Laying it on the line – why line managers must be talent managers


Management is often depicted as an ugly duckling compared to its glamorous sibling leadership. However it is not leaders in the rarefied atmosphere of the boardroom but line managers in the engine room of the business who have the biggest role to play in talent management. Line managers stretch talent or squash it.

Unfortunately, talent squashing is the norm in many organisations. According to our 2004 survey, 'The Talent Revolution', 87 per cent of talented executives say their managers extinguish their talents.

The challenge of providing line managers with the skills to manage talented executives is a common one.

An effective solution is the '4-Lever Engagement Model'. This is built upon seven core principles of managing talent:

1. Celebrate individuality. Since each employee operates through a unique filter, find out what it is. Ask employees what motivate them, what their goals are, how they like to be managed.

2. Set outcomes not instructions. Give clear objectives and steer employees towards achieving them rather than issuing detailed directives.

3. Celebrate diversity. Accept that one-size-fits-all management never works. Align the unique talents of your employees to organisational objectives then step back and allow those talents to flourish.

4. Know what makes talent tick. Talented employees thrive on personal growth, challenge, stimulation, variety, meaning, purpose, respect, responsibility, autonomy and choice. Find out which drivers matter most to which employees. Ensure their work satisfies their personal career drivers.

5. Focus on your high performers. High performers deliver the most value for the organisation so encourage them to aim higher. Investigate the factors that differentiate them from lower performers and build a star map for their role. Use this star map as a benchmark for recruiting new and developing existing talent.

6. Be a casting director. Have you noticed that executives thrive in some roles yet wither in others? Develop close relationships with your people so you know which roles will play to their strengths and which will strangle them.

7. Be a coach, not a manager. Coaching bridges the gap between organisational goals espoused by leaders and the individual career aspirations of your employees by aligning the two. A coaching manager sees their role as building rapport, trust and common purpose. A coaching manager delegates and stretches, giving employees challenging assignments to build their skills.

The 4-Lever Engagement Model shows managers how to apply those principles.

Lever 1: Discovery – asks line managers to find out what motivates and drives each employee.

Lever 2: Delivery – shows line managers how to act on Discovery by modifying their management style, individual by individual, to ignite maximum performance.

Lever 3: Reward – identifies each employee's personal hierarchy of reward needs and uses the same amount of compensation spend more effectively.

Finally, Lever 4: Recognition – ensures that praise is given when merited.

This model is simple yet powerful: when implemented by a leading investment management firm, turnover was cut from 32 per cent to 14 per cent within 12 months and the business turned around. It enables line managers to cultivate talent, not crush it.

About The Author

Susannah Pringle
Susannah Pringle

Susannah Pringle is the co-founder and a partner of TalentMax, the talent and career management consultancy.