Talent management – for the many or just the few?

Dr Wendy Hirsh, co-author of Talent Management: Learning Across Sectors, the Leadership Foundation’s latest research publication, challenges higher education to consider the development of staff in the same way they would the learning growth of students.

Working on talent management with many organisations, their managers and staff, I often encounter unease and even hostility to the possibility that some development opportunities might be offered to some people but not others. So is talent management for the many or the few or can it be both?

If we unpick this issue from the business perspective first, we see that the ideas of business needs and business risk are very central to what organisations in a range of sectors mean by the term talent management. Talent management is absolutely not about giving employees all the development they would like, but about prioritising business investment in development where it will make the most difference to business effectiveness – and decrease business risk. Therefore it must be central to an organisation’s strategy.

However, often in universities, the human resources and talent management strategy (if it exists) sits alongside the core priorities and can become disconnected. This blog draws from new case study research commissioned by the Leadership Foundation to learn about talent management as practiced in other sectors. A key issue for universities like other organisations is whether to focus development resource on the many or the few.  For example, does a university need to invest in senior leadership, mid-career academics and professionals or helping younger researchers gain the skills and exposure to get their feet on the funding ladder? The answer to this question will always be a mix, but it is unavoidable that the decision will be informed by budgets and capacity if nothing else.

The public sector in the UK has traditionally been very good at investing in those just starting out on their careers and those near the top. This can leave the “middle” neglected. The more successful businesses, for example leading technology and professional services firms recognise the importance of prioritising and developing the capacity of the “middle” by redesigning roles, changing work and skill mix and business practices. The message here is this kind of development is not just about courses but about giving well established staff access to new experiences, extending and expanding roles, such as being involved directly in leading change, albeit supported by  informal coaching, mentoring or perhaps learning sets to practice new approaches. We suggest universities might usefully re-examine the capability of their experienced teachers, researchers and professionals, assess the skills gap and unfulfilled potential and use institutional wide talent management strategies as an enabler for success in an increasingly competitive environment.

We also see some talent management priorities arising from labour market shortages in what companies often call ‘operationally critical’ jobs or workforce groups. For example, some universities find it difficult to fill technician roles when long-serving staff retire or find clinical-academics in areas like medicine when higher salaries can be earned outside the academy. These are national, not institutional problems. Pharmaceutical companies adjusted their training pipelines for technician roles many years ago to accommodate both graduate and vocational routes and to raise skill levels to respond to increasingly complex lab techniques and equipment. Such issues could be addressed by universities sectorally or regionally as well as individually.

The second set of business decisions about priorities is trickier. Will we develop everyone in a particular workforce group to the same skill level or will we sometimes select individuals for more stretching development activities? The trend here in other sectors is clearly to aim for a both/and answer to this question. For example, companies are re-investing in first line manager training for all such managers, because good management is so central to the performance, engagement, development and retention of the people they manage. However, on top of this universal development, a talent management approach may also be trying to spot first line managers who want to progress their careers and have the ability to do a bigger or more complex management job. Depending on the context, a university may be wanting to invest in people already thinking about becoming a Head of Department, or looking a bit earlier for individuals who simply want to grow and are interested in exploring their leadership potential. Such individuals may be offered more stretching developmental opportunities to help them progress their careers and also to test their career preferences. The Leadership Foundation’s Aurora programmes and Athena SWAN does something of this kind for women in academia. So taking a business view, different kinds of development investment may address both the many and the few.

Of course, if organisations try and spot potential for career progression, they need to be very careful to avoid managers just developing their favourites or perpetuating inequalities of gender, race and so on. This is why talent management does have to be inclusive and include relevant definitions of potential for different kinds of jobs or levels in the organisation, test and challenge the views of individual managers and integrate talent management with real time tracking of diversity and inclusion data.

Moving from the organisational to the individual perspective, the idea of a Personal Development Plan is long established. However, other sectors are trying to move this away from being just about courses and to make it individually tailored and genuinely personal – that is related to the strengths and needs of each person and their situation. So we would not expect PDPs to give the same development to everyone doing the same job. PDPs are also being modified to include career-related development as well as development to improve performance in the current job. Talent management explicitly includes talking to individuals about their career aspirations and interests. There is little point developing someone towards being a Head of Department if this is simply not something they want to do or if they show no sign of the people skills required to do it successfully.

In essence talent management brings together these two perspectives and has to be “everyone’s business” and not just human resources “baby”. It needs to focus development where it is needed by the business and where it matches the aspirations and abilities of individuals. When it works well it’s a win-win for the “many” in the organisation and also for the “few” at the level of the individual. But to go down this route, we have to get used to the idea that not everyone needs to learn the same things at the same time in the same way. The best universities aspire to attend to the individual needs and interests of their students – supporting those who needs extra help and challenging those who can go further. Why would they wish to do less for their staff?

Dr Wendy Hirsh is an employment researcher and consultant specialising in career development, talent management, succession planning and workforce planning. Talent Management: Learning Across Sectors, was co-written with Elaine Tyler, Research Fellow, Institute for Employment Studies.

Download the report here: www.lfhe.ac.uk/hirsh5.8

An Interview with Lynda Hinxman

Lynda joined us in May 2017 as a guest speaker at the Aurora Core Leadership Skills day in London. We took some time to ask Lynda some questions about her career and progression into leadership.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership is the ability to create a clear vision and to create the environment in which people can thrive and work together to achieve the vision.

It is about building your own emotional capital in order to effectively engage with others, to motivate, empower and support.

At the start of your career, what were the biggest barriers to progression you were faced with and what one piece of advice would you give to someone aspiring to a leadership role facing similar barriers?

The single biggest barrier to progressing my early career was my lack of self-confidence. I worked in a male dominated profession and thought that I had to behave and think like a man in order to progress. I have learnt over time that it is vital to be yourself not only to allow others to get to know you and gain respect but for your own wellbeing.

How important have mentors been to you in your leadership journey?

I have had both formal and informal mentors throughout my career and find them invaluable. They have provided a safe place in which to share and reflect on feelings, thoughts and ideas. They have challenged, questioned and probed but most of all they have provided guidance – I’m not sure what the collective noun is for a group of Yodas…….but perhaps Yoda himself might say ‘a ponder of Yodas, it is!’

How important has it been for you in your career to have role models and mentors?

Role models engender inspiration and aspiration. In my experience, they have come with no hierarchy attached – my role models have ranged from my dad, male and female bosses, team members, friends to my daughter.

Do you have one golden piece of advice you would give to aspiring women leaders?

As Oscar Wilde said ‘Be yourself, everyone else is already taken’.

For me this means that you can flex your style and approach to connect best with others without losing the essence of you.

Finally, who is your inspiring woman leader?

Professor Christine Booth, former Pro Vice Chancellor of Sheffield Business School – As she was not only an inspiring business woman but fabulous at connecting with others at a professional and personal level.

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Lynda Hinxman is the assistant dean, employer engagement for Sheffield Business School at Sheffield Hallam University. Lynda is a Chartered Surveyor by profession, and prior to joining Sheffield Hallam University was a senior executive at Norwich Union Investment Management and has held senior surveying roles in the Costain Group and Shell UK.

Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research which highlighted women’s under-representation in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to address this.

Dates, locations and booking for Aurora 2017-18 are available here.

 

The Brexit blogs: what do followers need and expect?

In the latest in our Brexit blogs series, programme director Doug Parkin considers the ART of leadership – authenticity, responsibility and trust.

ART

Let’s turn the whole leadership thing on its head and ask, instead, the question “what do followers need and expect?”  What do they need to follow willingly and with energy and commitment, and what do they expect from leaders in terms of behaviour, communication and relationship?  And before we become too fixated on polarised notions of leaders and followers, it is important to acknowledge that great followers are as important as great leaders. Most of us occupy both roles in our lives at different moments and in different ways, and there is often a grey line between the two as leadership is shared and followers become empowered.

Starting from perhaps quite a low base, following the recent EU referendum and Brexit decision, trust in public/political leadership has taken quite a battering and a real appetite seems to be emerging for more authentic, genuine and sympathetically attuned or connected leaders.  These are themes consistently engaged with on Leadership Foundation programmes.

Authenticity – a little thing called integrity

There is a courage that sits at the heart of authentic leadership that is about showing who you really are through “being” who you really are: the big difference, for example, between saying you have integrity and showing you have integrity. Authentic leaders do not lead from behind a mask.  James Kouzes and Barry Posner had, at the core of their enquiry into leadership, the question “what do you most look for and admire in a leader, someone whose direction you would willingly follow?” The leadership quality that was ranked consistently top over more than 20 years by a very large set of contributors across six continents was “honest”.  Their work shows this to be “the single most important ingredient in the leader-constituent relationship” and that “regardless of what leaders say about their own integrity, people wait to be shown; they observe the behaviour”.  The top four personal traits and characteristics for willing and committed follower participation, identified with remarkable consistency, are:

  • Honest
  • Forward-looking
  • Competent
  • Inspiring

Responsibility – misleaders

Leaders also have a responsibility to be honest in their communications and engagement, particularly around change and when portraying a vision of the future.  Manipulating people either through the content and manner of communication, or through the style and timing of engagement, will cause the leader/follower relationship to crumble or, worse still, turn toxic.  There is certainly a sense-making role for leaders, particularly when operating in complex and uncertain environments, and that may involve putting across the truth of a situation “as I see it”.  But that is very different from misleading people, or preying on their fears and insecurities to sell a particular position or develop a sense of urgency.  Leaders should be “dealers in hope” (Napoleon Bonaparte), not peddlers in fear, and, whatever the situation, they need to live by the principle that “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

In their 2011 book of the same name, John Rayment and Jonathan Smith identify four main types of MisLeadership: missing, misguided, misinformed and Machiavellian. Alongside these, particularly the cunning and duplicity of the Machiavellian leader, we could perhaps add a fifth form of misleadership, the knowingly misleading leader.  To knowingly mislead in a trusted leadership role is quite simply a betrayal of responsibility – a betrayal of followers.

Trust – the glue that binds followers and leaders together

Integrity is fundamentally about the person of the leader and the degree to which they are able to inspire trust and carry respect.  The importance of trust for successful and engaging team/organisational leadership cannot be emphasised enough: “trust is the emotional glue that binds followers and leaders together.  A survey conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management and the journal Management Today in 2009 used the following six dimensions to establish an index of leadership trust: ability, understanding, fairness, openness, integrity and consistency.  The findings of their survey of over 5,000 UK employees pointed to one clear conclusion, “integrity is the foundation of trust and it grows in importance with seniority”[1]Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, takes this still further by making trust the core foundation of high functioning or high performing teams.  And linking back to authenticity, Lencioni teaches us again the importance of honesty and vulnerability in leadership:

“Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Megatrends survey in 2013 revealed that just 37% of employees trusted their senior managers.  (One could speculate, perhaps, where this figure might be with regard to national political leadership at the current time…).  This built upon a series of case studies published the previous year calledwhere has all the trust gone?  Following this, in 2014 the CIPD produced a research report called Cultivating Trustworthy Leaders, which identified four pillars of trust:

  • Ability – demonstrable competence at doing their job or fulfilling their role.
  • Benevolence (genuine concern) – a concern for others beyond their own needs and showing levels of care and compassion.
  • Integrity – adherence to a set of principles acceptable to others encompassing fairness and honesty, while avoiding hypocrisy.
  • Predictability – a regularity of behaviour over time.

Column

Authenticity begins in the heart and works outward through the values we embody and the behaviours we display.  The integrity that flows from this creates a core responsibility for leaders not to mislead others for their own purposes.  And, to complete the ART of leadership, trust is the essential ingredient in the leader/follower relationship that enables teams and organisations to flourish.

Doug Parkin is a programme director for the Leadership Foundation and is responsible for a range of open programmes – including Future Professional Directors, Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership and Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching (in collaboration with the Higher Education Academy). He also undertakes bespoke consultancy assignments for universities and works on some of our main international projects. Key interests include educational and research leadership, the leadership of professional services, strategy development, organisational change and leadership for sustainability.

[1] Campbell, S. (2009). The Truth about Trust, Index of Leadership Trust Special Report. Edge Magazine, The Institute of Leadership & Management, UK, September 2009: 20-25

Leading across the organisation

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Many of us crave stability, or at least a degree of it, in our working lives. This stability takes in organisational structures, lines of authority, colleague relationships, work patterns and cycles, and the goals we have to achieve.  We look for, or construct for ourselves, something regular, routine and with consistent reference points.  But there is a fine line between stability and stagnation, and when the wind of change blows there can be a strong inclination to build walls, become protective and create silos.

“When the wind of change blows, some build walls, others build windmills”
(Chinese proverb)

Within universities there are a lot of things we do to service established patterns, structures and cycles. The academic year itself drives various routines, assessing student work creates imperatives (things that have to be done), there are set requirements for research grant applications and timetables that go with them, and our committee structures have a life of their own in terms of servicing and bureaucracy.  But what happens when the scale of change is so profound that it starts to create a paradigm shift?  What happens when organisations start redefining success?  What happens when a new alignment is urgently required with the needs and expectations of users, customers and stakeholders (or even with society itself)?

“Just as we’ve seen the forces of technology and globalisation transform sectors such as media and communications or banking and finance over the last two decades, these forces may now transform higher education. The solid classical buildings of great universities may look permanent but the storms of change now threaten them”.
(An Avalanche is Coming – Barber, Donnelly and Rizvi, IPPR, March 2013)

For academic colleagues there is an increasing need to work across disciplines, whether in curriculum design, research or enterprise. Indeed, it could be said that the big questions of today like climate change, urbanisation, alleviating poverty, food security and global public health can only be effectively addressed through international partnerships of universities, research institutes and NGOs working together.  And within institutions the challenge for professional service leaders is increasingly to span boundaries and work across the organisation.  To enhance the student experience universities are increasingly looking for unified services that work in a joined-up way; to develop excellent new facilities we expect the human, technological and infrastructure considerations to be worked through in unison; and to achieve greater business efficiency there is a quest for synergies through shared services, goal alignment and partnering.

All of this presents significant challenges to university leaders, and not just those at the most senior levels. To work across the organisation requires leaders to take an inclusive approach, to liberate talent, to engage people collaboratively, to build collective commitment and to create a sense of both pride and mutual accountability.  To help develop leaders in these sophisticated, collaborative ways of operating we have created a model that looks at and contrasts the different ways of leading across the organisation.  This model is used on our Leading Across Professional Boundaries programme and was showcased during a workshop session at the AUA Conference, Revolution and Reinvention, in April. The model sets out four distinct approaches and defines them in terms of how organisational boundaries are viewed or conceptualised (this draws on the work of Chris Ernst and colleagues at the Centre for Creative Leadership on Boundary Spanning Leadership – 2011).  Continue reading

Where are the leaders?

Dr Paul Gentle

While writing a book proposal a few months ago, I asked my first-year undergraduate son for some feedback on an idea I had for the title. I knew his response would be frank and direct; what I hadn’t expected was the thinking it would provoke in me.

When I gave him my suggestion, he looked nonplussed. “The challenge of inspiring collective commitment in our universities”, I said, already embarrassed that the words weren’t exactly rolling off the tongue.  At the time, I wasn’t sure if his implied disapproval was because the very length of the title took up half the characters in a tweet. Or maybe it was down to the sheer uphill struggle involved in inspiring anything in a university, from his perspective. One way or another, he remained more than usually silent for quite some time.

When asking participants on our programmes (such as Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership) to reflect on where leadership can be found in a university, I’ve often been encouraged by their responses. The starting point is frequently an assertion that leadership isn’t confined to what senior managers do – or middle managers, or indeed necessarily any managers. It simply isn’t automatically associated with positional power.

What really seems to count in many situations, people think, is a set of personal qualities associated with leadership presence. Those individuals who can tap into this successfully are able to invest energy and emotion in relationships, facilitate collaborative conversations and build teams with a clear sense of mutually-agreed direction. People with these qualities can be found everywhere in universities – in the student body, in research centres, in estates and maintenance staff, in teaching teams, in offices… regardless of pay grade.

The challenge for universities is to recognise that they are already ‘leaderful organisations’, and that if they could align personally influential individuals with their institutional direction of travel, they may indeed inspire collective commitment (Bolden et al.)

A few days after our initial exchange, my son called me into his room.

“I’ve got an idea for that book of yours”, he said.

“Oh yes?”

“Yeah – be straight up about it – ‘Who’s in charge around here?’”

Paul Gentle is Director of Prgrammes.

His book title is Engaging Leaders: The challenge of inspiring collective commitment in universities and the first draft will be with Routledge by the end of the summer.