A new approach to talent management

Source: NHE Jul/Aug 2017

Martin Hancock, national lead for talent management at NHS Leadership Academy, and Gill Rooke, the organisation’s senior operations manager, discuss the ongoing work to improve talent management and access to leadership development in the NHS.

Last year, the first iteration of the national framework ‘Developing People – Improving Care’ was launched to guide action on improving skill building, leadership development and talent management for people working in the NHS. 

The framework focused on helping NHS and social care staff develop four critical capabilities: systems leadership; established quality improvement methods; inclusive and compassionate leadership; and talent management.

In relation to the latter, this was to support NHS-funded services fill current vacancies and future leadership pipelines with the right numbers of diverse, appropriately developed people. 

One man who has been spearheading the work in this area is Martin Hancock, national lead for talent management at NHS Leadership Academy. 

“There is a lot to get our teeth into,” he told NHE. “In truth, the work of talent management and leadership development are inextricably linked. We have an emerging programme of work which we hope will cover all the bases set out in the framework.” 

He added that it is impossible to do everything all at once in such a complex system as the NHS, but there are a number of programmes progressing well. 

“One is supporting organisations to do talent management better,” said Hancock. “The NHS isn’t a single organisation, it is a complex system of 400-500 organisations of varying sizes and different purposes, and some of them are highly autonomous in their own right. 

“So, how do we support and enable those organisations to manage their talent more effectively? And that means: how do we support all staff to fulfil their potential, whether that is to rise to the most senior levels of leadership, or whether it is just to do a really good job at the post they are in at the moment or move sideways into other areas. We have an obligation to all staff to be a good employer and look after them. 

“It is also about making organisations more self-sufficient, so when a vacancy does arise they have the people who are prepared, with the right knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours who can take that next step and take up a post rather than having to look externally.” 

Regional talent management capability 

An area where a lot of time and effort is being put is in establishing a presence at a regional level that can provide some strategic direction for talent management. 

“Nationally, we have a strategic vision which is described in ‘Developing People –  Improving Care’,” said Hancock. “We have these 500 or so organisations, some doing talent management very well, others that still need to improve, but we don’t have much that sits between that to give some direction. 

“A lot of the way the NHS is aligning itself now is about local and regional collaboration, and so we think it is appropriate to do that from a talent management perspective as well. We are looking to put in capability at a regional level.” 

This is a joint effort, he explained, as the regional collaboration is being piloted in the Midlands and East region. 

“We have a group of senior leaders, including representatives of the key arm’s-length bodies: Health Education England, NHS Improvement and NHS England,” said Hancock. “But then the talent board primarily consists of provider trust CEOs and CCG accountable officers. It is a board on behalf of the region’s providers.

“We also want to encourage talent management in the STP footprints. The Five Year Forward View is more about working at a system level. If that is appropriate for how we deliver patient care, then it should also apply around talent management and leadership development. We want to encourage that type of collaboration at STP level, and that will hopefully be part of the role that the regional activity would oversee and set direction for.” 

Improving accessibility to leadership development 

Gill Rooke, senior operations manager at NHS Leadership Academy, told us that ‘Developing People –  Improving Care’ has given the system an “opportunity to reflect on what has happened in the past and what we can do in the future”. 

“It has been a recent priority for the NHS, looking at leadership practice across all parts of the system,” she explained. “We are talking about quite recent work. The NHS is a huge beast, and we have been successful in establishing some of the best practice and what good can look like. But we are still in the early days. Obviously, we are working very hard in spreading the word and gaining that critical mass.” 

A key component of the new framework, noted Rooke, is about improving the accessibility to leadership development at all levels. “We have a number of leadership development programmes, at all levels of leadership, and all of them incorporate a certain amount of online learning,” she said. 

“What we have found is that face-to-face residentials are fantastically well received, but increasingly we are aware that it is difficult for people to be released from the service and so, with our Mary Seacole programme, which is for first time leaders, we created a programme much more accessible for frontline workers. We have shifted the emphasis in that particular programme to online discussion, forums and online learning. 

“Going forward, we will look potentially at how we can make our programmes even more accessible. We know that there is a balance between online learning and face-to-face residentials and we constantly evaluate that balance, with the programmes constantly being refreshed. But it is about what our research, evaluation and participant feedback tells us.” 

Making it business as usual 

Both Hancock and Rooke stressed that high-quality leadership in organisations improves organisational climate, and staff engagement and that, in turn, improves patient outcomes. 

“From a talent management perspective,” said Hancock, “if you go and talk to organisations in the corporate world very few have cracked this. They all find it difficult to nail down, some of it is because it is about processes, systems and infrastructure, but mostly it is about cultures and mindsets. 

“If you think about the difficulty of doing it in single organisations, with clear lines of hierarchy, and then introducing it to the complex structure of the NHS, it makes it even more difficult to deliver consistently. The trick is that it is less about inventing new things. Instead, it is about trying to do some of the things we do already with a level of scale and consistency and sustaining them long enough so that they become business as usual.”


The ‘Developing People – Improving Care’ framework can be accessed at:



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