Nurture talent and watch your company grow

Investing in people by encouraging and enabling innovative staff development is key to business success, writes Charles Orton-Jones

Steal a rival’s product designs and you’ll end up in court. Steal their talent management formula and there’s zero comeback. That’s the crazy thing about managing people – there are hundreds of fabulous ways to motivate them, to engage them and to help them grow into world-beating titans of commerce, all free, just waiting for you to discover them.

Pleasingly, most firms are desperate to share their best techniques. There are hundreds of firms, from FTSE-100 giants to hungry start-ups, all of whom want nothing more than to help others benefit from what they have learnt.

Jennifer Morris, global talent director at Diageo, is chomping at the bit to explain how she nurtures the superstars of tomorrow. The key is a “Future Leaders” elite programme. Top performers are singled out for fast-track promotion. “At any one time there are dozens of Future Leaders which will become hundreds right across the globe,” she says.

“This is a significant, three-year investment in the individual. It is a huge challenge for those taking part, but it also provides them with an enormous breadth of experience. It incorporates business, management and leadership training, mentoring and support, and ensures that those involved have a chance to articulate and plan where they want to go within Diageo.” The scheme means that more than half of Diageo’s senior appointments are internal.

Computer-maker Dell uses a mentoring programme. HR officer Alison Emptage says: “The programme connects Dell team members who share common ethnicity, gender, nationality, lifestyle or sexual orientation. Members offer each other a broader scope for personal and professional development through mentoring, volunteerism and community involvement, and specialist events, such as speed networking.

“Across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, for example, we have 17 networks designed to cater for the specific needs of women and act as a support group for facing workplace challenges.”

The field of talent management is replete with methods, schemes, plans, tips and tactics to get your employees quickening their stride to work each morning

You might consider looking at other sectors to find inspiration. The computer industry is rife with original, but effective, practices. Critical Software, which creates software for the defence and aviation industries, runs “Innovation Pizza Nights”. The engineers are given the hardware they need and all the pizza they can put away, and are allowed to indulge their creativity.

Or how about a bank? Macquarie Bank is one of Australia’s biggest. Its new Sydney HQ was kitted out by interior designers Woods Bagot for “activity-based working”. This means no desks; or rather, no permanent desks. Employees move from desk to desk and to pods for more discreet work. Macquarie says it has increased capacity from 2,850 to 3,500 with no increase in floor space. The response? The bank says 90 per cent of staff do not want their own desk back and even claims a 43 per cent reduction in sick days.

If you do introduce new talent management techniques, then you’ll want to know if they are working. Some firms create their own metrics. The founders of Twenty Recruitment, Paul Marsden and Adrian Kinnersley, wanted to create a committed and ethical work culture. So they developed a list of values, such as “Life’s Short – so let’s just get on with it”, “Crystal Clear – transparency in everything we do” and “Be Eclectic – celebrate diversity”. Every new intake is tutored in these values and employees are evaluated every six months to see how closely they are aligned to them.

It might also be worth selling your bright ideas to the workforce, so they really understand what you are trying to achieve. Even something as straightforward as a company pension will need a programme to help staff understand what they are being offered as an incentive.

Admiral Insurance has 5,000 employees. Selling its pension scheme took real effort. It hired specialists Jelf Employee Benefits, who ran competitions, webchats and created videos explaining pensions Jelf’s staff even wear T-shirts saying “We Love Pensions” to hammer it home. By the end of the promotion, 1,400 staff had enrolled, a leap of 127 per cent. The progress was significant and staff with company pension schemes are more likely to stay long term, reducing recruitment and affiliated costs.

And if things don’t go to plan? Talent management involves knowing when to wield the axe. When Richard Close joined Briggs Equipment, it was losing £10 million a year. Six years later it’s in the black. His masterstroke? Giving staff personal responsibility. He advises: “Remove the ‘middle-management concrete’, those individuals who have been with the company for decades, but are very often barriers to growth and stifling creativity and innovation. By removing this layer, you not only make significant cost-savings, but empower the remaining staff to make their own decisions without consulting an unnecessary middle manager.”

The field of talent management is replete with methods, schemes, plans, tips and tactics to get your employees quickening their stride to work each morning. Some may work, others may not suit your organisation. The only crime is not exploring what’s out there.