Liberate Your Talent

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Development of talent, both technical and interpersonal skills is essential in the changing world of work, especially with a skills shortage.

Generation Y (18-28 years olds) demand development and attention and failure to give them support may mean they seek employment elsewhere.

Individual employees need to take responsibility for their own development and be encouraged to action their own personal and professional development plan.

The talent of tomorrow needs strong emotional intelligence and influencing skills to make the most of the company’s no 1 asset – their people. These examples share best practice and we hope give you some ideas and food for thought for your initiatives.

Pizza Express

Managers at its busiest restaurants were under considerably more pressure and required more advanced skills than colleagues at smaller branches.

“Exploration” scheme was launched to support managers of its ‘A-grade’ restaurants and create a talent pipeline. The scheme has three core elements:  “A Club”, “A+ Club” and a “Dragons’ Den”.  In the “A Club”, the HR team brings top managers together twice a year for social events at prestigious venues such as the Italian Cookery School

“A+ Club” gives managers the opportunity to discuss a real business issue for Pizza Express, such as kitchen productivity, and then to propose and develop solutions.

“Dragons’ Den” allows candidates to develop a project for which they have a real passion and present their ideas to the senior management team.  If successful, they are given the time and money to pursue it.

The scheme “Exploration develops managers’ commercial awareness and entrepreneurial spirit

in an industry where management turnover is around 45 percent, turnover of managers at Pizza Express’s A-grade restaurants had fallen to single figures since the introduction of the Exploration Scheme, saving a lot of recruitment budget and management time.

Pizza Express were category winner in the Talent Management section of the CIPD People Management awards 2009.

Big Lottery Fund

An internal development programme to identify high-potential people and prepare them for this transition was lacking. “The Leadership Pathway” – a unique development path for individuals was developed and HR asked to work initial plans into a more formal talent programme.

The HR team embarked upon a programme of communication and engagement with the individual business directorates, as well as staff and union representatives. The entire L&D portfolio was put under the title “Developing Talent”, meaning the range of learning on offer was open to all and staff would be able to plot their own journey with HR support.

Two brands were conceived for the programme:

  • Aspire – line managers
  • Ascend – those advancing into middle management

Procedures were established and the competencies mapped.

The Director of Operations as an executive management board sponsor gave the programme great credibility and produced high-level engagement from other members of the senior management team.

Roadshows and guest speaker slots at all-staff briefings ensured that everyone knew whether the programme was for them, and how to get on it if they were interested

There were 71 applicants, which were reduced down to a final 38.

A development centre was provided to establish the scale of learning “gaps”, and a development coach given to each participant on the programme.


Morrisons have used values as a focal point to communicate the employer brand and the values are the “core building block” of Morrisons’ HR strategy.

Morrisons has 6 values:  “can do; great shop keeping; one team; bringing the best out of our people; great selling and service; and fresh thinking”.

The values handbook “A fresh guide” shares the values with all staff and has been rolled out through workshops across the management population – 10,000 people providing toolkits to use with their own management, All 120,000 employees have gone through the values workshop.”

A cross-section of senior leaders were used to shape the values into a leadership profile.  10 senior leaders together were asked three questions:  what have you done that has made you successful? Whom do you admire and why? And what should we do to move this company forward?

One-to-one coaching sessions were provided for all managers after their feedback.  “To help them work out how they translate it into practical steps”.

Network Rail

Network Rail have a mixture of internal and external training. They fund an MSc at Warwick University; this meets GenY’s need to be invested in and developed. Developing talent in a manager’s team is structured to be a priority through the performance appraisal measurement and rewards. Managers won’t get a bonus unless their direct reports progress. Internal coaches are used and a third of managers’ time is spent coaching their staff.


At Virgin, there is a focus on home-grown talent. Career coaches are trained internally and support individuals to work out what’s right for them career wise. There’s an annual competition for the employee who has most demonstrated the Virgin values. They are nominated by their line manager and win a trip to Richard Branson’s private island. There’s a policy of not punishing people for making mistakes, so that the value of Courage is optimised to the full. Staff turnover remains low, so money saved on recruitment from engaging people so they want to stay, is utilised to fund initiatives, with employees being proactive and creating a business case.

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