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Growing your own Talent

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Tending the crop you’ve already sown should be a key part of your talent strategy.

Here are five ideas to help:

1. Make sure you retain good people so that development pays off and you aren’t fighting for talent

Maximising the return on your investment in developing people depends heavily on keeping them in your organisation.  If they go, so does the capability you’ve helped to create.

This means including issues like engagement, employer brand and incentives in your thinking around talent strategy. But it also involves putting a premium on well thought-out career paths that offer rewarding roles and progression and that makes it evident that, as a business, you care about people’s futures. 

Then there’s the attractive power of high quality development that builds individuals’ capabilities and their employability. Paradoxically, making good people feel they could work anywhere can increase the chances they’ll stay with you. And, when they do, you’ll also avoid the costs of finding new people and of the months spent while they find their way in the organisation and work towards desired levels of performance.

2. Design development around the demands of your business, not around someone else’s model

There are plenty of ideas out there describing ‘what good looks like’ across a whole range of development dimensions, from leadership and management to team working and personal effectiveness. Some of those ideas appeal because they are based on research and rigorous analysis. Others may simply be speculative concepts that are nonetheless attractive because they stimulate new thinking. But the one thing they have in common is that, however useful they may be as sources of content for your development programmes, they were not created specifically to fit your business. 

The best starting point is to deconstruct your business strategy – and the likely external scenarios you’ll face – into a clear understanding of the capabilities it will take for people to be effective, particularly as leaders, managers and specialist contributors, in the future. Then build development to deliver those capabilities.

3. Manage careers so that your people really understand the business and can make things happen as they progress

It remains the case that some of the most successful leaders are those who have grown up in a business and really understand its details. They know how things work – particularly the subtle factors that can disproportionately affect high performance. And they understand the culture, including the unwritten rules that so often determine whether change succeeds or fails. 

Develop your people, particularly future leaders, by exposing them to the full range of your company’s customers, national cultures and operations. This gives them the specific knowledge and experience they’ll need to perform throughout their careers.

4: Manage and evaluate development by looking at the full range of benefits – and costs

Businesses in general are becoming more rigorous in defining the impact they expect to get from development and in measuring whether they do. Partly because some of the criteria are qualitative and effects take time to become evident, only long-term monitoring can tell you whether development has really paid off. Focusing on home-grown talent not only allows time for people to realise their potential; it also makes it feasible to track the real effects of development over time.

But a more exacting evaluation of benefits also means trying to identify some indirect but important impacts, like retention, as well as thinking through the (sometimes hidden) causal linkages that relate improved capability to particular business outcomes. And it necessitates a similarly clear understanding of costs that may go beyond simply the money and time expended on development.  These may include particularly the delays and friction that can impede even the kinds of change that prove beneficial in the end.

5. Keep standards high and be active about bringing in new ideas and perspectives

Don’t let ‘grow your own’ breed complacency or the groupthink that rejects different, possibly uncomfortable, interpretations of the external environment or makes it difficult to bring in new ideas.  One key is to insist on high standards of performance – not only against business goals, but against development goals too. Long-term career success depends on achieving sustained results.

Another vital element is to actively promote a culture that fosters radical thinking and an openness to the outside world. Mandate processes that include explicit scanning of the external environment and legitimise creativity with its attendant use of experimentation. And build development experiences that include exposure to new ideas that come not only from outside your organisation but from beyond your industry and from the non-business world.

The real measure of ‘grow your own’ is not how finely tuned your people are to tomorrow’s business model, but rather the extent to which development prepares them and your business for the ultimate challenges of constant change, and periodic major disruption, that constitute the new normal.

What can be done about this?

There will always be a need to bring in talent from outside, particularly during rapid growth. And organisations are evolving to make more use of freelance talent and flexible working alongside conventional employment. But making the best of the people you already have should be at the heart of every talent strategy. It can produce better results more closely related to your strategic needs, and does it more cheaply than overreliance on new hires. And, by promising and providing rewarding careers, it completes a virtuous circle that links high levels of engagement with the retention needed to make ‘grow your own’ fully effective in the first place.

If you’d like to talk about how we can help you address the specifics of identifying, developing, retaining and managing home-grown talent in your business, please drop us a line.

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