I struggle somewhat with the term talent and have a preference for the word potential – try substituting “growing and realising potential” for “managing and developing talent”. By inference there is an indication with talent that some are worth more than others – I have seen the nine box grid as a crude sorting hat for those who are “in”, and those who are ”out”.

Is our thinking changing? I was curious about what I would hear/experience/feel at Symposium’s Talent Management and Leadership Summit in October, which was examining how employers are thinking differently about talent management to ensure they retain and develop the right people and skills to keep their businesses moving forward.

The stories told showed that there are organisations who are focussed on inclusion and diversity – not as a tick box, but as a way to enrich and deepen the resources in their leadership. I was encouraged to hear how much good work is taking place, and how much commitment there is to creating opportunities for people to grow. Great work is happening out there, that is respectful to individuals, and aligned to employer brand and strategy.

I’ve shared some personal take outs here/trends I hope will stimulate some thought.

Candidate and employee experiences rule the world – Rethink

Rethink Talent talked about the employee centric focus on recruitment; they described the evolution of workforce over the last fifteen years as developing from “materialistic” to “employee centric” in 2014 – with attention being given to family friendly policies, work life balance, more homeworking and output. Their view is that there is a gap between the old Personnel model and the current HRB/shared services and into that gap falls loss of individuality. They say, candidate and employee experience “rule the world”. Their use of technology to recruit Skype engineers virtually has enabled recruitment to fit around the employees and their requirements.

Using Apps and Neuroscience – Hay “Coach in a Pocket”

Hay shared their work on using technology to boost leadership performance. Their description of current HR and L&D trends identified – smart technology, 702010, student centric learning, a focus on ROI and blending learning. We’re seeing more and more development of apps; and Hay have developed a “Group Leadership Development App” which has utilised neuroscience to focus on habit change – contemplation – bring to consciousness your habit, planning to change, take action and maintain.

Neuroscience appears to be explaining what we already knew, some old knowledge, perhaps making sense for those that value the quantitative?

“Everyone is talent” BBC

Karen Moran from the BBC started with a picture of the “Great British Bake Off” team – who knew that a programme about cakes would prove so popular? Creating the conditions for innovation against a backdrop of a bureaucratic culture is a major challenge and Karen and her team have focussed on creating a strong employee brand, and working to have a deep understanding of engagement drivers across the BBC. Work on values has underpinned this work and they have co-created a set of guiding principles “our values will inform our decisions….”

A reminder for their leaders is “when you are living the best vision of yourself, you inspire others to live the best versions of themselves”. I heard care and heart in their leadership development mindset. Their work includes steps to building capability, sharing of a leadership promise, a leadership academy, actively promoting women into leadership business. They showed us an application of the nine box grid where all, including the lowest level of performers are offered development opportunities –“potential for more”. That word potential….

BBC’s work on talent attraction is now starting with schools; they have a strong employer brand and can identify clearly the various routes through which potential employees can work with the BBC. This is where we see the diversity and inclusion work in action. They are not limiting their view of “talent” to the right school, graduates or the existing network.

“Keep calm, and love data”

Karen Moran gave us a detailed case study of an integrated talent and leadership strategy, with practical implementation, grounded in an understanding of the culture and how leadership development and growth of potential is a key lever to creating an adaptive culture. This is the way to do it!

Rising stars – De Vere Hotels

Mike Williams from De Vere demonstrated how having limited financial resources engendered creativity and energy. Previous cost reduction strategy had gone too far; engagement was low and people had not been invested in. The new strategy was around “customer intimacy” – engagement and development became priorities.

Some of the key takeaways are that the work was clearly aligned to strategy and brand; successes and achievements are celebrated – and clear criteria for success have been established and shared. People are developed through provision of “talent toolbox training”, development days and development programmes. NVQ providers were assigned to each hotel encouraging staff to learn and develop. Results Mike shared with us included significantly increased engagement through people being coached; a culture of achieving potential and internal promotions. Trust in leadership had increased and they have increased job applications by 16% illustrating the impact on attracting more employees to their brand. Customer service ratings have improved by 20% and 65% of the most successful hotels are run by their “rising stars”. Mike also shared data on significant cost savings and budgetary reductions that was directly correlated to their increase in engagement through investing time, resource and attention on development and building relationships.

Strengthening and diversifying future leaders – Diageo

“Cultural curiosity”

Diageo offered us their perspective on developing future leaders, accelerating growth, what they’ve learned and measuring the impact on their business. I don’t have comprehensive notes because much of their session was video footage of people involved in their programme telling us their story. I got absorbed!

In summary, they have:

  • Accelerated the progress of people moving into leadership roles through targeted investment in key interventions
  • Built a diverse range of current and future global leaders – varied in gender, origin and experiences
  • Created one mind-set to building future leaders – senior leaders will be active sponsors and fully engaged in early career development
  • Facilitated Global connectivity – more collaboration between markets of early co-ordination and talent movement

They are rotating leaders into unfamiliar territories and providing stretching assignments to challenge thinking at an early stage of their career development. Cultural curiosity is one of their criteria for people to enter the talent pool – in my experience the most effective leaders are curious about themselves, about others, about how things work. Diageo are building a future, knowing they have to be adaptable and flexible in a fast changing world. I was inspired hearing the stories of young people; often coaching and development comes late in a career when it is more likely that we have internalised a particular view of ourselves and the world that will be deeply ingrained. Create good habits and insights early on; and those will provide a strong foundation for constructive approaches to leadership as the leader matures.

“You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change. Potential. (Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book).”

There is no “right” way as each organisation is made up of a unique context, unique relationships and challenges. Creating the setting for potential to be realised is an organisational imperative. I think there are some guiding principles to be drawn from these case studies that cut across sector, organisation size and design.

  • Technology creates the opportunity to collect and use data in ways that weren’t previously available to us
  • Technology also allows us to connect and share knowledge at an accelerated pace
  • Leadership development and talent development needs to be designed with the cultural context in mind
  • Internal sponsorship and involvement (there were many examples of this that I haven’t shared) is an essential component
  • Diversity and inclusion is at the heart of any decent talent programme, and it includes different experiences, ages, gender, origin, educational differences. True diversity recognises potential everywhere.

“We are all talent”.


Meg has worked in the field of Organisational Development for over 20 years; with companies across a range of size and sectors who see culture as a key driver to shaping successful performance. Meg is active on social media channels and writes a regular blog which was nominated in the Top 10 HR Blogs by People Management magazine in 2013.