Defining, identifying and supporting of Talent Development

The need to engage and develop talent to improve business performance is a topical area of interest within organisations (Holbeche, 2009; Cappelli, 2008). Along with many universities, Bournemouth University (BU) has the need to recruit, develop and retain talented staff as a key feature of its Strategic Plan and People Strategy (BU2018). However, ‘talent management’ as a concept has been criticised as lacking in coherence and rigour by Lewis and Heckman (2006) who suggest that, despite a growing body of practitioner literature on the subject, there is a lack of clarity regarding the definition, scope and overall goals of talent management.

Talent Development on the Mechanism of Metal Cogwheels.

Talent Development on the Mechanism of Metal Cogwheels.

Nevertheless the concept has captured the imagination of some staff at BU and the aspiration to include talent development in the People Strategy arose from discussions with staff during the development of the current Strategic Plan, and was supported by feedback in the recent Staff Engagement Survey. In addition there was a recognition that strategically we need to nurture talent at all levels in the organisation, not just for succession planning for leadership, but also to develop and provide opportunities for individuals to develop within their role, or to take up opportunities in other key roles.

In order to decide how best to approach the development of talent at BU we undertook a review of the limited scholarly and more prevalent practitioner literature; this provided a theoretical foundation for our thinking and highlighted some of the risks and opportunities associated with talent management and development. In reflecting on the literature and in speaking with colleagues inside and outside the higher education (HE) sector, we recognised that a topic of such enormity, with its many philosophical dimensions and likely controversy as a concept, had the potential to paralyse us with concerns about ‘doing it right’.

The literature also highlights the need to ensure that any talent development is relevant to the organisation, and a need to be clear about how talent management strategies can enhance organisational performance within a given context (Civil Service, 2012). We therefore set out to undertake an exercise that would encourage both dialogue about talent and experiential practice in developing and implementing a talent programme with a view to helping us to identify the BU response to the following questions. How do/should we

define ‘talent’?
identify ‘talent’?
support existing ‘talent’?
support future ‘talent’?
retain ‘talent’?

In this article we highlight just some of the literature that has informed our thinking and explain the steps that we are taking in order to identify the organisation’s response to the questions raised above. We intend to provide a second article in 2015 which will include a report and evaluation of the activities, how the organisation has responded to the five questions raised, and how those responses are influencing our practice.

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