Inclusively talented

Think inclusivity and your thoughts might jump to particular sections of the community or workforce, whether they be categorised by ethnicity or seniority. But being inclusive is about so much more than paying mind to particular groups; it’s about looking at our workforce – and indeed the NHS – as a whole. 


Michelle Fitzgerald - Programme Lead for Talent Management
Michelle Fitzgerald – Programme Lead for Talent Management

If I could make one plea to the NHS it would be ‘think inclusively about talent management.’


A lot of the NHS Leadership Academy’s work around talent management has been focusing on developing an intelligent approach to inclusivity. Over the last few years, we’ve been out in the system engaging with a range of organisations to embed inclusive talent management in the NHS.  We are helping organisations to look at talent management from the bottom up, because it really does involve everybody, regardless of their seniority.


When exploring what talent management activity is in the NHS, we find that in most organisations, talent management tends to focus on senior people and directors. There’s also a vastly varied landscape on how organisations are currently selecting people for internal positions or for leadership development opportunities, locally, regionally and nationally.


Robust talent management requires absolute inclusivity; it’s about supporting everyone – not just one part of the workforce.


If the focus is on people who are already in business-critical or senior roles, what about the future organisational talent, like the Band 5 nurse who could be a potential Director of Nursing in 10 – 15 years’ time? What about the Health Care Assistant who is starting in the NHS today, like I did 22 years ago, who may indeed be in a senior leadership position in the future? Both are on a talent journey. You shouldn’t have to get to a Band 8a or above role before you get considered as NHS talent because that’s not inclusive.


Looking wider at the importance of being inclusive within identifying talent, we talk about leaders identifying people who ‘look or sound as they do’, so someone experiencing discrimination could be because they have a distinctive regional accent – I certainly have being from Newcastle – or someone who doesn’t ‘look’ like a leader, which is interesting seeing as leadership is more about how we behave than how we look.


Looking inward

Let’s think about recruitment and retention. Would the skills crisis be so acute if we’d ensured through talent management that our own people had the right skill sets? Are we doing the best job we can of developing our own people?


1.4m staff are coming into work in our NHS every day. How many are truly feeling successful in their role? The demands of the job are huge, the organisation you work for is under massive financial pressure and no one has thanked you for ten years. Is this the picture in your organisation?  Talent management isn’t always about wanting to ‘get on’. It can be about being successful in your current post, and that success is about feeling valued.


For those who do want to get on, a lot of people talk to me about being held back in spite of their talent. Managers can either see them as a threat or simply be reluctant to lose hard working people from their team/organisation when they’re under such pressure.


What I’d say to any manager who sees talent as a threat – either to them or to the performance of their team – is that if an organisation has a culture of developing and supporting talent to progress, they’ll only attract more. Organisations like that don’t have the recruitment issues others do.


An inclusive way forward

What excites people who we talk to in the system is for the talent management process to be fair, consistent and inclusive, and embedded at all levels.  We need to ensure that talent management approaches are built – and maintained – by the organisations in the NHS itself. This is a big shift in culture and to fully embed it is a 3-5 year plan for organisations.  But wouldn’t it be great if we could offer every single person the same opportunity to maximise their potential, whether that’s within their current role or they have aspirations to progress into a more senior position? This inclusive approach would ensure we have a workforce at all levels who feel valued and able to reach their full potential – this can only positively impact on patient care.


There are some good examples of inclusive talent management in other non-NHS organisations.  For example, if you join Tesco, from day one, no matter what role you have in the organisation, you know you’re on a talent journey and this is discussed regularly with all employees. The NHS is however hugely complex, so there’s never going to be a one size fits all approach, but if we all consider talent management in the context of everyone, rather than the most senior people, we’ll start to see positive change happen.


To support organisations to implement inclusive talent management, the NHS Leadership Academy offers a range of free talent management resources including How to have an effective talent conversation guides, bite sized learning and the short online learning talent management programme which supports both managers and employees to have really good conversations.


For more information visit or if you would like more information on how to implement an inclusive talent management approach email [email protected]

3 replies on “Inclusively talented”

  • Thank you for sharing this well rounded discussion on seeing the talent at all levels regardless of their grade or protected characteristics. It’s also about future proofing your teams, growing your own and allowing staff to begin exploring their development needs for the future with freedom to aspire to where they best fit.

    Joan Myers
  • Excellent call to action Michelle! There is a theory in the diversity world that inequalities thrive in dark corners. This theory purports that the majority of us will only see the obvious and manifest things that present themselves in our everyday lives – and ignore (consciously or unconsciously) those things that are more hidden and latent. This goes for talent as much as it goes for any other aspect of life. The role of a good leader – and all managers – is to shine a light into the dark corners and unearth those hidden gems of talent.

  • Interesting article, although talent management is of course more about one protected characteristic, it is true that some more than others are less likely to be seen to be future talent. A “colour or gender” “blind” approach will never work. Although accents can be used by some there was great research carried out by the Commission for Racial Equality during my time there that showed that people scored those with African, Asian, Caribbean accents worse for communication than any other regional dialect including inner city Glaswegian, Newcastle and scouse!

    Interestingly I have had a Jordy chief exec and a Scottish boss but I’ve never had a black chief exec.

    So rather than an either or approach when talking talent management you must talk disability, race, gender and in some areas LGBT too as talent management usually means the “people that already look like the leadership”.

    Let’s not brush the elephant in the room under the carpet or you may end up tripping up trying whilst looking for other areas to focus on.

    Best wishes


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