Monday, 23 July 2007

Strategic talent management (in professional services firms)

Friday's Economist included an article describing how the Big Four accountancy firms have lots to teach other companies about managing talented people, Accounting for good people.

The article explains that PSFs are generally ahead of other sectors in people management, and that the approaches they have developed can be useful elsewhere:

'The Big Four really mean it when they say that people are their biggest assets. Their product is their employees' knowledge and their distribution channels are the relationships between their staff and clients... the big firms' evolving efforts to attract the best candidates and to encourage and keep the brightest people provide useful lessons for other companies.'
I tend to agree. Certainly my experience as an HR Director at Ernst & Young in the UK supports the point. And in my book, I talk about a more recent approach the firm has adopted to replace head hunting with head farming - a longer-term, more proactive, ongoing search of the employment market to identify talent who may be right for the firm, either immediately or at a later date.

Traditional head hunting (looking for a candidate at the time there is a need) is a great way to recruit very good talent, but it's a lousy way to recruit the very best (who are very unlikely to be available at just the time a particular organisation is looking for them).

The other approach the Economist refers to, which struck a chord with me, is the need to maintain relationships over the longer-term, and over successive job contracts:

'Few employers are used to helping people leave on good terms. But in an era of job-hopping and a scarcity of skills, loyalty increasingly means having a sense of emotional allegiance to an employer, whether or not that person is still physically on the payroll.'
In my book, I refer to an approach I call career partnership, in which an employer may actually encourage a very valuable employee to leave the organisation to get experience and development elsewhere. If their employer brand, value proposition and relationship are strong enough, the employee will be certain to seek to rejoin at a later point, and be even more valuable to the organisation as a result of the development they've had.

What do you think? Do you know any organisations that are doing this?