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The secrets of talent development

In the world of sports, it’s a well-known fact that the best teams always have a few standout players.

For companies, it’s not all that different.

Instead of calling them ‘stars’, HR departments refer to them as ‘high-potentials.’ Extremely talented and equally highly motivated, they can be 400% more productive in the workplace than the average employee, according to studies[1]. By deliberately setting out to identify and develop these individuals, companies can become seven times more effective in delivering sales growth and retaining their employees[2]. There are other benefits too. High-potentials help to create a strong workplace culture, they promote wider engagement and provide a robust leadership pipeline for employers. In fact, the only question for employers is ‘How do I keep these people motivated, so that they stay with us?’


Recruiting the right people

Fortunately, there are plenty of answers available from leading companies as to how to identify, develop and retain high-performers. A good starting point is to be clear about what is expected of new recruits – not just in terms of skills, but also their personal qualities and attitudes to work. At Zappos, a major U.S. online retailer, the importance of its 10 core values is made clear during its unusual recruitment process[3]. Potential hires have to join its social media network – becoming ‘Zappos Insiders’ – and meet with existing employees over a period of several months to see if they are the right cultural fit before being encouraged, or not, to apply for a job. The result is high levels of motivation and low rates of turnover.


Time and space to flourish

Once people are onboard, talented individuals need to be supported in a variety of different ways. This includes a development plan tailored to their specific needs, encouragement through both words and actions, and a combination of both recognition and incentives for achievement. Many leading companies have programs that give employees the time and space to go beyond their usual day job. LinkedIn, for example, started out with ‘hackdays’, where employees were given one Friday a month to work on their own ideas. That program has now expanded to become ‘Incubator’, where employees with a great idea can put a team together and work on it for up to three months – if it’s approved by senior executives.

Monitoring career progress

As their careers progress, the goals and aspirations of employees will need to be regularly reviewed. At Google, this process is known as OKR (Objectives and Key Results), where the objectives are the goals being set and the key results are a measure of progress towards them[4]. The striking feature of OKR is that everything is made public, so employees can see how colleagues and even board members are performing against their objectives. That level of transparency within the organization not only gives people confidence in the assessment process, but also an awareness of other people’s work. For high-potentials, it makes their progress and productivity very clear.


Driving performance with recognition

While all these techniques for talent management have their roles to play, there is no denying the importance of recognition in making high-performers feel appreciated. Such programs are continually evolving and can be tailored to suit the employees and corporate culture. Paragon Group, a UK finance provider, has benefited a Showing Thanks And Rewarding Staff (STARS) program since 2009. Employees can nominate a colleague or another team for a Gold, Silver or Bronze award of vouchers for their excellent work. With a focus on same-day nomination and clear qualifying criteria, STARS complements Paragon’s other performance-related incentives. Given their higher levels of productivity, the top performers are bound to be inspired by such schemes, where the recognition from peers is immediate. And as the statistics show, happy high-potentials make for very happy companies…

The challenge for organizations is therefore to have clearly-defined expectations and career paths for their high performers, who are keen to develop their skills and experience. Clearly, this calls for a dedicated HR solution. Sodexo Benefits & Rewards Services has developed just such a program, as it looks to the company’s future in a changing world.

Developing high-potential individuals is a key priority for Human Resources teams of many leading organizations, including Sodexo Benefits & Rewards Services. Bénédicte Lepère, Global Human Resources Senior Vice President, outlines the Talent Booster Program deployed by the company.


What’s the thinking behind the Talent Booster Program?

BL: Sodexo Benefits & Rewards Services is very much a people business, and we have a longstanding commitment to developing all our teams and individuals. One of our challenges within that is to have robust successions plans in place for our key positions. Clearly, the ability to fast-track our talented young individuals into these positions can be of critical importance. For some of these individuals, the focus will be on accelerating their progress to the executive level. For others, notably those who have either recently joined or just been promoted into executive positions, the aim is to reinforce their existing skills. The Talent Booster Program will bring all these talented individuals together and help them to achieve their respective goals.

Another aspect of the Talent Booster Program is our Executive Committee shadowing session where talented individuals are challenged to find solutions to real issues faced by the actual committee. Their resulting plan is then shared with and evaluated by members of the Executive Committee.


Who is taking part in the program and what does it involve?

BL: We have selected 26 high-potentials across the company, with the accent on diversity as well as talent. They come from seven different areas of the business and 21 nations of the world, with a 10/16 split between women and men. Created in partnership with one of the world’s top engineering schools, Centrale-Supélec in Paris, the program lasts 18 months and is a blend of classroom sessions, distance learning, co-development and collaborative projects, along with a work assignment at a tech hub in China. Along with their technical abilities, Talent Booster will also develop their business acumen and leadership skills. Internally, it’s strongly supported by the COMEX.


What are the objectives for the program?

BL: For the high-potentials, it offers some big opportunities: to learn about our many lines of business; to challenge the Executive Committee about the way our company operates – and to be challenged in return; and finally, it’s a chance to develop your skills as an innovator in a digital world – prototyping the services of the future. Sodexo Benefits & Rewards Services is already adapting to a more digitally-driven business environment, where the focus is on devising very specific approaches to our three key stakeholders: clients, consumers and merchants. As our markets continue to evolve, the Talent Booster program will provide the next-generation skills and expertise we need in order to be successful. It promises to be an exciting future!




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Dwindling growth has forced many companies to reassess the amount they spend on employee benefits. Yet these cutbacks do not always pay off in the long term because they can significantly affect team motivation and productivity. Although cost reductions are sometimes unavoidable, employers must not lose sight of the need to incentivize. In fact, they need to be smarter and find new ways to motivate their employees, and especially their…
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