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Don't Forget the Talent we Already Have

Sep 10, 2008
Companies Need To Nurture Their Existing Staff

Since the turn of the century, when I heard my first presentation on the war for talent in insurance and financial services in general, much has been made of how the various professions might attract and retain top graduates into their area. A great deal of time, money and effort has been devoted to the subject - and who could have a problem with that?

But I wonder whether we pay enough attention to people already working in the business who, perhaps now in their 30s and 40s, have already been through a flurry of training activity. Is it safe to assume they have the skills needed for their jobs?

Corporate structures have changed in recent years so that they are now much shallower. Middle-managers in their mid-30s have greater responsibility than was once the case, but their line managers are much further removed and have less time to guide and support. By all means fund executive coaching and, yes, let's bring in the new blood, by let's not ignore the middle management.

It's a deep-seated problem. Middle managers rarely think of themselves as candidates for training, and they probably like to think they know all they need to know. Truth is, they probably are on the ball in terms of technical issues. But where they may be falling short is continued personal development. They don't need teaching about the nuts and bolts of the business, but they might well benefit from coaching and monitoring that will help them improve as managers.

But isn't mentoring and one-to-one coaching the expensive preserve of those who work on the top floor? It needn't be. Once established, a mentoring programme can be self-sustaining, and a six-month coaching programme can cost the equivalent of a two-day training course.

We need to draw a distinction between mentoring and coaching.

The former seeks to build links between tiers within the organisation, feeding down experience and know-ledge and providing encouragement and guidance. It is often a two-way flow of benefits - any mentor will tell you how rewarding it can be.

Coaching can be difficult, because there is a need for openness, and that calls for privacy. How do you tell your boss that you find it difficult to work with your boss? But an external consultant can bring a fresh perspective and help people find their way through this sort of tensions and difficulties.

So the investment need not be great, but the benefits to the business can be substantial. After all, the quality of middle management can make the difference between success and mediocrity. When people are coached properly, they learn about flexibility, creating and reacting to change, setting goals and getting results. Coaching is an outlet and a source of inspiration.

Again, a lot of the resistance to coaching can arise because people think it shows weakness to participate. But coaching should always be constructive, and no-one is so good not to benefit from coaching input. And it doesn't need to be a huge time commitment: an initial meeting establishes rapport, with subsequent contact over the phone with occasional face-to-face reviews as necessary.

Capturing talent is hugely important to the future of our sector. But so too is nurturing the talented people who manage the business. Let's give it the attention it deserves.
About the Author
Neil Williams is a mentor and business coach who runs NVW Solutions
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