Why talent management is more important than ever

Source: NHE Sep/Oct 16

Michelle Fitzgerald-Shaw, national programme lead, talent management at the NHS Leadership Academy, explains why talent management should be for everyone in the NHS.

Getting the right talent into the top jobs across the NHS is a challenge in itself, but keeping people there is another issue completely. A recent report showed that, on average, a chief executive of an NHS trust – the top role within trusts across the UK – only last two years. But why, at a time when leadership is so important than ever before, are we losing people in these top jobs? What else do we need to do? And how should we spread the message about the importance of talent management across all levels within an organisation? 

Talent management is described as a process of finding, developing, managing and evaluating talent. In other words: a way of bringing in people who are suited to certain roles and helping them develop to be the best they can.  

Simply put, organisations need to give talent management more importance, particularly succession planning. Clearly, more work needs to be done to help the most senior leaders understand their role and tackle daily challenges while operating in a consistently pressurised environment. It can often take months or years for NHS talent to pass through the ranks until they get into one of the most senior positions within their organisation. For them to quit 20 months later is absolutely devastating. 

But we’ve got to look at the full picture. These roles have massive responsibility and to expect one person on their own to shoulder this is both challenging and unrealistic. There needs to be more support for directors and senior managers prior to, and during their time in the role – something which the Academy offers with a whole host of programmes. We need to make sure that, as leaders, we all take responsibility for managing talent. A culture where leaders care about and actively develop their teams means there’s an increasing chance that the organisation will be able to deliver its objectives with the core goal of providing good quality care firmly at the centre. 

Succession planning looks at potential future leaders, as well as individuals to fill other business-critical positions, either in the short or the long term. It’s important for the NHS in a broad range of scenarios. There’s a real need to plan for succession into high-level leadership and managerial roles, and for critical technical or specialist roles. Only by doing this can organisations truly lead effectively, putting patients at the core of their every decision. If the leader at the helm of an organisation decides to leave, there’s proof that this can impact on the workforce by causing instability and lower morale. Therefore, having a good plan which shows what directors and senior managers should do will help an organisation stay calm throughout the storm. We plan for everything else – risk planning, care planning, so why not talent planning? 

National talent management strategy 

The importance of talent management in general was also a talking point following the Lord Smith and Lord Rose reviews published last year. These papers emphasised the benefits it brings to both the organisation and the employee, but that more work needs to be done at national level to manage, develop and nurture talent effectively across the health system. As a response to this, my colleagues in the Academy and from across partner organisations have now begun work to create a national strategy. This will address the recommendations raised and will support the NHS to build talent management capability, ensuring we know who the talent is at organisational, regional and national level so that we’ve got the right talent in the right posts and can help keep them there. 

Talent management is a continuous journey for any employee – people begin in their role and develop further, either in their role or with an aspiration to move on. We, as healthcare organisations, need to be able to influence each stage of their journey to ensure we get the best out of people within our organisation to continue delivering high levels of care. If you look at the Francis Report, which was published in 2012, you’ll see a whole host of catastrophic errors which led to one of the biggest scandals in healthcare. But break this down and look at it more closely – if those people on the frontline were cared for properly, if their line managers honed in on what their talents were and helped them develop, would the result have been the same? We need to learn from things like Mid Staffs and change things for the better. And talent management needs to be at the core of all organisations. 

Within the talent journey, the most important aspect is the talent conversation. This never ends; employees and managers need to keep it open and go back to it as often as they can. For example in 1-2-1s, informal discussions, opportune moments, being open and transparent in team meetings where appropriate and in any other ways that demonstrate that the employee is valued by the organisation. This approach means people feel more fulfilled and energised, helping them achieve their goals more effectively and perform better. 

By keeping this dialogue open, organisations can: 

  • Be seen as an organisation which is determined to develop its employees, which will help them attract the best people to the roles on offer
  • Improve employee and staff satisfaction to retain talent (a key element of succession planning)
  • Help to keep people in the roles which suit them the best 

NHS Careers

Who is talent management for? 

Of course, there’s also the big debate about who talent management is actually for. We know CEOs in organisations are finding the pressure hard at the top but does that mean they should be the only ones who get support? Surely not. Talent management is for everyone, whether that’s someone who needs support to be able to reach their potential or someone exceeding expectations who is ready for the next step. People at the frontline, who account for more than 66% of our workforce, are vital. Excluding them would be more catastrophic than anyone could ever imagine. 

We also shouldn’t forget other people in the organisation who have first-hand patient contact – the porters, healthcare assistants, cleaners and the list goes on, because they are far more likely to come in contact with patients than senior leaders. We all need to feel that we’re listened to, understood and valued in our roles to achieve our maximum potential. Talent management should be about considering everyone as an individual and the development that is right for them, making them feel rewarded and able to do a good job within the NHS.

There are some good examples of inclusive talent management in non-NHS organisations. For example, if you join Tesco, from day one, no matter what role you have in the organisation, you know you’re on a talent journey and this is discussed regularly with all employees. The NHS is, however, hugely complex, so there’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all approach, but if we consider talent management in the context of everyone, rather than the most senior people, we’ll start to see positive change happen. 

Here at the Academy, we’re working tirelessly to help organisations across the NHS recognise the importance of talent management and support leaders at all levels. We’ve created a talent management hub – a central online resource with lots of information, guidance and support that managers can take back with them to build that environment where staff are cared for. This, along with our leadership development programmes, aims to support leaders at all levels to achieve their potential, and help their team achieve theirs. 

Talent management is the core element to the success of any NHS organisation. It’s time for organisations to realise its importance and ensure they are using it at all levels. If you care for your employees, they’ll care for your organisation in return, but most importantly, they’ll care for our patients.



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