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Methodology, Perceptions of talent, Existing frameworks

Methodology

We were conscious that it would be easy to spend time talking about talent without moving the agenda forward. In 2013/14 we therefore commenced a first cycle of an action research project. We aimed to engage a broad range of staff in exploring and discussing the concept of talent and to give some people the opportunity to be involved in piloting an approach to talent development, with a view to eliciting a response to the five questions above through dialogue and experience; we have approached this in three ways by:

  • Interviewing a range of staff across the organisation to explore their perception of ‘talent’
  • Reviewing our existing policies, frameworks and practices that may support the development of talent and potential
  • Offering an ‘open-call’ Pilot Talent Development Programme in order that those involved can experience and learn as reflective practitioners more about what it might mean to ‘develop talent’ at BU

Perceptions of Talent

The CIPD (2011, 2008) recommend that one of the critical success factors for any talent management strategy is organisational ‘readiness’ to embrace the concept of talent. When we first considered running a talent programme about 10 years ago it was considered elitist by some and resistance meant that we did not pursue it as a concept. The term itself has been questioned and debated in the literature and indeed gaining clarity around the definitions of both ‘talent’ and ‘potential’ have been seen as prerequisites for effective talent management in the reviewed literature. The Collins English Dictionary (2011) defines them as:

‘Talent - innate ability, aptitude, or faculty, especially when unspecified; above average ability.’

‘Potential - possible but not yet actual; capable of being or becoming but not yet in existence; latent but unrealised ability or capacity.’

However, staff have more recently used the term ‘talent’ during ‘conversation events’ when we were developing our University Strategy for BU2018. Use of the term has increased significantly in the literature over the last two decades, although there is more coverage in the practitioner than in the empirical literature (Iles et al, 2010). Whilst we therefore currently feel justified in using the word ‘talent’ at BU, we need to understand more about what we mean by the term. We are aware that there are many tried and tested talent development programmes inside and outside of the HE sector, but are not sure if the models that exist will work for us. We also recognise that being able to identify talent is a skill in itself and wanted to discover more about how to develop our skills in this area.

McCartney (2010) research is one of the few studies that focuses on the experience of talent management from the employee’s point of view and acknowledges that more research needs to be done with those who are not in talent pools or programmes. Our discussions with colleagues in the sector have highlighted the potentially negative experience of those who are not selected to be in a ‘talent pool’, whilst raising our aspiration that criteria for selection will be transparent and owned by staff. This also raises a question about what might be different about ‘talent development’ that is not already being offered or exploited.

We have therefore started a series of short interviews with staff who represent a broad range of categories and grades across the organisation, to explore how they perceive talent in the BU context and to help address the questions set out in the introduction. Nearly thirty interviews with staff have been conducted so far and, whilst the participants are not yet a balanced representation of BU staff, early indications are that there are a broad range of definitions of talent that are more focused on skills and working style than on ‘innate ability’.

In addition this work has highlighted a strong reliance on the line manager and the appraisal and personal and professional development planning process to identify talent, although other examples have been given. Indeed McCartney and Worman (2010) have highlighted the pivotal role that line managers play as guardians of the talent pipeline and the need to engage them in nurturing talent.

Existing frameworks to support talent and potential

We identified that one of the ways to engage managers in nurturing talent was to clarify existing mechanisms of support, signposting and making them easily available to managers and their staff. The Civil Service (2012), who themselves have a welldeveloped talent framework, have highlighted the importance of evaluating the current state of talent management opportunities, as a programme is only one of a variety of interventions that can be used. Other mechanisms can help to move from an exclusive and elitist approach towards a broader and more inclusive approach that recognises that everyone who works in an organisation can be conceptualised as ‘talent’ (McCartney and Worman, 2010). In addition they recommend that such frameworks should include ways to deal with poor performance as it is the least exploited talent-building lever of any company and, where poor performance has not been dealt with, it has been highlighted as one of the factors that undermines effective talent management (Chambers et al, 2007).

At BU we have set out to provide clarity around the many ways that managers and staff can access support for talent and potential, in addition to supporting those on a ‘talent programme’. We have undertaken a review of our existing HR and staff development policies, processes and practice and a draft talent management framework provides a structure that draws attention to existing opportunities under the following headings: workforce plan; acquiring talent; planning for succession; identifying talent; reward and recognition; personal and professional development planning; staff development; and appraisal. One of the criticisms of such frameworks is that organisations do not evaluate how they contribute to the management of talent (Lewis and Heckman, 2006) and so a challenge for BU will be to ensure that such mechanisms are set up in ways that will enable us to demonstrate how they are being used to identify, support and develop talent, which in turn contribute to organisational performance.

A number of staff who were interviewed identified flexible role and career opportunities and recognition strategies as ways to develop and support talent. The development of role and career frameworks for academic and professional and support staff have been identified as crucial tools to support useful conversations between managers and staff about an individual’s personal and professional development plan.

The academic career framework is currently under review to align it to the latest BU Strategy. Frameworks for professional and support staff are being developed and include: (i) generic skills, such as communication and problem solving (ii) living the BU Values and (iii) role specific knowledge and outputs aligned to the professional area. The role and career frameworks are being designed to articulate and reconcile organisational expectations and individual aspirations and will be aligned to development opportunities, focusing on development within grade as well as hierarchically through salary grades, so that staff can develop more long term and aspirational development plans.


Read on - Pilot talent development programme

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