How to engage line managers in talent management

The most common area in which companies struggle to develop and manage their talent effectively is at the supervisor level, according to a global expert in talent management.

In the past, supervisors were assessed on the assignments they gave to subordinates to stretch them and help them learn and develop their talent.

“Now companies have expanded the span of control greatly for line managers, and are assessing them mainly on contributions other than developing talent – so it falls by the wayside unfortunately,” said Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton School.

However, executives are beginning to recognise that talent management has often been neglected and that they have to do something about it, Capelli added.

“The problem is that in cutting corporate staff and central budgets, they are pushing more stuff down to line managers,” he said.

“Developing talent doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time. I think it comes down to more development, and the development ought to be more stretch assignments.

“Line managers need to be able to delegate and take things off their plate, so these become stretch assignments for their staff, for example.”

In developing a talent management strategy, Capelli said there are three steps that companies should take.

“First, you need to understand what measures you will use. Percentage of jobs filled from within has to be one of them, but we need cost and benefit measures as well,” he said.

“Line managers need to be able to delegate and take things off their plate”

“Turnover rates should be in there – job-by-job and unit-by-unit – this can help you in understanding where problems lie in the business. You need data around these measures at least before you can start to make progress.”

Second, he said supervisors need to provide more stretch assignments. “This means holding them accountable for results – but also showing them why it’s not that hard to do,” he said.

“The right idea is to delegate select tasks that will take some of the load off the line manager but which will stretch and develop their staff. This approach can also be cost-effective for the business.”

Third, he said organisations need a system for moving good people internally so that the best performers receive opportunities for advancement faster than they could get them elsewhere.

“I believe most organisations need a greater willingness to promote talented people more quickly,” said Capelli.

“They might worry that they haven’t put in the time or that this might annoy longer-serving staff. But when companies say to high performers “we can’t move you up that fast” they run the risk of losing that talent and they will go elsewhere.”