June 27.2018, 11.18am

Talent Management: Are you identifying, training and retaining your top performers?

Traditional employers have accepted that their workforce will be a mix of ‘A players’, ‘B players’ and ‘C players.’ Netflix broke the rules when it adopted a revolutionary approach to talent management: only hiring A players.

The logic was simple. The best thing you can do for your employees is ensure that they only have to work with high-performing colleagues. Plus, ‘A player’s represent greater value. So, the company set about identifying top performers by focusing on character and culture as much as skills and experience.

The question is: are you doing enough to identify the stars in your organisation, cultivate your own A players, and keep them from taking their skills elsewhere?

Identifying top performers

We’d all love to hire ready-formed leaders and high performers but that’s not always possible. It’s vital to develop and promote from within. That means identifying the traits of high performers and high potentials, the people who consistently outperform their peers and exemplify the company culture and values.

Recent studies have shown that the top 20 percent in a workforce account for 80 percent of organisational output.

You can only manage what you measure and this is especially true with talent management. It’s not enough to rely on gut instinct. In the digital age, you need to develop metrics to help you measure an employee’s potential as well as their skill deficits. Surveys are another way to gather data but, as a Gallup report pointed out, asking the right questions is vital. It also noted an interesting by-product, with organisations who sent out more surveys reporting higher engagement and retention.

A major trend in HR is individualisation, which means approaching employees as consumers and discerning what they want and need. Data analysis and sophisticated algorithms can, “detect and predict individual preferences of employees, and organisations can act on the insights with tailored programs and interventions.”

The current shift towards specialisation means that modern organisations are now looking to identify top performers who have the skills to excel at specialist jobs, according to Randstad.

Real-time data analytics can easily identify top talent based on their performance metrics. HR software can also identify areas for improvement or provide succession training that could benefit high performers or high potentials.

HR needs to look at individuals, see what they’re good at, ask them what they want to do and discover their potential. Some employees will only manifest their potential when put into positions of responsibility that require adaptability, stress management, business and other attributes commonly associated with high performers.

To properly assess employees, it’s necessary to give them a chance to prove their worth to the organisation. Identifying talent means carrying out ongoing assessments of the talent within your workforce, managing latent or evident talent using data-driven strategies, and continually fostering that talent in a way that allows them to fulfil their potential.

Giving your talent the right training

How do you know what training your top performers need? The first requirement is to conduct an inventory of skills to establish your organisational needs. Modern organisations need a team-centric, flexible structure that can harness individual skills as and when you need them. For HR leaders, that means working out what skills, insights and experience your organisation now needs and will need in the future.

Once you have a framework of required skills and specialisations, it’s about developing your workforce to meet those needs. After identifying and assessing top performers, the next challenge is to engage them.

According to a Deloitte report, the “talent management pendulum is swinging from recruitment to development.” It notes that, “cutting-edge talent development must bring together on-the-job learning, project assignments, talent networks, and formal education and training with individual experiences to create real behavioural change that is consistent with the business’ needs and goals.”

Millennials demand ongoing progression so you need to embrace a policy of continuous professional development to keep your young stars. Focus on specialisation and training that will utilise each individual’s unique skills and strengths.

For HR, that means identifying and implementing training programmes that will mirror their organisational needs going forward. Data-based assessments can identify knowledge gaps or skills that require improvement. This goal-driven approach helps to develop high performers and keep them motivated.

Succession planning is an obvious part of this process, cultivating future leaders from your pool of talent. Not only does this limit the damage that can happen when you lose a top performer, but investing in these future leaders will also improve job satisfaction and engagement.

Holding on to your top talent

A Deloitte report found that, “when an employee departs, companies lose two to three times that employee’s annual salary in terms of lost intellectual capital, client relationships, productivity, and experience, plus the cost of recruiting a new hire.”

It’s not enough to identify your top performers, assess their training needs and invest in their development. How do you stop them from taking what they’ve learned to a competitor? Listening is a start. Employee surveys can help you to understand your employees’ needs, wants and stress points.

Employee wellbeing is also a major factor in retention. A recent survey found that three in four employees agreed that, “knowing their employer cares about their health and wellbeing would make them more satisfied, loyal and motivated at work.” There’s also a proven link between wellbeing and productivity so it should already be a HR priority.

The biggest advantage you have in the battle for employee retention is data analytics, which can identify warning signs or highlight patterns among leavers. HR software allows you to trace the employee experience from hire to fire. So, you can adopt a proactive approach to retention, promote an attractive company culture, and pursue a policy of constant engagement and development.

Adopting innovative approaches can also help. Netflix allowed its A players to take whatever leave they felt was appropriate, trusting employees to do what was best for the business. Think about what you can do to differentiate from the pack and make your organisation one that will appeal to A players – and that’ll be your winning strategy.


Businesses should seek-out the smart talent who stand out as a result of their drive and expectations – but your smart talent expects something in return. Learn what in our most recent Research Report, “Smart Talent Expects”.


By Linda Clifford

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