I’m hearing a lot of talk lately about how the need to move to action on inclusion in talent management as we need to become more inclusive employers and understand how our talent management strategy can work harder to develop diverse pipelines of talent for succession planning of key roles. This is to be applauded. However, it is all to easy for an inclusive talent management approach to become tokenistic and ineffective if significant elements of culture and psychology are ignored. So here are my top four considerations for developing a talent strategy with impact.
- Generate awareness of the Talent Management issues for under-represented groups across your whole organisation and system.
It’s critical to start with recognising the bias that we all hold and how this affects our behaviours. We all have our own lens or perspective through which we view society and this lens is shaded by our lived experiences be they good, bad or indifferent. If my thinking is perceived through a lens that is shaded with a view that anyone different to me would not be suitable for a role or opportunity then if I don’t challenge this bias there is a danger that this bias will unintentionally translate into discriminating behaviours.
Is there an awareness of individual conscious and unconscious bias across your organisation? Are your teams willing to be curious about each other’s thinking? Do all your staff understand the barriers to progression in your organisation and what are your board members doing to remove these barriers? To what extent are your board being open and transparent to staff and prepared to share some of your own vulnerability and humanity in order to role model the ability to hold emotional intelligence?
- Show genuine and authentic empathy to individuals from under-represented groups and acknowledge their lived experience.
If you want to create an inclusive talent management approach then it’s not enough to just have a team with high levels of self- awareness, it’s also important to consider how others are feeling, what they are needing and perceiving too. This is about having a real understanding and curiosity in people. What can you do to help your staff feel psychologically safe enough to talk to you about their lived experience, to have a safe space to be authentic and to honestly tell you what they are struggling with or what motivates them?
First, ask yourself, do you really want to know? Many people don’t divulge information as they pick up on clues that you or the organisation aren’t really interested even if you say you are, so how can you demonstrate that you are authentic? I’ve heard stories of line managers asking these questions but at the same time reading their emails or cutting people off as they are speaking. These behaviours don’t convey a message of empathy or psychological support.
These things are important in talent management because some staff might say that they are comfortable in a role but if you look and listen more closely you can pick up on signals that suggest they simply need more encouragement, feedback or sponsorship. This is often the case with people in under- represented groups who have often learned that its less “risky” to give you the safe and easy answer.
Are all your line managers supported in holding an empathetic talent management conversation which encourages and motivates their staff from under-represented groups? How do you identify potentially unharnessed talent? This is useful not just for individual career progression and job satisfaction but is also important to have diversity of thought and experience across our whole NHS and for our community that we serve.
- Embed your learning into practice
This self-reflection and learning about others is only as good as how it is put into practice. Line managers are a significant influence on the extent to which their team members can maximise their own potential. If line managers can embed their learning through holding open and honest talent conversations whilst acknowledging their own bias and showing empathy and understanding, then individuals are more likely to gain equitable access to opportunities. Similarly, where line managers own the process of managing talent across their teams by giving constructive feedback which focuses on improvement rather than reprimand and directive mandate, then individuals perform better and often give additional discretionary effort to the service.
Inclusive talent management is also about listening to learning and using it to influence future direction. Embedding the learning we receive from listening to seldom heard voices is invaluable to steer a workforce plan that responds to the needs of the workforce as well as our patient populations.
Do you have a cycle of improvement embedded within your talent management strategy? Do you encourage feedback from your line managers and listen to what they have learned in their conversations with staff? Is your organisation curious about the lived experience of its under-represented staff? How does this influence your talent management plans on a short to medium term basis?
- Move from learning to positive action and impact
Realising the benefits of an impactful talent management approach means taking action to create a culture of inclusion, measured through its diversity and representation targets. Using good talent conversations, tools and processes which are followed up with clear activities that link to key organisational objectives is effective practice. Taking action to address under-representation in areas where there are clear gaps and listening to seldom heard voices takes effective into impactful inclusive talent management.
How does your organisation take this further by not just listening to our diverse groups but leading them in developing an action focused culture of allyship? An example of one intervention would be choosing to change some organisational cultural and recruitment practices so that you start to move beyond traditional HR towards mandating diversity as standard. Some current recruitment practice considers how potential candidates will “fit” into the organisation. Often this is a metaphor for looking for talent that is “like us” but we need to consider “fit” as a definition of how candidates will add diversity and a new perspective to the team. After all- there is a wealth of research to support the fact that the more diverse, open to challenge and transparent a team is, directly equates to high levels of performance and innovation.
Lastly, how do you mentor your staff from under-represented groups? Mentoring is often thought to be about developing an advice-giving relationship between a senior and a junior member of staff, but its more than that! Mentors are in an ideal role to offer exposure for the mentee to lots of different settings and experiences, they can often use contacts to arrange meetings and opportunities, they can advocate and position their mentee strategically in front of the right people to help them develop and stretch their skills and abilities in readiness for future roles and activities. Are your mentors really maximising the talent of their mentees?
In summary, this inclusive approach moves talent management into a whole new role of activism which can only help to develop our talent pipelines and improve the diversity of our senior teams.
Written by Lyndsay Bunting
Head of Talent, Midlands Talent Team