Develop and engage all your people for business success

  • Published on

  • View

  • Download


  • Develop and engage all your people forbusiness success

    Janice Caplan


    Purpose This article aims to draw on some key ideas set out in Janice Caplans book, Strategic Talent

    Development. In essence, Strategic Talent Development is about achieving business success in todays

    environment, which is so different from the one on which most management practice is based.

    Design/methodology/approach Caplan argues that conventional thinking has pushed too much onto

    line managers and given them an impossible task. She also debunks popular notions, such as we shouldinvest differentially in high potential, or pivotal staff, or that leaders must win hearts and minds.

    Findings She shows how new ways of working are making current line management structures and

    processes unviable, and she proposes two key solutions. The first is to implement shared

    management structures that spread people management responsibilities so that individuals get the

    attention they need, when they need it. The second is to establish longer-term approaches to career

    development that ensure everyone keeps pace with change. This also takes care of high potentials and

    future leaders.

    Originality/value The author shows how the proposed solutions are critical to raising levels of

    employee engagement and therefore business profitability.

    Keywords Leadership, Employee engagement, Talent development, Careers, Virtual simulation,Line management

    Paper type Research paper

    For more than a decade, management thinking has been driven by two big ideas. The

    first is that people leave managers, not organizations. This arose because phrases

    such as bad relationship with my manager emerged consistently from surveys as

    the reason for changing job. And it makes sense too. It is something most of us can identify

    with because most of us will meet a poor manager at some stage in our own career. And the

    idea mattered even more because eminent researchers have established strong evidence

    for a link between employee engagement and profitability. So if the organization wishes to

    improve profitability it must improve engagement, and achieving engagement is seen as

    sitting squarely with line managers. This is illustrated by a statement from Gallups chairman

    and CEO in summing up his teams research findings: How employees feel about their jobs

    starts and ends with their direct supervisor. If employees feel [. . .] that their supervisor takes

    a real interest in their development, or offers frequent praise and recognition, they are very

    likely to be engaged (Gallup, 2013).

    The second big idea that has dominated management thinking developed from the

    McKinsey survey in 1997, published as the War for Talent (Michaels et al., 2001), which

    revealed a global shortage of leaders. At first this led to an emphasis on attracting future

    leaders. However, as the best way to make up for skills shortages is to grow your own, it

    rapidly evolved to encompass retaining and developing future leaders and high potentials.

    This led to the viewpoint that businesses should invest differentially in people of special

    worth. On the whole, this emphasis on top talent and future leaders has been at the

    expense of the steady, satisfactory performers who make up the majority of the workforce

    DOI 10.1108/SHR-11-2013-0105 VOL. 13 NO. 2 2014, pp. 75-80, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1475-4398 j STRATEGIC HR REVIEW j PAGE 75

    Janice Caplan is based at

    The Scala Group, London,


  • and whose discretionary effort, as we know from employee engagement research, can make

    a significant difference to business profitability. In fact, according to research from the Hay

    Group (2010), 94 percent of the worlds top companies believe that their efforts to engage

    employees have created a competitive advantage. Moreover, roles are now so inter-linked

    that there are few superheroes who achieve success single-handedly.

    But there is another important factor to consider: lets board our helicopter and survey the

    business landscape below. Two features stand out: the importance of creating high levels of

    employee engagement is one, but the shift to an innovation economy is also striking. It is

    being widely commented that developed Western economies are moving beyond the

    knowledge or information economy to the innovation economy [. . .] Rapid and often

    unpredictable change demands rapid reactions and an ability to anticipate it with new

    products and services: with further innovation (Caplan, 2013).

    Line managers under pressure

    So we have, apparently, three big objectives; staff retention, staff engagement and

    promotion of innovation. And all three seem to be the responsibility of the line manager. This

    renewed emphasis on the role of line managers has coincided with reduced numbers in HR

    departments, partly the result of cost cutting in the recession, but also partly the result of a

    shift in thinking about their role. The new thinking emphasizes line managers taking

    responsibility for managing their staff and not relying on HR to do it for them.

    This notion of line managers holding the key to retaining and engaging employees is a

    powerful one but it has always been flawed. It places far too much on line managers who

    over the past few years have seen their workloads increase and their spheres of influence

    widen. The forces that have led to this are the same ones that have led to reducing the

    numbers working in HR: an overwhelming desire to reduce costs.

    Feedback and trust diminished

    In todays low-cost, post-recession world, where numbers of direct reports have increased,

    and many people work virtually and in flexible, often multiple teams, traditional linear

    management only works in a few situations. So what is the alternative? How else do we

    create high engagement that will lead to greater success? How do we organize

    management and leadership to achieve this engagement and success?

    There are two points about our environment that bear on this. The last few years have seen a

    noticeable breakdown of trust between employee and senior management. This results

    partly from the economic downturn, which has led to loss of faith in leaderships ability to take

    the right decisions. But also people who have become more expendable to the organization

    are more inclined to distrust their leaders, and to disengage or leave if they are dissatisfied.

    Moreover, new markets, new competitors, new technology and new ways of working have

    led to few line managers having direct line of sight over their employees work. People,

    anyway, often work for several different managers or team or project leaders at any one time.

    Add to this the delayering that has taken place and it is not uncommon to find line managers

    with 40 staff reporting to them. This creates a feedback vacuum with no one person close

    enough to the individual, or with enough time to provide the feedback and development

    support that we know leads to engagement. The need employees have for someone who is

    interested in their development, and offers frequent praise and recognition, as cited in the

    Gallup research, remains. What has changed is how that can be delivered.

    A new approach: shared management

    My proposed solution to these problems is the notion of shared management. This

    recognizes the impossibility, in todays changed world, of simple hierarchies composed of

    line managers directing the work of small teams and also looking after the people

    management processes; rather it treats people management as a shared process. The

    PAGE 76 jSTRATEGIC HR REVIEWj VOL. 13 NO. 2 2014

  • reality of the workplace has, for some time, been moving in this direction. However, because

    thinking has not kept pace, the result is that we find in many organizations systems and

    processes that pull people in different directions. So, how can shared management be

    implemented and work effectively and, in particular, how do we align practice with business


    Command and control no longer possible

    Firstly, we must recognize that command and control management is no longer possible and

    instead it is shared values, shared visions, and shared understanding that drive

    organizations forward. This new model starts with the faraway leaders of the business,

    who must be visible, maintain a high level of communication and set both the strategic

    direction and the cultural tone, (the what and the why) but leave their teams to work out the


    The word shared emphasizes the importance of conversations, relationships and networking. It

    does not require everyone to do things in the same way, but rather for everything they do to be

    consistent, mutually supportive, and transparent. It leaves scope for interpretation. This stands in

    stark contrast to a much quoted management orthodoxy that great leadership is about creating

    beliefs in hearts as well as minds. Superficially that sounds good but it is fundamentally wrong.

    Encouraging unquestioning belief is not good leadership. I heard that the sales people who

    marketed sub-prime mortgages in the US had it hammered into them that they were selling

    people a better life; and look where that ended up. Rather than the manipulation suggested by

    creating beliefs, leadership is about creating a free and open conversation within a clearly

    communicated strategic framework. This engages and motivates everyone, but it also empowers

    them to innovate, react quickly and make decisions appropriate to the organizations vision and

    beliefs. When people know what the organization stands for and what it is trying to achieve, and

    are encouraged to propose and try ideas without penalty for failure, this creates the foundation for

    a climate of innovation (Caplan, 2013).

    People or nearby managers still required

    Secondly, it is necessary to define the different roles of nearby managers, that is the

    people who have direct responsibilities for the individuals performance and development.

    The first imperative here is to give everyone a clearly designated people manager, whose

    responsibilities are: setting goals and performance standards and providing feedback on

    performance and accompanying development by making sure that the individual receives

    the learning and development opportunity that meets their aspirations (but which also aligns

    with business needs).

    This people manager may not have responsibility for the business results the individual must

    achieve. These rest with the line manager or the different team or project leaders with whom

    the individual works. The people manager will, however, manage input from these people,

    and will hold the important conversations with the individual about performance and

    development that create engagement. In contrast to the current expectations on line

    managers, people managers are not required to be experts in handling disciplinary

    problems and poor performance, it is enough for them to recognize when these problems

    arise, and know where to go for advice. They are not required to be coaches or mentors

    (though they do need a set of basic skills that are similar to those required of mentors) but

    they must identify with their people when coaching or mentoring is needed and ensure such

    support is provided.

    In todays low-cost, post-recession world, where numbers ofdirect reports have increased, and many people work virtuallyand in flexible, often multiple teams, traditional linearmanagement only works in a few situations.

    VOL. 13 NO. 2 2014 jSTRATEGIC HR REVIEWj PAGE 77

  • In this scenario, individuals have a significant self-management role. They must seek

    feedback from colleagues to discuss with their people manager, and must self-manage their

    development and their learning, again with support from their people manager. Performance

    appraisal becomes largely self-managed but performance, ratings and next development

    steps are discussed between people manager and individual, and determined between

    people manager and the other shared managers. HR has a significant role here in

    facilitating these performance appraisal discussions and in supporting people managers

    when they need to deal with the exceptions, whether this is how to handle the poor

    performer, or to identify wider and stretching developmental opportunity for the higher

    performers and high potential people.

    A new approach: talent management for all

    Retaining staff, achieving high staff engagement levels and encouraging innovation also

    require an emphasis on development. This brings us back to the matter of how talent

    management has focused on special people. In the worst cases, this has had a corrosive

    effect of creating egos and elites, and causing dissatisfaction when raised expectations

    have not been met, perhaps because promised opportunities have not materialized. Its

    obvious flaw, however, is that in todays fast-moving environment businesses need everyone

    to be continually re-appraising their skills, and updating them. Failure to do this will lead to

    derailment for both the individual and the business. The approach I propose here rests on

    the following principles:

    Take a long-term view of career development

    People managers should offer everyone the opportunity of a career development plan that

    identifies stretch and challenge in the current role, and then identifies the next role, and the

    role after that. Not everyone will want such a long-term plan, but it is a wonderfully inclusive

    approach as its long-term nature automatically takes care of the high-flier and the high

    performer, but it offers everyone developmental opportunity to suit their aspirations and their

    needs. In todays times of rapid change and insecurity, career development is the new job

    security. As the line manager has become a more distant figure the prime cause for people

    leaving organizations is shifting towards to pursue career development. Of course, this

    has always been important, but it now figures higher in our priorities, especially for the

    Generation YandMillennials, who know from themoment of starting work that their best hope

    of advancement and job security is by keeping their skills, and their experience up-to-date.

    Having a developing future, and having someone interested in their development, are also

    prime drivers of engagement.

    Emphasize that most learning and development comes from work experience

    Mostly, we learn from our experience. The people manager must make sure individuals

    receive the developmental work experience that will move them along their desired career

    path. So often, we are caught up in the day-to-day and do not take time out for those special

    projects, or new responsibility that can make a huge difference to both the individual and the


    Provide tools and processes that help individuals develop an increased awareness of the

    impact they have on others and on results

    Self-awareness is how people develop to their potential, take on new challenges, and rise

    through the organization. Aligning how people do things to the organizations success

    criteria and the capabilities that are needed to meet the challenges emerging on the horizon

    clarifies expectations, helps individuals and the business as a whole keep pace with

    change, and provides development opportunity to everyone, not just those in line for


    The importance of self-awareness has long been recognized. What is different now,

    however, is how social media and technology are giving rise to some high-tech solutions

    that, as well as being more suited to how we work today, offer greater flexibility as to when

    PAGE 78 jSTRATEGIC HR REVIEWj VOL. 13 NO. 2 2014

  • and where they are accessed. They also provide high quality feedback, which helps

    individuals, whilst at the same generating data for the business to give a much better

    understanding of the people its employs.

    I have seen the power of such systems, having implemented an online self-profiling system

    called Iperquestw WEB, which provided the senior managers of a bank with feedback and

    support to help them develop the new capabilities that the bank had identified as critical to

    its growth plans. And I have also witnessed outstanding results from an online development

    and assessment system called e-SimulatorTM. A case study from Kia Motors (below) outlines

    some of the benefits such technology offers.

    Theories realize benefits in practice

    These ideas are not just theory my experience of implementing this concept of shared

    management with the foreign exchange division of a leading American bank saw profits

    increase by 33 percent. Other clients report more insightful results, and a better

    understanding of peoples skills and aspirations, which helps overall business development.

    This is the way of the future because it is probably the only set of ideas that will work in our

    more complex organizations that constantly must innovate and reinvent themselves in order

    to survive and prosper in highly competitive markets.

    Case study: a move to virtual assessment

    Kia Motors Slovakia has used traditional assessment and development center programs to

    retain, motivate and develop high numbers of people recruited to support business growth.

    As well as the concrete benefit of helping the business have a better understanding of the

    people it employs, the centers were also felt to be a keen engagement and retention tool.

    People believed their careers benefited from them, but also that the organization was

    investing in them and valuing them as individuals.

    In 2012, the Kia Motors Slovakia education and training team was inspired by virtual

    simulation methods. Following a successful pilot, they switched to virtual methodologies

    using e-Simulator. In some cases, virtual methods run alongside, traditional paper-based

    and classroom methods, although middle leadership development is completely virtual.

    Asked to compare the use of virtual to traditional methods, Martina Hornicakova assistant

    manager of the education and training team said: Virtual centers are less time consuming

    and are perceived by participants as being more objective. We always use internal

    assessors and observers in traditional centers. This provides the assessors themselves with

    great development but can cause tension, as participants do not always like being watched

    and assessed by people they know and work with. Virtual centers avoid this but also have

    more credibility as they simulate the real working environment.

    Hornicakova also believes virtual assessment is stricter. In traditional assessment centers

    you can often hide. Here you cannot hide. Hornicakova also points out that traditional,

    classroom, assessment centers are much more demanding of the organization than virtual

    ones, which are less people intensive, easy to administer and yet the feedback is often more

    incisive and of higher quality. These are very positive factors. Importantly, Hornicakova also

    finds that the virtual processes have high credibility with line managers who see the

    objective input it provides into the decision-making process as a huge support.

    In todays fast-moving environment businesses needeveryone to be continually re-appraising their skills, andupdating them. Failure to do this will lead to derailment forboth the individual and the business.

    VOL. 13 NO. 2 2014 jSTRATEGIC HR REVIEWj PAGE 79

  • References

    Caplan, J. (2013), Strategic Talent Development: Develop and Engage All Your People for Business

    Success, Kogan Page, London.

    Gallup (2013), The relationship between engagement at work and organizational outcomes 2012 q12w

    meta-analysis, February.

    Hay Group (2010), FORTUNE Magazine/Hay Group rank the worlds most admired companies,

    Hay Group, 4 March, 2010, available at:, E., Handfield-Jones, H. and Axelrod, B. (2001), The War for Talent, Harvard Business Press,

    Boston, MA.

    About the author

    Janice Caplan is a successful international HR Consultant, board-level Coach-mentor and aGoverning Board Member and Committee Chair at the University of Portsmouth. As co-leadof The Scala Group, a UK-based HR consultancy, and ACE, a consortium of European HRconsultancies, Caplan has advised big-name clients on talent management andorganization development in a range of fields. Formerly CIPD vice-president, she is also asought-after international conference presenter and the author of Strategic TalentDevelopment: Develop and Engage All Your People for Business Success, Kogan Page,September 2013, and The Value of Talent: Promoting Talent Management Across theOrganization, Kogan Page, 2010. Janice Caplan can be contacted at:

    PAGE 80 jSTRATEGIC HR REVIEWj VOL. 13 NO. 2 2014

    To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail:

    Or visit our web site for further details: