporting lines are increasingly blurred, ever fewer managers work in the same location as their employees, or have direct line of sight over their work. The psychological contract is also constantly changing. The “job for life” mentality that underpinned the employer-employee relationship for so long has been disappearing for years, until we have reached the point we are at now, where few people feel any sense of job security, putting trust levels in organizations at an all-time low, especially when you factor in that trust in leaders’ decision-making has also been eroded by the economic crisis.

This radically different landscape calls for radically different approaches to leading and managing people. Yet if you look around the majority of organizations the legacy of old “command and control” type structures and styles that belong to the bygone era are still very much in evidence. It is not uncommon to find line managers are expected to carry out performance appraisals, act as coaches, eliminate poor performance, and retain high performers for some 40 or so direct reports. An impossible task, especially when hampered by bureaucratic appraisal systems, lack of involvement in decisions around pay, and sometimes also around promotion, and mindsets that have over-invested in “high potentials” creating elites, big egos and unfulfilled expectations. Another curiosity in today’s organizations is that from their homes and their iPads people are interacting with the outside world, exchanging ideas and accessing information – but in the office so many are using tools and systems that are only a couple of steps away from the quill pen.

Four-points to achieve strategic success – for both businesses and individuals

The four-point strategic talent framework addresses this business context, and acts as a guide for designing processes and strategies to achieve not just business success, but personal success too.

Strategic talent development starts with “a focus on the future”. Where is the business going? How will it get there? What are the obstacles? How can we overcome them? What are our competitors doing? What are the trends on the horizon? What are the opportunities? What capabilities do we need to develop? Who has these capabilities? Who can develop them? What do we need to start doing now? Individuals should additionally ask themselves: what do I want to achieve in the long-term? What changes in the business / my specialist field might affect me? How can I develop to keep up with these changes and to meet my long-term aspirations? Conversations of this kind, along with processes and mindsets that encourage people to seize opportunity and try things out move businesses and individuals forward and create innovation. The main point here is to take a much longer-term view than the usual one year ahead, or how to improve in the current role that generally occurs at performance appraisal time.

The next point on the framework is self-managed succession. This is a mix of career planning and succession planning, but instead of being about filling a few roles, it is about everyone developing their skills so that they keep up with the pace of change. Encourage everyone to identify their next two career stages. Whenever possible link learning and development with the capabilities identified through the “focus on the future” conversations. For example, a retailer is planning to introduce merchandising over the next few years. This matches Jill’s aspirations so the additional responsibility of starting to source potential suppliers is added to her role. She is assigned an internal mentor to help her develop the negotiating skills she will require.

Use learning processes that generate data about people, including their aspirations that should be captured in a people databank – the third point on the framework – to help the organization speed up its decision-making. For example, when new business opportunities become evident, the decision to pursue it can be enhanced by knowing if there is anyone available internally, or if someone needs to be brought in from the outside, and in this case by knowing who can support this new recruit.

The final point on the framework is shared management. This concept turns traditional line management on its head. Instead of one manager for several, it is several managers for one person. Each individual might report to several different team or project leaders who have the overall responsibility for the business results the individual must achieve. Sometimes, the individual may need a coach to help him or her come to grips with a new capability; or perhaps a mentor to widen the individual’s perspectives; or a sponsor to help someone navigate the path to promotion. Importantly, every individual must have a people manager who will give them feedback on performance, accompany their development, and work with them to set performance goals and long-term development plans. This role must have clout. It must be seen as a milestone on the upwards’ leadership path, and the people manager must input into the individual’s pay, performance and potential reviews, which will also involve other managers. Individuals should seek out coaches, mentors and sponsors.

To be effective and achieve a high performance organization, the four-point framework must be underpinned by several big ideas.

•The first of these concerns the “focus on the future”. The widely agreed importance of future-proofing the organization is usually interpreted as meaning everyone must be able to adapt quickly to change. Many hold that fast-paced change makes it too difficult to project the future. Whilst I agree that individuals must be skilled at rapidly learning new skills, I do believe there are some things we can predict, for instance changes around technology, or behavioural capabilities. For example, dealing with an increasingly fluid workforce requires sophisticated influencing skills. Another example, the use of smartphones is likely to increase requiring new communication processes, such as contacting customers by text. This requires new programming skills, as well as communication skills.

•In today’s lean, mean organizations, there is nowhere for the under-performer to hide, and roles are so interconnected that it is impossible to identify pivotal roles. This brings us to the next big idea, which is to recognise that everyone has talents and these must be harnessed and developed in line with business needs. I believe passionately that the key to developing your potential is to have a high level of self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, especially as regards your behaviour and the impact you have on others and on results. New technology enables businesses to offer self-awareness tools to large numbers of people, with little administration and at low cost. In my business, for example, we can run online profiling that supports people in developing the behavioural skills they will require to meet their aspirations, or future business challenges. People can also take advantage of our virtual business-school type simulations that give them insights about their performance, help them test-drive what it is like working at the next management level, or make personal development plans. Such programs give the organization greater understanding of the people they employ.

•My preferred definition of talent is “talent is the opportunity someone gives you.” In fact, most learning comes from work experience, and it should be the prime purpose of the people manager role to ensure appropriate developmental opportunity is opened to their people. Individuals, of course, must self-manage and identify learning support and opportunity for themselves.

•Another big idea of strategic talent development is that we need a new leadership model to replace “command and control”. This new model is “shared visions, shared values and shared understanding. ” When people share in the visions and values of the business and they understand where the business is going then they know how to act and to behave. They can take responsibility, and take decisions without having to refer to authority. When they are engaged with the business strategy, and know how they fit in, then they become empowered to spot and grasp opportunity. “Shared visions, shared values and shared understanding” gives people freedom but within clear boundaries. Business leaders must adjust their styles so they drive the business forward using this leadership model.

At the outset, I showed how the four-point framework guides strategies and processes so that they match today’s business context. An additional point to make here is that this whole approach links closely to research and understanding around employee engagement, which shows that when employees are engaged with the business, this increases productivity and therefore profitability. Employee engagement is created when people are listened to, know how they contribute, are valued for their skills and contribution, and see a developing future. These serve as measures to show that you have successfully implemented strategic talent development.

I will leave you with the thought that “career development is the new job security.” It is how to future-proof the business, and how individuals can future-proof their own careers.

Case study: a move to virtual assessment
Kia Motors Slovakia uses virtual assessment and development centre programs to retain, motivate and develop high numbers of people recruited to support business growth. As well as the concrete benefit of helping the business have a better understanding of the people it employs, the centers are felt to be a keen engagement and retention tool. People believe their careers benefit from them, and also that the organization invests in them and values them as individuals. Kia Motors Slovakia Education and Training Team has a long tradition of successfully using assessment centres, and they switched to virtual methodologies using e-Simulatortm. Asked to compare the use of virtual to traditional methods, Martina Hornicáková assistant manager of the Education & Training Team said: “Virtual centers are less time consuming and are perceived by participants as being more objective. They also have more credibility as they simulate the real working environment.”

1 Strategic Talent Development: Develop and Engage All Your People for Business Success, Caplan, J, Kogan Page, London, Philadelphia, New Delhi, September 2013
2 ibid

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Janice Caplan is author of Strategic Talent Development: Develop and Engage All Your People for Business Success, Kogan Page, London, Philadelphia, New Delhi, September 2013. She can be contacted at Janice@thescalagroup.co.uk.

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