Organisations have to nurture their top performers, giving them the space to bring out their best and the rewards to keep them going.


Today's high performers are like frogs in a wheelbarrow. They can jump out any time,” warns an expert, while talking about the war for talent.

This only underscores the importance of talent management for organisations, and the need for an appropriate retention policy.

HR today is no longer concerned with just managing human resources. It is more about managing human capital and human assets — what we can call human talent management.

 Talented people are a long term bet for organisations — a bet which is certain to pay off by way of their contribution towards the organisation's growth.

But identifying or spotting talent, growing and nurturing it, and above all, retaining it, all pose serious challenges for modern-day HR managers.

What is talent

What is talent? Talent represents the unusual, unique or innate capability of an individual in a particular field or activity.  People can be talented in a variety of ways and in a variety of fields. But in the organisational context, the relevant aspects are with respect to organisational expectation and value delivered.

Spotting talent is both easy and difficult at the same time. Easy because many a time, watching a person performing his assigned duties, could help spot the talent of a person. Difficult, because often, one has to bring out to the open the talent hidden in an individual, and this requires special effort.

In view of the rapidly changing technological developments and the way organisations work, the parameters of the talent required will also undergo a transformation.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, “the war for talent is fierce, and is likely to become more so with the massive number of employees retiring in the next five years. Top organisations are moving beyond the vanilla ‘employer of choice' concept to a more rigorous strategy of attracting and retaining the right employees through branding.”

Nurturing talent is another important aspect. The organisation has to make it known to the individual that his or her special talents are noticed by them. Apart from this, the organisation has to ensure that the ‘flowers' — highly talented employees — are allowed to blossom and not allowed to wither away unseen.  This essentially means that high-flyers are provided opportunities to not only showcase their talents but to develop them. 

At the same time, one has to ensure that enough opportunities are provided for developing talent in other areas of vital interest to the organisation.

Coping up with new demands

One way of bringing out hidden talent is to observe the individual when shifted to an altogether new area of work and how she/he is able to cope with the hitherto unexplored area of work.

Motivation and rewards are key components of talent management.  Motivation plays a crucial role in developing and retaining talent. Apart from salary increases, there should be challenges in terms of complex assignments, involvement in decision making, special rewards and recognition programmes, fast-track promotion opportunities, delegation of authority and power and so on. 

For organisations, the tougher task arrives after talent has been spotted and developed — retention. Retention acquires particular significance since even if one talented employee leaves, the cost of replacement will be immense.

HR policies and programmes need to be oriented towards retaining talent within the organisation. HR should give an indication that there is ‘something to stay on for' within the organisation, so that the retention policy is effective. 

The right organisational environment is crucial for this.  An open door policy, providing direct access to the top leadership and freedom to experiment, will all contribute towards preventing attrition.

Retention of key persons such as the head of a department or head of a key project is vital. But it is equally important to plan ahead. In order to ensure that there is no sudden vacuum when a key person leaves, there should be more people trained to hold such key positions, so that when one leaves, his role can be taken over by another equally trained person.

In his book, Corporate Chanakya, Radhakrishna Pillai offers a solution based on Chanakya's philosophy. Chanakya advises splitting responsibility, implying that instead of having one head, the organisation has three heads. So, when one leaves, one of the remaining heads takes over.

Pillai narrates an interesting situation: “A company once had a vacancy for a president's post. But it appointed three vice-presidents instead and split the job. Amazing results were achieved. In the long run, they ended up with two highly productive presidents.”

A feeling of oneness should be an important part of the culture and values followed by the organisation. The organisation culture should be such as to ensure that people are oriented towards a shared value and work in cohesion.

With the increased need to align the HR function with the overall business strategy and goals, more organisations are resorting to outsourcing of routine  functions such as recruitment, salary processing, legal issues and compensation. This is a blessing in disguise, since HR can then devote time and energy for their vital strategic role.

Leadership development is a critical part of talent management and retention. The emphasis should be on development of leaders who can take over the reins in the future. Appropriate leadership training programmes need to be initiated for this purpose.

 Availability of leaders who have grown up within the organisation, who understand the organisation well and who have been moulded to carry on the business's goals will ensure easier succession planning. 

To quote Dave MacKay, “leadership comes with empowerment — employees can't be leaders, unless they have the power to take risks, make decisions, innovate and lead.” 

Hence, the significance of leadership development. Leadership development programmes need to address all levels of people across the organisation, so that there are no adverse impacts on organisational efficiency.

Leaders so trained and developed should be able to  face the tests faced by Chinese general and author of The Art of War ,Sun Tzu's  soldiers,  about whom he could send a message to his King, saying: “Your soldiers, Sire, are now properly drilled and disciplined, and ready for your majesty's inspection. They can be put to any use that their sovereign may desire. Bid them go through fire and water, and they will not disobey.”

Such rigorous training could take you towards victory in the war for talent.

(The writer was a former Director in the Department of Information Technology.)


(This article was published on May 18, 2012)
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