Top Ten Tips for Talent Development

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How to win the war for Shared Services talent

Your people are your greatest strength - but no organization can sit back after hiring and expect its staff to grow and develop organically in an optimal way. Employees need to be nurtured in order for them to bloom into the superstars you want them to be - and whether it’s through internal training, attending conferences, taking qualifications externally or a host of other ways, that nurturing’s down to you as a leader of your people. Get it right and you’ll have the perfect team. Get it wrong and watch the sky fall in.

As part of our series of Top Ten Tips, SSON reached out to some of our network members to ask for their advice on how best to encourage shared services and outsourcing employees to blossom. The result? Top Ten Tips for Talent Development: enjoy and appreciate! (And feel free to email your own thoughts to the editor.)

1. Hire with development in mind

It’s crucial to develop the talent you have within your organization - but not even the most advanced company can just breed its new employees or grow them in labs… yet. You’ve got to start somewhere - and that’s on the first rung of the ladder, when you’re taking in your newest recruits. Yes, you need to employ people to fill specific positions - but even if those positions involve the most transactional of processes you should have half an eye on the kind of role you’d be looking to move these new recruits to in a few years.

"Hiring people specifically to do one role has three highly visible benefits," says Sebastian Donovan, director of Top Employers. "Recruitment is made simpler since it is easy to screen the candidates. You can also be sure that they will be able to do the job. Finally, since their role is commoditized they are easier to manage (which is often the reason that managers push for very specific hiring in the first place).

"However, this is just a quick fix. It brings far more damaging side-effects. If they know they cannot escape the glass box nobody will remain motivated and perform well. Senior positions will have to be risky external hires since there is no well-known internal talent pool to draw off. Finally, you leave the majority of an employee's abilities "on the table" meaning that your organization will only ever be as good as its most senior people.

"If you want to plug a leak: make a specific bolt-on hire. If you want long-term growth: hire talent and train it."

2. Observe and encourage

Not even the most perspicacious of managers can nurture and develop talent without identifying it in the first place - so keep an extremely close eye on your team right from the off, in order to recognize those who go above and beyond the norm. Offer opportunities for advancement that make demands on your team members’ different skill sets and see who picks up the gauntlet.

Chris Gunning, Unisys’ Director of Global Shared Services, recommends that you "engage potential SSC talent in projects or Continuous Improvement projects such as Six Sigma or Lean - or give them opportunities to project-manage (or indeed proactively watch and follow those that volunteer for such engagements as this tends to be a sign of good talent)."

3. Provide the bigger picture

The whole is supposed to be greater than the sum of its parts - but many roles offer little more than the briefest of glimpses of that whole. This can be especially the case in some of the more mundane shared services positions - not great if you’re looking to produce talent with a holistic appreciation of the organization and how shared services benefits and interacts with every aspect of the business. Giving your staff a taste of other positions, even if only for a few days, greatly broadens their horizons and enhances their understanding of the workings of the organization - and also contributes towards making the SSO even more valuable by making it a repository of key knowledge and skills.

"Use short term assignment programs for SSC employees to get a taste of other finance or business operations (‘Internal Audit Loop’ secondments)," advises Gunning, who also highlights the need for "regular feedback sessions from the direct reporting manager".


4. Create uniformity throughout the organization

Something as important as talent development shouldn’t be left to individual managers to work out for themselves; there should be a coherent strategy set, if possible, by those at the top - or as close to it as is feasible - to ensure the greatest mandate for those doing the developing. Especially in global organizations it’s crucial not only that opportunities for advancement are as equal - and as widespread - as possible across the company, but that those opportunities take more or less the same form. This helps reinforce the idea of a single corporate identity as well as making it easy for training and development specialists to move through the various parts of the organization bringing the benefits of their expertise to different divisions and different geographies.

5. Create development centers

As part of the aforementioned global strategy some businesses may find it appropriate to formalize and concretize institutional learning facilities within the organization. Building development centers certainly involves extra outlay - but the benefits in terms of enhanced, faster and better-targeted development could well easily outweigh the expense.

"First of all, organisations need to be able to define ‘best’ and once defined, they need to know which of their staff have what ‘best’ is," says Tom Booth, director at Freedom Consulting. "In the process of designing a development center, organizations need to take stock of what knowledge, skill and behavior is required in each role. Identifying each of these traits can involve, for example, the use of personality and emotional intelligence measures, job knowledge and IQ tests as well as interviews, work samples and other work task simulations.

"The process of applying this system to your workforce provides organizations with detailed, specific information of the skills of each employee. This informed position facilitates accurate and pertinent decision-making regarding an organization’s most important asset: its people."

6. Acknowledge the benefits of external development

Setting up development centers can be a great step forward - but regardless, it’s a mistake to assume that all the crucial training your key talent requires can be provided in-house. At times, vital learning has to take place beyond the confines of the organization. It may not be necessary to send your new talent out on a fully paid scholarship for an MBA at Harvard Business School - but giving a helping hand in terms, perhaps, of looking kindly upon a request for a sabbatical, or even contributing towards the cost of the training, would not only up the ante in terms of your talent’s skill sets, but would increase employee loyalty towards the organization.

"Encourage, and support where feasible and cost effective, external training qualifications such as ACA, CIMA, MBAs, etc," says Chris Gunning.

7. Encourage participation in industry events

External learning doesn’t just come from formal courses, of course. Some indispensable insights can be gleaned from participation in conferences, seminars, workshops and the rest. Spending time talking shop with one’s peers is a crucial part of any professional’s training, and becoming an active member of the community can bring incalculable benefits throughout one’s career. The level at which one operates does of course have an impact upon the type of external participation under consideration (it mightn’t be appropriate for a first-year invoice processor to attend a CFO-targeted conference for example) but at an appropriate level throughout one’s working life this kind of networking and learning remains an absolute must-have.

"Encourage good SSC talent to speak at (and attend) industry events, conferences, working groups in the shared services and outsourcing industry etc - or write articles for industry publications such as Shared Services News!" advises Gunning.

8. Leverage internal events - provide opportunities to shine

Allowing low-level staff the occasional opportunity to demonstrate - to you and others, and to themselves - their ability to flourish at a higher level is imperative, and also provides good tests of skills which might not normally come under the microscope. Offering the chance to interact with senior management, or even partners from outside the business, at internal events from coffee evenings to team-building weekends (but beyond the traditional office party format - where careers tend more often to be broken than made…) provides some excellent advantages in terms of networking - and increased awareness of institutional politics.

Similarly, allowing your blossoming talent to lead meetings involving senior figures - perhaps Town Hall meets or governance review sessions - or to give presentations which require a high level of understanding and capability, gives the employees in question the chance to shine.

9. Have the right trainers in place

This one sounds like a no-brainer - but in fact it’s surprisingly common to find an organization investing significant capital into in-house training programs which is then effectively wasted because of a disconnect between what the trainers are teaching and what will be required from the employee down the line. If a staff member has been identified as a manager of the future, for example, training which will help bring out those managerial skills will be far more appropriate than that which targets areas such as sales skills.

Notably, when establishing a training program initially it’s also important to set the bar high for the trainers themselves: if the trainers are used from the off to dealing with talented, challenging individuals it’s more likely to keep them on their A-games right from the start (particularly important when setting up a development center as explained earlier).

"Ensure the first few staff who go across on-shore for the training are really good," urges ANZ’s director of operations Ravichandran Venkataraman. "The first impression you create is always the best impression. So, staff should be experienced in the line of business, should understand back office operations, preferably have worked in the same system, should understand what process they are taking over even though they would not know the exact process... These staff should also have very good communication skills and understanding of how to handle customers."

10. Don’t forget the incentives

OK, you’re spending a lot of time and money on developing all this talent - but that’s no reason to expect your high-potential employees to grovel with gratitude and fawn at your every word. In order to get the best out of your best staff you need to ensure they’re satisfied with their current positions as well as looking forward to an eventual move up the ladder to whatever awaits them later in their careers. And it’s not just a question of getting the best out of them - it’s about retaining them in the face of rapacious and frequently generous competition.

Incentives - monetary or otherwise - might seem more a talent-retention issue than a talent-development one, but the two go hand-in-hand. Talent development isn’t just about developing skills, but about developing the positive character traits that can be just as important when backs are against the wall. There’s no point lavishing money and attention on training if it’s all going to benefit your competition when they pinch your best talent from under your nose because you haven’t been providing the right package to those you hoped would be the future of your organization.