Internal talent spotting

4th of July 2017
Internal talent spotting

Morna Metzger of Metzger Search & Selection discusses why it’s important for larger companies to tap into employees’ hidden talents or acumen and help to develop them.

Most people have talents and abilities apart from those revealed in their everyday employment. There’s the office manager who plays in a band at the weekends, or the advertising account executive who is a prize winning cross-country runner in their spare time.

More directly related to the working environment, especially in larger more established organisations, there are those who have trained for a manual job and then gradually developed other skills either through study, observation or experience. Through these routes they acquire valuable people skills, understanding and a talent for analysis and problem-solving that are suitable for a management role.

We also should not disregard that a number of cleaning operatives are migrants who may have qualifications and experience that was not taken into account when they initially started working. Employees like this are also prime candidates for professional development.

Unless the managerial team is perceptive enough to recognise an individual’s  developing abilities and suggest an appropriate course of action, the person will carry on in their manual role, without their potential being harnessed and developed. They may find an external activity that fulfils some of their aspirations and utilises their capabilities, or even leave the organisation to train for a ‘desk job’ somewhere else, like a competitor company.

These talented people hiding in plain sight are likely to know enough about some of your customers to be able to introduce them to other suppliers and competitors. More importantly this is the kind of skills drain that could be much regretted by a company. The loss of years of experience for example or a natural, raw talent has been missed and is now leaving the fold. Such employees take their customer knowledge with them, as well as the tips and tricks learned to help them work more efficiently.

This is why it is so important for managers to look at their staff with better eyes, acknowledge what talents they really possess and how they can apply and develop them. In uncertain times, with economic upheavals, making the most of your internal manpower and resources becomes a practical tool for business survival. Talented employees are not always easy to find, and if there are individuals in an organisation who can understand the business in different contexts and breadths, then surely this is an attribute to harness and foster.

Don’t just throw money at it

When it comes to retaining talented staff, merely offering wage increases may not be enough. Even if the member of your cleaning team has not yet reached the point of actively planning to leave to seek a managerial job, they may well know their own potential to progress in another direction, with another company or on their own.

The first move should be to look at your own organisation and determine whether there are any gaps in the sales and management structure waiting to be filled, or whether there are likely to be any gaps occurring in the near future through retirement or other means. If gaps are likely, plan how you might re-structure the organisation through appropriate promotions and training be able to place your aspiring manager.

Culturally, continuous professional development in the cleaning industry has had its limitations for employees doing manual work. There is a fear about making significant investments in staff who could then leave. This is sometimes circumvented by signing an agreement that the employee has to pay back the training costs if they choose to leave the company before a specified period.

Education and training

However never underestimate the value of training your employees, especially those with the potential to progress in other useful roles in the company. If you have such a person on board, it’s always worth looking at their records to establish what educational or trade qualifications they already have. It helps to inform what further complementary training they would need to become proficient in business, sales or management and send their careers on a different and hopefully, mutually beneficial trajectory.

Colleges of further education can usually offer advice on appropriate courses, as can trade associations and professional institutes. Vocationally Related Qualifications (VRQs), are usually obtained through a part-time course at college; if you think your employee has potential for a sales or business development role, the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management ( would be a useful place to start to create a study plan appropriate to the professional development sought.

Other institutions, such as the Open University, offer the flexibility that may be required to participate in higher education. It is all achievable providing there is a budget to pay for the courses, and of course some VRQs are eligible for funding from the Skills Funding Agency.

With background research done, decide how you want to approach the subject with your employee and arrange an informal interview. Explain that you have been impressed by their abilities, that you think they have the potential for a management role, given some training, and ask their views on this, explaining that the company would pay all or most of the costs of appropriate training.

Explain the role in management or sales that you envisage for them and give some idea of how their earnings might improve, initially when they accept taking on a course of study and then when they have a qualification and are ready to train further on the job. Encourage them to ask more about the prospects of what you are offering.

Help the transition

It can be tough when an employee makes the move from a manual role to a management role. Sitting at the desk comes with new challenges that they wouldn’t have dealt with before. There may be certain internal cultural changes that need to be managed as far as the new promotee is concerned.

Encourage asking questions: when you’re working in a new environment you need to learn so many things from where the stationery cupboard is to whether there is a preferred dress code! Internal candidates might have picked up some of this corporate intelligence already but it’s unlikely that they will know it all, so they should feel comfortable about asking questions when they first arrive in their new role.

Allow for learning about office dynamics: offices have different dynamics to working in the field or the shop floor. How does the hierarchy work – formal and informal? What are the personalities like? How does your boss like to work? How do you like to work now that you have been exposed to the team and the office culture?

Start relationship building: becoming integrated in the team through professional relationship building will be vital to successful transition. Knowing how to relate to and collaborate with your colleagues, whether above or below in the hierarchy, ensures the new joiner does not inadvertently become an outsider. If joining a sales team this becomes even more important when dealing with clients on the outside.

Mutual satisfaction

Your employees represent the company brand when they are out on the job as well as from the office. Training and development for cleaning staff beyond the tools and skills of the manual aspects are not often considered. However in any business safeguarding one’s assets is good practice, and that should include the continued professional development of talented staff.

Investing in this way helps to keep standards high and you retain skills as well as acquire new ones, all in the same package. Investing in professional development also sends the message to your employees they are a valued member of the team. This isn’t always the way in the cleaning industry but new thinking and appreciation of the hidden treasures in your employees’ talents can change culture and practice. Don’t let those treasures go to waste.


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