Develop and engage all your people forbusiness success
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
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
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
Hay Group (2010), FORTUNE Magazine/Hay Group rank the worlds most admired companies,
Hay Group, 4 March, 2010, available at: www.haygroup.com/ww/press/details.aspx?id24631Michaels, E., Handfield-Jones, H. and Axelrod, B. (2001), The War for Talent, Harvard Business Press,
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: email@example.com
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