Talent Development: Building a Diverse Talent Pipeline

By: Lawrence James, Jr.

Second of a two-part series.

How do you build a diverse talent pipeline?

Few would disagree that talent development occurs within an organizational context. This argues for a more holistic or systemic approach to our talent development efforts that simultaneously facilitates growth and change across multiple stakeholder groups including the individual, their manager, and the enterprise.

Originally developed as a culture-specific model designed to grow the skills of diverse talent (people of color, women, LGBTQ), this systems approach formalizes the involvement of multiple stakeholders working together to move the bar on leadership skills throughout the enterprise by breaking down organizational barriers and addressing managerial biases and individual skill deficits to improve the functioning of the enterprise and improve the identification and deployment of home-grown talent within an organization.

At its heart, this multistakeholder approach is a culture change initiative focused on human talent. If talent is an organization’s lifeblood, driving its ability to develop strategy, create and innovate, execute on initiatives, lead effectively, and create trust internally and externally, then the organization must put it front and center as a driver of business outcomes.

With a systemic focus, each of the following stakeholders is involved in a culture change initiative: board, C-suite, and enterprise leadership; manager supervisors; the individual; human resources/organizational development, and external consultants. The role of each stakeholder group in the process is briefly described below:

Board/C-suite/enterprise-level leaders: Leadership from the top is critical to driving culture change—outlining the why and describing the how by establishing organizational direction, accountabilities and incentives (pay, scorecards, etc.) for grooming talent, motivating and helping to cascade the change, and leading by example through the actions they take (such as in their own hiring practices). An organization’s most senior leaders must help create and enforce the desired environment by being catalysts for a trusting, fair, and transparent culture that advocates sensitivity, not blindness, on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, immigrant status, or religious orientation. The immediate impacts to the organization are reduced retention risks and better decision making, but longer term it will enable more diverse leaders to rise to the top.

Director/manager/supervisory level: The role of managers and supervisors is also critical to success. Achieving first-line managerial roles is a chokepoint for diverse leaders. Without addressing the challenges and impediments to reaching early managerial roles, the pool of potential diverse leaders for more-senior leader roles will remain disproportionately small. Focusing on manager leadership capabilities and talent identification skills are critical next steps in an organizational change process. This may include developmental activities to help managers combat unconscious biases that could predispose them to overlooking talented diverse candidates for leadership roles. Helping leaders to have a clearer understanding of who they advocate for—and why—can also be helpful.

Individual: Traditional coaching and development techniques can be employed to facilitate individual development efforts. However, addressing culture and gender-specific developmental challenges will be critical to positioning diverse coachees to maximize their potential within their organizations. (For a more detailed review, click here to read Journey to the Top: Developing African American Executives.)

Human resources/organizational development: Human resources and organizational development play a critical role in the execution of the systemic approach to development. They often act as the conduit between senior leadership and other supervisory staff (by interpreting the talent management strategy) and between supervisors and individual employees (by managing a variety of issues including  the access and utilization of internal and external resources to facilitate development).

External consultants: Consultants have a clear role in helping organizations and individuals execute a talent agenda. The most effective and helpful consultants will have a clear understanding of the organization’s talent agenda and the unique challenges of diverse leaders. They will be able to assist individuals, their managers, and the organization in addressing those challenges in a systemic manner that impacts not only an individual’s development but that fosters broader change in the organization and its senior leadership.

Taking these critical steps to drive culture change and align stakeholders in addressing the issues will position the enterprise not only to be supportive of diversity but also to achieve its goal of inclusion.



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