How councils keep talented staff

Simon Cowell can teach social care a thing or two about spotting and managing talent. Aside from high-waisted trousers, the outspoken judge on ITV’s X Factor is renowned for his ability to identify and nurture individuals with a bright future, and to help them on to a glittering career.

“Talent management” is a relatively new expression to enter the social care vernacular. Although there is no universal definition of what it is, a recent study for the Chartered Institute of Personal Development highlights three traits associated with identifying talent: current or high performance high potential and effective leadership/management.

For Andrea Rowe, chief executive of Skills for Care, it is simple: “It is making the best use of the potential of your workforce’s skills, competencies and leadership.” She believes this is important in social care because of its recruitment and retention problems.

Nurture talent

Feature p17 31 January issueJim Stewart, professor of human resources development at Leeds Metropolitan University and author of the study, says that talent management must be integrated with an employer’s other human resource activities.

Stewart adds that employers must work hard to ensure those identified as talented are supported in their roles and their careers – just as those not fast-tracked or promoted need to be appreciated so they do not feel overlooked.

After an organisation has defined what it means by talent and talent management, it needs to communicate this to staff and possible recruits.

Effective programmes should lead to proactive planning so that vacancies can be filled in-house as well as improving the organisation’s external image is improved.

Westminster is one local authority striving to develop good practice on managing talented staff. It ties in its talent management work with the national occupational standards and its competency framework.

Phillip Berechree, head of workforce development and quality assurance, says the council’s talent management programme helps it recruit, develop, reward and retain the best staff. “This works well for us because we can spot those people who are delivering to the competence we require,” he says.

In Westminster’s social care services, the local authority has mapped-out career pathways for staff to move sideways as well as up. One example is the recently created role of senior practitioner in children’s services, following the success of a similar post in adult services introduced in 2006.

Last October Westminster appointed seven new senior children’s services practitioners who have the skills to work on complex cases but do not need to take on significant management responsibilities. The senior practitioners also support newly qualified social workers in areas they may find challenging, such as report writing.

Berechree says the roles were created because of the limited management opportunities in social work. “This was a good way for us to provide staff with stretch skills and jobs so we retain them,” he says.

Westminster also offers talented staff secondments within different teams, thereby avoiding farming out tasks to consultancies while retaining and developing the skills and knowledge of existing staff.By retaining staff with knowledge of how the borough operates, Berechree says the authority also avoids going through the expense of recruiting and inducting new staff. “It is a win-win situation because people feel empowered to do their best and feel valued, and they stay with the organisation.”

Anne Harrison, the Children’s Workforce Development Council‘s national development manager for social care, agrees that employers who focus on talent management are more likely to retain their staff because they feel valued.

Inclusive strategy

Issue 31 January 2008However, she warns against employers focusing on the talents of one group at the expense of another, advising them to consider instead how the whole workforce can be managed effectively.Rowe says talent management programmes allow employers to be clear about what skills, competences and leadership they have available to them among their workforce, and how these can best be deployed to improve services. “For service users, this means there are staff with a mix of skills and talent to provide them with a better service,” she says.

For individual staff, working for an employer that recognises and nurtures talent brings job satisfaction. “It is important to recognise everyone’s abilities and push people to the limit of their potential so they not just treading water,” Berechree says. “They can realise their goals.”

Stimulating environment

A greater focus on nurturing talent also creates a more attractive and stimulating environment to work in. Rowe links effective talent management with creativity and innovation as a result of tapping into and applauding staff members’ potential.

“Social care is not very good at celebrating real talent and we tend to hide our light under a bushel,” Rowe says. “This is why the Skills for Care Accolades were developed to celebrate what we do well.”

While talent management may not yet be immediately associated with social care, in a sector that has always faced recruitment and retention challenges it is surely time for this approach to be embraced.

As well as benefiting employers and employees, services would also inevitably improve.


● Every department and line manger should be involved in an organisation’s approach to talent management.

● Senior management teams need to support and own any talent management approaches followed within their organisation.

● Talent management approaches must be explained to staff so they understand what it means for them and how it will be delivered.

● Organisations should invest in employee recognition schemes to nurture talent.

● Schemes must be fair and employers must not stereotype which staff are likely to succeed.


Contact the author

Anabel Unity Sale

This article appears in the 31 January issue under the headline “Let the star shine through”

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.