Talent pools, also known as acceleration pools, are groups of high-performing, high-potential employees who are being developed to assume greater responsibility in a particular area. They form the basis of best-practice talent pool-based succession planning. Here's what you need to know to create talent pools in your organization.
What talent (acceleration) pools do we need to create?
Which areas and roles are key to your organization's success today? Which areas and roles do you expect will be key to growth and success in the future? These are the areas you need to develop talent pools for. You'll certainly need a leadership talent pool – most organizations do. And you may want to create a talent pool for mid-level management, depending on the size of your organization. But beyond management and leadership, every organization has individuals or groups with knowledge/skills/ expertise that help the organization to establish and maintain its competitive advantage. In order to preserve your competitive advantage, you need to develop deep bench strength in these areas. So think about it… Does your organization possess specialized technical skills that set it apart from the competition? Does your market or industry require that you have strong expertise in a particular area? To compete in a new market or succeed in the future, do you need to develop or acquire particular knowledge/skills expertise? The answer to these questions will reveal the talent (acceleration) pools your organization needs to create today.
The talent pools you need to develop will likely change over time, as your organization and the environment in which it operates changes. So you should regularly (at least once a year) revisit your complement of talent pools and ensure it's addressing your organization's needs.
What do we need to do to create a talent pool?
Identify the knowledge, skills and/or experience that are critical to success in each area and critical to the organization's success. One of the ways you can do this is by interviewing current high-performers in those areas, as well as their managers. It can also help to start from a list of critical tasks or job responsibilities, then move to identify the key competencies required. Make sure you create detailed behavioral descriptions of those competencies and provide examples of what exemplar performance looks like.
Once you've identified the key competencies required for superior performance and success in each area, you need to create a list of learning activities that can help to develop each competency. You'll likely want to organize these into learning paths that gradually develop increasing proficiency and mastery.
What's important to note here is that research shows that up to 90% of the learning we do happens on the job, as part of our work assignments, not through training. So make sure you include and make available a variety of on-the-job learning experiences, not just courses, reading lists and other more traditional learning activities. Provide examples of typical work assignments or experiences that help develop the competencies. Consider ways to effect the knowledge transfer required to build up bench strength in key technical/professional areas. And don’t forget to ask exemplar performers how they acquired expertise in a particular competency; they can provide invaluable guidance in developing learning paths. All of this will help you create effective talent or acceleration pools.
Who should be assigned to a talent pool?
High-performers — employees who are high performers in their current roles.
High-potential employees — people who've been identified as having the potential, capacity and interest to advance in the organization and broaden or deepen their knowledge/skills/expertise.
People who embody your culture and values — make sure you consider your organizational culture and values when determining talent/acceleration pool membership. There are some who say this is most important, because you can teach technical skills, but not culture and values.
In Good to Great, Jim Collins reveals that great companies "first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it." Think about what kind of people are right for your organization, then assign them to appropriate talent pools and invest in their development.
What do we do with the employees in a talent pool?
Develop them. Prepare them for lateral moves or advancement. Prepare them to take on greater responsibilities. Help them broaden and deepen their knowledge, skills and experience. Give them work experiences that stretch them and teach them. Expose them to leaders or high performers in their area. Provide them with coaching and feedback.
Give them time to develop at their own pace; not everyone learns at the same rate or is ready for promotion or a new assignment at the same time.
Regularly assess their performance. In addition to effectively managing their performance in their current role, regularly assess their performance of the competencies required for success in the talent pool(s) they're assigned to. Assign development activities as appropriate to close skill gaps.
Promote or reassign them. When opportunities open up in the organization, look to your talent pool first for candidates.
Use them as mentors for others. High-performing, high-potential employees can be wonderful mentors for others in the organization. Give them opportunities to share their knowledge, skills, expertise and help others to develop. This will also help preserve organizational memory and knowledge.