Learn how to be a talent spotter

Here's how you can pick the best and leave the rest

Here’s how you can pick the best and leave the rest

Taking time and energy to spot talent is one of the responsibilities most overlooked by many leaders in that they just don’t acknowledge the importance of securing the next generation of the company. 

I believe that this is mainly the product of three recent phenomena that have converged to create an unsurprising mindset for some leaders: 

  1. No more jobs for life for leaders, far more risk, shorter tenure, shorter reward cycles  
  2. Much more job hopping by Generation Y and Z so no guarantee that they will stay 
  3. Stress and time-poor leaders not spending enough time engaging with their own employees 

The problem is for many leaders, although they would never admit it publicly, that their cost/benefit analysis concludes ‘Why bother spending time being a talent spotter as a) it might be my successor that benefits, not me, and b) the person might not hang around anyway?’ This leads to an inevitable, and ultimately flawed, recruitment strategy, namely to default to hiring externally and overpaying for ‘finished article candidates’ who can deliver faster for the leaders’ personal benefit. This quick fix is also often demotivational for existing talented internal people who feel overlooked. 

However, this is not a sustainable culture both in terms of cost and philosophy. More accurately, it’s lazy leadership, wasting the company’s (and shareholders’) money, and indicating that you wouldn’t spend the time to think about the longer-term implications of your decision. So the next time you are involved in a debate to hire someone fast, expensive and external, take a while to reflect on how this could be avoided, and what the unintended consequences might be.  

Leadership and management theory has evolved greatly in the last 20 years, but the identification and fostering of talent still remains one of the most powerful, impactful and selfless things that a great leader can do. It is your role as a leader to ‘reinvent the football team’ every few years – you cannot possibly expect to keep trying to put the same players on the pitch week after week, year after year, and keep winning. Your squad will pick up injuries, run out of ideas, and some players will jump to other clubs.  

So you have to offset this risk – constantly mix it up with a blended diversity of ages, gender and culture, the strong with the agile, the creative with the tactical, the spontaneous with the conservative, the fresh eyes with the wise owls. That’s what makes winning teams. In this regard, a high level of fluidity and forward planning is also required, in that you need to ensure you can call on the right people to deliver in the right place at the right time, and in a way that is in alignment with your vision and priorities.  

And finally, don’t just be a talent spotter  (reactive to opportunities). Be a talent seeker (proactive to create the chances to unearth the next generation of talent). The best talent isn’t just going to fall at your feet. You may get lucky every now and then with a good candidate for a job, or a referral from your trusted network, but in many cases you may be beaten to the post. To have a pipeline of real, long-term, viable talent, you need to be seeking them in everything you do, both within your organisation and also externally/globally.  

Internally: how involved do you get in coaching and mentoring talented folks? How visible are you at learning and development events? How much getting-back-to-the-floor work do you do?  

Externally: from events, to customers, to LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Professional Body Publications, lists of degree qualifications and prize winners, Young Business Awards, committees, lobby groups – the list is endless. 

Sounds easy, I know, but you need to care enough to make the effort to look, engage, and ultimately employ those precious unpolished diamonds of the future.  

Richard Summerfield is currently a Group HR Director and Board Member of JT, fellow of the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development), accredited career coach, qualified psychometric tester, industry speaker and commentator. He is also the author of ‘Loving Leadership: 8 Powerful Techniques that so many leaders miss’.

Praseeda Nair

Kellen Rempel

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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