How not to lose top talent

By on March 17, 2014

One of the most urgent issues for organisations in 2014 will be how leaders can effectively target, nurture, and advance top talent in their organisations. Note however the crucial shift in emphasis from a broad-based need for all top talent to an increasing demand for the right kind of talent.

Leaders have long recognised that an inherently diverse workforce confers a competitive edge in selling products or services to diverse end users. However, recent research by the global Centre for Talent Innovation (CTI) has shown that an inherently diverse workforce can be a potent source of innovation as well. This is because diverse individuals seem to be better attuned to the unmet needs of consumers or clients like themselves.

Leveraging and developing diverse talent in 2014

Natalie Maroun, Managing Director for LRMG, says it is important to first qualify the meaning of talent. “Talent is what makes an organisation succeed, yet there’s often confusion about the definition of talent. Talent is not necessarily an individual with a list of all the right qualifications. Talent refers rather to people who bring a unique configuration of 10 000 hours of experience; who subscribe and align to the company culture and who are able to make a quick conversion of their 10 000 hours to add value to the organisation.”

Winning organisations in 2014 will be those who embrace the following four principles to attract and retain this diverse talent:


Understanding a diverse workforce is the key to a successful business. However, diversity only works if it is managed by leaders who are inclusive of difference. The CTI research says that to continually drive growth and innovation one needs a diverse workforce managed by leaders who cherish difference, embrace disruption and foster a speak-up culture. Maroun agrees, saying that promoting a culture of inclusivity means being inclusive across the board.


Another interesting development, sponsorship refers to a strategic workplace partnership between those with power and those with the potential to become powerful. Sponsors are essentially people in positions of power who work on behalf of their protégé’s to clear obstacles for them, foster connections, assign higher-profile work to ease the move up the ranks and provide support in case of stumbles. “Sponsorship, like mentorship, is the basis of developing and keeping talent,” says Maroun.


The visibility of a leader is possibly one of the most important factors in leadership. CTI research shows that performance, hard work and sponsors get top talent recognised and promoted, but that leadership potential isn’t enough to leverage men and women into the executive suite.

Leadership roles are given to those who also look and act the part, which manifest executive presence, which is done by people watching and modelling the behaviour of their leaders. “Yet paradoxically,” says Maroun, “in South Africa the system conspires against itself because our top executives and leaders are generally hidden away on the top floor of a building or behind a private elevator. It is time for leaders to come out from behind those closed doors and be seen.”

Create ecstatic employees

For over 20 years, the taught and accepted business model for both employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction was based on a bell curve. The traditional thinking was that in any company at least a small group, let’s say 20 percent of people, are unhappy at work, the majority of people are happy but not ecstatic, and the balance of the group, again approximately 20 percent, are ecstatic. “If one ran a similar curve based on customer satisfaction it would reflect the same profile, and until recently this was the accepted norm for both customer and employee engagement and loyalty,” says Maroun.

“Within the traditional bell curve model an organisation runs the risk of at least 80 percent of employees or customers defecting as soon as they find a better alternative.  Only the small 20 percent are genuine advocates of the brand or the company. In 2014 we want to create more active company,” she says. Leaders who are active allies, are far more likely to retain diverse talent.

The CTI research further shows that the majority of workers fail to realise their full potential because their leadership lacks the inclusive behaviour needed to effectively unlock the innovative potential of an inherently diverse workforce. “Leaders who decide to inculcate behaviour and disseminate practices that endorse, encourage and empower all people within an organisation are far more likely to both retain a broader spectrum of top talent as well as tap into an ever-replenishing well of innovation,” concludes  Maroun.

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