Retaining Top Talent in a Year of Rising Economic Confidence

Abigail Clayton

With the rise in economic confidence over the last few months the job market is beginning to look more buoyant. High performers are assessing their existing situation and looking to progress their careers with new opportunities. Employers will be required to develop new talent management strategies to keep high performers motivated, challenged, and retained within their organisations.

The Challenge

  • 87% of individuals surveyed are going to look for a new job in 2014 (, Dec 2013)
  • 54% of employers are looking to increase staffing levels in 2014 (CIPD, Nov 2013)
  • 78% of medium-size businesses place a shortage of talent and skills among their top three barriers to growth (Grant Thornton, November 2013)

At a recent breakfast meeting we held, delegates from a range of organisations across different industries discussed the subject of defining and retaining talent in a recovering economy.

Definitions of talent

The delegates began by discussing the different ways that talent was defined within their organisations. Most identified a group of “high potential” individuals but how this was defined and then managed varied. This was the type of “talent” that seemed to be managed most formally as part of a process or programme. Some of the measures included cognitive ability, emotional intelligence, ability to adapt to new roles or situations and breadth of experience but few measured technical ability; it was taken as given that this performance must already be in place in order for the individual to be considered to have high potential. Once identified, it was this group that tended to receive an accelerated route through the organisation through development and profile raising opportunities. It was noted that this approach did bring some challenges for those not in the group.

Key issues and recommendations

  • In some organisations, measurement of some of the factors deemed necessary for high potential identification is still thought to be down to “gut feeling”. However, some are becoming more transparent about the criteria and making sure it is correctly applied.
  • Diversity was seen to be an important factor in making sure that the criteria was correct and that the challenge around application of the criteria is given. Sometimes organisations can be blinkered about what “talent” is and having broader criteria would encourage increased diversity.
  • Some of the delegates also talked about specific roles that were critical to the organisation but whose incumbents had no interest in being part of “talent programmes”. For this group, a strengths-based management of careers was discussed, where people are developed according to their strengths to increase their capability in role without looking at filling their gaps in order to promote.

Providing opportunities for progression

Cost heavy career development teams now seen as a luxury have been cut from many organisations; a key challenge, even for the larger ones, was about how to identify and engage individuals looking for progression when there are limited opportunities to be promoted. Few organisations had a formal process in place where secondments could take place and often the siloed way in which some organisations work meant that there were issues around practicalities such as salary differences that hindered sharing of talent and gaining breadth of experience.

Key issues and recommendations

  • Many employers are now seeing employees having increasingly high expectations that their employers will “provide” careers and that individuals are taking less ownership of managing their own careers by taking opportunities that give experience rather than just promotion. It was suggested that many employees do not think about the benefits of taking a sideways move, that may initially mean a drop or plateau in salary, in order to secure experience that will aid future career plans; the term “career sustainability” was coined for those willing to do so as part of a longer term career strategy.
  • It may take longer within an organisation to get to the next step than going externally but once there then progression will be quicker due to consolidated experience. It was suggested that highlighting the career paths of high profile individuals within the organisations could be helpful in showing that there was not one route, that individuals may have taken different routes to end up in the same place.
  • Assumptions can often be made about what people want and different demographic groups and individual preferences may need different types of career paths. Diversity is required in the way that talent is viewed and therefore managed – a “different courses for different horses” approach.
  • It was thought that more open conversations with line managers getting closer to their people to understand what they need at different stages could help build different types of opportunities. However, some questioned how much the organisation should flex and how much responsibility the individual has to flex. It was suggested that the contract between the organisation and individual’s responsibility for career progression needs to be made clearer.
  • The needs of Generation Y were discussed and many believed that too much focus was put on this group whereas a more balanced approach was required so that all groups had input.
  • Employers have to recognise that sometimes their organisation is not the best place for an individual to gain the necessary experience and that they may need to go elsewhere for a while before returning. One way of doing this might be to partner with other organisations to provide career progression, by loaning and accepting external talent as part of a talent management plan.
  • The group discussed the issue of “How to retain people and allow them to leave”; it was thought this could be a key area that organisations could be more innovative about. For example, using customers, suppliers and partners to provide opportunities for external secondments could provide a win-win scenario for all parties.

Creating the right culture for talent to thrive

Increasingly organisations are measuring not only the “what” but the “how” of results. Some delegates felt that organisations should be stronger at sifting out high profile individuals who were not meeting the “how” measurements, some had seen this done and it was seen to be very effective in driving the right behaviours.

Key issues and recommendations

  • Having the right structures, systems, tools and processes is key to being successful in driving effective cultures; saying that you want people to work collaboratively and provide opportunities for secondments is not enough without structures to support it. A “people directory” was working well for one delegate; individual profiles of employees could be searched, thereby helping projects to find the correct expertise and experience. This approach can be used to enhance cross-area working as well as providing career opportunities.
  • Some felt that it was difficult for employees in some roles to understand what it’s like in their role to demonstrate the values or behaviours being set. Building in opportunities to highlight the behaviours being looked for was discussed. Examples included, having a “behavioural moment” at the start of every meeting where someone is picked out for something they have done that is a good demonstration of the behaviours being sought; this puts it at the front of the agenda or having examples from the business showcased on the intranet of what behaviours look like in practice for different roles.
  • It was suggested that waiting for spontaneous change did not always work and that opportunities needed to be created, for example, if looking for increased collaboration then set up groups of people from different areas to work together on something rather than just waiting for it to happen organically.
  • However, some felt that getting individuals to come up with their own solutions could also be powerful in embedding the behaviours but that local leadership needed to be measured on how much they are enabling others and how they keep behaviours at the top of the agenda. For example, asking what their personal promise is and giving the opportunity in team meetings or one-to-ones to answer when they demonstrated the behaviour, what they found challenging about it and what their next steps are.

What is Getfeedback’s approach to Talent Identification?

We focus on your commercial requirement and business strategy to make sure that you get a clear return; rapid growth, sustainability or differentiation may require subtle differences in approach. By framing your talent programme in the context of your commercial requirements, and by what has gone before, we will make clear recommendations about what will best help you achieve your objectives.

We work out exactly what ‘talent’ means in your business; talent in one business means something quite different to another. Our process is specifically designed to understand what talent means for you. While we can show you how your talent compares to extensive benchmark data, you can have confidence that you will also know what it means for you against your own set of criteria. This is critical for you to differentiate your resourcing and development process from your competitors.

Different talent is required for different roles; the temptation is to think that all ‘high potential’ will fit into one profile. Our approach defines individuals’ ideal role from a motivational point of view and from a capability point of view, in order to evaluate the way and the extent to which they will make use of their ability and personality in a particular work situation. You can then make better decisions about placing people in roles that they are both competent for and motivated to deliver against.

Transparency is key to our approach in measuring talent; our assessment method is not a black art. The leadership of your business will fully understand the measures used and how to interpret the information so that they can take properly informed decisions about the people in their business.

If you need us to not only design your talent criteria but also assess against it, you can rest assured that our methods are both reliable and accurate. All of our consultants go through an extensive, rigorous training and examination process to be qualified to conduct our assessments. The examination is written, verbal and observational and the pass mark required is 85%. This means you can guarantee the quality and accuracy of the information.

If you would like to have an informal conversation about how we build a picture of talent within organisations please get in touch with Alana Inness on 07738 319204 or

You can also find some of our case studies here