Developing Internal Talent

Just been part of a very intersting set of discussions about developing internal talent in organisations. Our two presenters were Nick Pascazio from BBC Technology, and Andy Lancaster from Hanover Housing Association.

Nick started by sharing how they had to develop their technology engneering talent against the backdrop of being the provider for broadcasting the Olympics in 2012. Some further information around this is that they had to move from 3 software courses to 25 across a range of technologies and working methodologies.

They have what they call the BBC Academy, and through that created an interesting set of internal knowledge sharing sessions such as holding events where people come and have an open house talking about topics of interest. This was open to staff and to external people. I’m a fan of this type of intervention and think it’s only a good thing to do. You get natural engagement, good PR, and potentially a recruitment activity.

They created an internal accredited course which would provide the equivalent of gaining a MSc by joining the company. This is interesting as it’s attractive to people who may be interested in advancing their careers, but don’t have the finances to do so and need someone to help sponsor this activity. They also partnered with other organisations and created a buddy programme where they shared top talent with their partners to work on select projects. That’s a great example of collaboration and how it can truly work.

Unsurprisingly, they use a nine box model of mapping talent, which recognises specialism, performance, and leadership talent. This kills me inside. It says “we only recognise certain people in our organisation have talent”. It says we don’t want to invest in all our staff, just the people we like. It says we don’t have the time or resources to be a learning organisation, that’s exclusive to people on this programme. Le sigh.

Also unsurpisingly, they have a strong governance structure. However, this means that it acts as a barrier to market. Nick shared a story that iPlayer was ready for launch but was held up by two years because of governance structures and processes before they could get it to market. This also kills me inside. I understand the purpose of governance, and yet where there is clear innovation happening, the organisation is more concerned in red tape than it is making things happen.

Andy shared a story about how Hanover needed to invest in a £750,000 software project, but the supplier couldn’t offer any trainers to train staff. I loved the start of this presentation where he likened what they went through as an accidental innovation – akin to post-it notes, velcro and teflon. He said they stumbled on an answer which paid dividends in unexpected ways.

Andy shared some interesting thoughts which I think are worth repeating. He said that research shows us that 99.2% of business in the UK have no more than 50 staff. He said that although we’re going through rough and turbulent times, this is probably the most exciting time to be in HR (L&D/OD) as this is when we can be our most innovative and creative. And he shared how many organisations are raising the entry mark of a degree to 2:1 in the UK, because they think this will attract a better calibre of applicant. This all prompts a lot of thought for me which I’ll have to re-visit in a later blog post.

They opened the opportunity to be trainers to all staff across the organisation. He shared that with complex projects like this, involving people to be part of the solution is a great form of engagement and inclusive practice. They essentially asked for volunteers to become trainers for the period of time needed for the project to be delivered. To support them, they would go through seven weeks of intensive training. It was an open application, and they had a lot of applicants from which they selected the people by asking them to do a ten minute training session and interviews. It would be a formal secondment, and they would go back to their original roles once the project was complete. What is key here was having a clear re-integration plan for the person to help them understand how to use their new talents and skills in their original roles.

It worked out well for them. So well in fact that they won an award from Training Journal because of it. How’s that for ROI and ROE? What worked for me in Andy’s presentation (apart from an energetic and very engaging presentation style) was he shared a clear business problem, how they solved it, and what happened along the way. It was a great story that I enjoyed listening to. He shared some thoughts on six keys to talent development:
1) Be confident to trust those ‘within’ before those ‘without’ i.e. look internally for talent before thinking about externally, and explore options
2) Don’t set the selection bar unrealistically high
3) Invest value and reward in the opportunity
4) Ensure mistakes are a welcome part of the learning process
5) Reassure and define what is a ‘bridge too far’
6) Plan the communication, support, reward and have fun!

This was a good session which covered a lot about how a considered and practical appraoch to solving business problems can gain a lot of activity and support from the organisation you may have previously dismissed.