Great talent should grow from within

By Dr Marianne Broadbent*

The last time your organisation had a vacancy in the top team reporting to your CEO, the Secretary, General Manager or Director-General, what was the quality of the talent pool? How did the internal and external talent compare?

Quite often we hear that there is no one currently inside the organisation who could do the job and that is sometimes true. But it is worth asking, why is that the case?

Sometimes organisations are small, have some unique characteristics and it would be hard for one of the CEO’s team to take on that role, without putting the organisation at risk. In the case of larger organisations though this should not be the case. There are plenty of opportunities for good mobility, and providing up-andcoming talent with diverse experiences and work on good stretch projects.

The key is to make the most of the talent you have. This might sound strange coming from someone who spends a lot of time helping organisations to find great executive talent.

However our focus is very much making leadership teams the best they can be, and that means getting the most value from the staff you already have. For many organisations there is no ‘magical’ access to an large external talent pool. Every external appointment brings with it some risk.

Research clearly indicates this is a bigger risk than internal candidates, or at least those who might have worked for your organisation previously.

If leaders and managers at each level are doing their jobs well, the talent should be there, and it should be nicely evolving at each level. Building the capability of your people, giving them some good stretch goals, while at the same time being sufficiently supportive is what good leaders do – in any and every type of organisation whether it be a small or large business, local, state of federal government agency or department, or an educational institution.

Consider this. Let’s say Sandra and Sam are direct reports to a senior executive. Each is keen to gain greater experience working in another area of your department or business, or wants an industry secondment, or even an opportunity for further study. They have come to you as their executive manager to discuss their options.

Your first question might well be – if you take 6 or 12 months out, who is going to do your job? Who is it, on your team, who is ready to do your job?

How many internal candidates will there be and what will be the risk or trade-off with each person? In fact, do you know the answer to those questions yourself if you were in that situation?

In advising executives and managers we have asked them these questions many times. Too often they blanch, and mutter something about the fact that putting a serious focus on succession planning was something they were going to do, but there were always more urgent priorities.

Effective succession planning means managing, nurturing, pushing and prodding your ‘talent’, that is, those who report to you, your broader team, and in many cases your peers. You need to track their progress and development, and know when they are really ready for the next big project, or even the next challenge that will demonstrate to them, and to you, how they are progressing.

There is plenty of recent and credible research of the impact of consistent, thoughtful and rigorous talent management on both organisational performance and retention of those the organisation is most keen to keep. While you need some injection of external talent from time to time, it is much more effective to develop and nurture the talent you have than constantly brining new people in, especially at a senior level.

Yes, it requires focus, consistency and discipline, but it does work.

Talent management is now an everyday ‘must do’, and smart organisations realise this and act on it. They know that often their employees have higher and more  demanding expectations about personal growth and opportunities than they had say 10 years ago. They know how critical it is to demonstrate that there is ‘a real future for staff here’. They take seriously their obligations for development, and it is noticed throughout the organisation.

In government organisations you are usually less likely to be able to offer higher level competitive financial rewards; but you do have the choice to offer great development opportunities through a serious and considered approach to how you manage your talent.

Great talent will go to where it is appreciated, valued and encouraged to thrive. If you want that talent to be part of your team – and remain part of your team for at least a reasonable time – it requires serious and genuine focus on knowing and growing the capabilities that you have.

*Dr Marianne Broadbent is Senior Partner with Leadership Consultancy, EWK International.,

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