Internal mobility: How to talent spot in your organization

Carla Holden, our Head of Talent Practice Assessment, shares her insight and best practice for spotting talent within your organization.

An exciting question that I am increasingly asked by clients is “how do we spot talent in our organization?” As a diligent, if possibly annoying, consultant, I usually respond to that question with a couple of questions of my own – “what do you mean by talent?” and “what are you going to do when you find it?” More often than not, a good conversation follows, and, from that familiar starting point, the journey can then be very different, depending on the organization, its culture and its overall people philosophy.

What do you mean by talent?

Some organizations define talent as “people who can progress upwards to a more complex role within the next 2 to 3 years”, others have a broader definition such as “people who are likely to improve their impact and develop their effectiveness in the near future”.  Whatever the specific definition, it is important to be just that – specific. That way everyone is clear on what we mean by talent ‘around here’ and we can begin to work on the way we identify that pool of people.

How do we find talent?

Once you’re happy with your definition of talent, you can begin to pinpoint the set of behavioral characteristics that drive it. It’s traditional (but reinventing the wheel isn’t necessary here) to look at two aspects of your employees in this process:

  • Firstly, we look for the things that mean someone will adapt, develop and change successfully as required – sometimes called potential criteria. Cappfinity has its own established and evidence-based model of potential (MADE) which we often use as a starting point for thinking about what potential criteria to include here. The M in MADE stands for Motivation, which is a crucial part of the mix – you have to want to move forward as well as having the capability to do so
  • Secondly, we collect information that indicates how someone is doing ‘right now’ – sometimes called performance data

How someone is doing right now isn’t necessarily a predictor of the future – as we know there are many reasons for underperformance and for someone with strong potential to adapt and grow, lack of stretch can cause them to lose momentum and energy and performance can dip. But it is still vital to know what position someone is starting from before investing in them developmentally or asking them to take on greater responsibility.

By combining this knowledge of someone’s current level of potential (including motivation) with what we know about their current level of performance, we can start to understand how the organization should support and invest in them in the short to medium term. This is often expressed in terms of a talent grid – with varying numbers of sections or boxes – depending on the philosophy in play.

What do we do with it?

It is vital that there is a plan in place for “what happens next”. If people are aware that their data is being tracked and evaluated to understand their current talent status (see transparency below) then there should be some ‘so what’ that follows the number crunching. This could include development programmes and coaching support for people identified as being in the talent pool. For those earmarked for senior roles in the near future, leadership development will be important. Whatever the offer, it will ideally be in line with both the strategic goals of the business and the career goals of the individuals concerned.

What about everyone else?

A support and development strategy can be put in place for all employees following such a talent identification process. What resources or options are provided will depend on each person’s unique combination of potential and performance at the time of evaluation.

Inevitably, for some of those who are lower on both potential and performance than their peers, there may be a need to look at options outside of the organization; performance issues can sometimes just be a result of poor person-organization fit and this affects motivation and potential to grow as well.

A note on transparency

We advise giving employees and managers deep insight into any process used to identify talent; ideally, they will be actively involved in it themselves. The classic grumble is that organisations lack transparency over how talent is spotted; this can get infinitely worse and more ‘smoke-filled-room-ish’ as you progress up to the world of senior leader and Board level succession planning.

The risks here are that those who aren’t labelled as the ‘next generation of C-suiters’ or the ‘high potentials’ will feel aggrieved and lose faith in the process. We have all worked somewhere where stories run riot about how someone progressed because of favoritism/knowing the right people/luck* etc and usually this is because of a lack of openness about what characteristics are spotted in the individuals being lined up for promotions or senior leader programmes.

*delete as appropriate

What is the short answer?

So, to answer our initial question “how do we spot talent in our organization?” there is clearly a step-by-step process that is useful to follow and will work. However, as always when dealing with people, the implementation needs to be sensitive, supportive, transparent and fair and, if done well, will bring multiple benefits for the organization  as well as the individuals it employs.

If you’ve found this article interesting and would like to discuss your own internal talent search needs, please get in touch with