Strategy January 23, 2020

Top 2020 business priorities: Talent management

Top 2020 business priorities - Talent management

What are the ‘real world’ concerns of business leaders across the UK? In late 2019, we canvassed our members to better understand business leaders’ priorities for 2020 and beyond.

Over 250 members took part, rating five key topic areas according to priority; Talent Management; Customer Engagement; Business Operations; Finance and Leadership. Each topic was further broken down into five sub-topics, with each of these also given a rating. This article is the first in a series of five that will consider each topic, offering guidance on how best to tackle their associated challenges.

Talent management was the key overall priority as rated by Vistage members, with staff retention emerging as the key focus within this broad topic.

Retention and engagement 

Retaining loyal staff with the right skills can be a significant challenge to businesses. Considering the need to balance this with controlling costs and maintaining healthy business growth, it came as little surprise to find that retention and engagement was the highest priority for 23% of our survey respondents. 

"A focus on employee wellbeing is key to getting retention and engagement right"

Put simply, it takes an awful lot of time and money to recruit new employees. And even when you find the perfect candidate, how do you make sure they’ll be happy enough to stick around? We will touch on training and development and other aspects that foster employee loyalty later but fundamentally, a focus on employee wellbeing is key to getting this right. 

This includes ensuring staff are comfortable, safe and that any particular needs are taken care of, such as access requirements. Promoting a positive workplace culture is equally important and the tone should be consistent throughout the business and come from the top. Encourage open channels for communication, on every level. Be transparent, fair and ethical and make sure staff feel supported and listened to. Recognise and reward hard work and if budgets are an issue try to be honest with your team and make sure they understand that financial incentives aren’t being withheld due to concerns with performance. 

Employee development 

Following on from the respondents’ concerns about retention and engagement, our members identified employee development as their second most important priority with 22% of the vote. It may not always be possible to offer financial rewards and incentives to your team but supporting staff development and training can counter this. Talk to your management team and other staff about the types of training that could benefit your team and then talk to your training provider about the courses they can offer. If 1-1 training is a little out of your budget perhaps a group training session, or a ‘train the trainer’ course might be more appropriate. 

our members identified employee development as their second most important priority

As with all aspects of your business leadership, make sure you are fair to all staff when it comes to employee development opportunities. And don’t make the mistake of opting for cheaper courses that don’t deliver. If budgets don’t allow for external training programs consider internal options such as mentoring or cross-departmental training. These can also present opportunities for team building and increase operational knowledge among staff. 

Hiring, recruitment and sourcing 

20% of our members identified hiring, recruitment and sourcing as a business priority for 2020 and beyond. As mentioned above, recruitment is a costly business and it can be challenging to find candidates with the right technical skills that will also be a good fit with your team. Here are a few tips to help you get it right. 

  1. Identify the most effective recruitment channels for your business. LinkedIn and job sites are great but perhaps there are specialist options that could work better for you such as GitHub for developers or AngelList for tech and startup roles. 
  2. Get your messaging and offer right. Always keep an eye on what your competitors are offering and make sure you are at least matching the remuneration and annual leave, if you can. If that isn’t possible, emphasise the other benefits that you offer employees. A great work environment, a range of development opportunities, the best coffee in town etc. Naturally, you need to ensure the language you use in all job specs, ads and contracts is inclusive and compliant. 
  3. Consider including interview questions that will gauge a candidate’s emotional intelligence. This will help ascertain if they will be a good cultural fit and will also indicate how they respond to workplace challenges such as conflict and different workloads.  
  4. Be clear about your offer and the reasons why candidates should choose you. Remember that the selection process is an opportunity to sell your business. You don’t want to risk your competitors nabbing the best talent. 

Performance management/HR 

Effective performance management is another time-consuming aspect of running a department or business. It’s vital that it’s done well and with the betterment of both the employee and company in mind. 18% of our respondents cited performance management and HR as a business priority, no doubt communicating concerns about their ability to get the best out of their teams without risking overworking them or adversely impacting on operations. 

"It’s important to find the right balance between overseeing and micro-managing"

If you have a dedicated HR manager or team, make sure that staff know they are available, approachable and acting in their best interests. If your company does not have that resource, allocate an HR ambassador or consider taking on the role yourself. All staff should have regular reviews with their line manager that focus on their development and job satisfaction as well as performance. Any issues should be documented and actionable plans devised that suit both the employee and the business. 

It’s important to find the right balance between overseeing and micro-managing, and this will depend on the nature of the business and the employee’s way of working. However, whether the individual has ongoing performance issues or consistently over-performs they should receive the same level of performance management - just presented in an appropriate context to their work. If improvements are required, address them. If they are at the top of their game, keep them motivated by identifying further challenges or encouraging them to mentor others. You don’t want your prize talent to think you’re not interested in their development, after all. 

Succession planning 

With 17% of the vote, succession planning was nominated as the lowest priority for leaders, but it’s still a vital component to business success. Succession planning is defined as identifying and developing new leaders to replace incumbents - but it doesn’t stop there. As well as ensuring that you have the long-term talent that is prepared to step up as a leader, why not extend the ethos throughout your business so there’s a clear development route throughout the hierarchy, from the most junior employee to the most senior? This can be a great motivator for staff and also demonstrates strong leadership skills. Showing you trust and value staff and that you are committed to their long-term happiness and job satisfaction is a mark of a true leader and your approach will foster loyalty and encourage staff to take pride in their work and their affiliation to your company. 

Succession planning is defined as identifying and developing new leaders to replace incumbents

Cross-training and inter-departmental knowledge are key components in succession planning and also help create a cohesive, informed workforce. The methods and strategy for ensuring effective succession planning will differ greatly from company to company but every business must start with a clear process for how it will work. By documenting and delivering this you can be confident that your business and employees will be prepared for any changes or disruptions to your company. 


With many day-to-day challenges to tackle and responsibilities to honour it can be difficult to take a step back to view your business requirements more objectively and identify areas for improvement. Review your talent management processes and strategies with an open mind. Be honest about what you are getting right and what you need to work on. Talk to people who can help you find solutions to any issues and communicate with your teams about any proposed enhancements. It could be a good idea to gauge their perspectives as well. They are the ones operating within the systems after all. 

"Be honest about what you are getting right and what you need to work on"

As with all aspects of business, talent management is an ongoing challenge but by paying attention to both business and employee needs, keeping a close eye on the market and being brave enough to confront issues, you will be in a far better position to provide the productive and happy workplace that you and your employees deserve. 

To download our report ‘Business Priorities for 2020’ click here.  If you would like to speak to someone about how best to manage your own business’ priorities,  contact Vistage today. 

Key Decisions for 2020

Our gift to you...

Apply now for your personal leadership consultation with a Vistage Chair. They'll help you assess areas of strength of your business and identify areas of potential growth.

Apply Now

    Subscribe to Vistage Insights