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Talent Engagement

3.1 Why engagement is important

Maintaining the engagement of high potential individuals is important if their skills and capabilities are to continue to be available to the APS or their agency in the future. If talented employees aren't kept engaged, the risk of losing them is high. A Harvard Business Review study15 found that most high performing young people with records of strong academic and workplace performance regularly and actively looked for new jobs when they were already employed.

3.2 What is talent engagement?

Engagement does not mean holding on to talented employees in one job role or agency; indeed, talent 'hoarding' is likely to have a negative effect on engagement. For high potential individuals, there three requirements for continued engagement:

  • Visibility: Knowing that the APS or an agency recognises their potential and is interested in them
  • Planning: Being clear about the plan for their development and their career path
  • Action: Seeing things happen that will assist in their growth and career development.

3.3 Keeping talent engaged

Talented individuals work harder than their peers and expect their agencies to provide stimulating work that prepares them for future roles, ongoing recognition and rewarding career paths. Research16 indicates that the following strategies in 3.3.1 to 3.3.5 can help keep talented employees engaged and committed.

3.3.1 Keep senior leaders involved with talent

The direct involvement of senior managers can make a significant difference to the engagement of talented individuals. Aligning high potential employees with a senior sponsor – directly or through a talent forum – can impact on all three requirements for engagement. The high potential employee
will enjoy greater visibility and have access to senior level guidance about their career. Because the senior sponsor is in an influential position in the agency, they may be able to unlock barriers to the employee making progress with their career development, for example, if it is time for a change
in role.

3.3.2 Recognise talent, even when times are tough

Being recognised is one of the most critical factors that keep talented employees engaged. Talented employees are aware that they contribute more than others. Failing to meaningfully recognise their greater contribution risks disengagement or leaving for a new employer.

In the private sector, recognition is often financial. In the APS, there are alternative ways to keep talented employees engaged through recognition. This might include offering different and more challenging development opportunities, offering special projects or mobility changes, or offering flexible
working arrangements to support study or other development.

During periods where promotion or transfer opportunities are limited across the APS, agencies should carefully consider whether acting assignments or new projects are suitable for keeping high potential employees committed to the APS. Providing the best opportunities to high potential employees isn't
about creating a 'favoured class', but is about ensuring that the best contributors continue to offer their best and keep growing in preparation for taking on critical roles.

3.3.3 Keep giving talented employees tough roles or projects

Keeping high potential employees engaged means continuing to stretch them with challenging roles or projects where they are forced to quickly develop new skills. Protecting talent from experiencing tough roles is a bigger long-term risk – talent will leave in search of greater challenges or they
will reach critical roles without having being tested.

Agencies should keep their talent engaged and developing by placing high potentials in the most complex, high-impact roles and projects. These challenging assignments should be linked to an individual development plan and precise development goals.

3.3.4 Keep talent involved in business strategy

Talented employees usually stay committed when they feel they are actively contributing to the agency's future. Strategies include involving talent in projects to resolve important strategic challenges, allowing high potentials to serve on 'shadow boards' that provide genuine business advice to senior
leaders, or offering private briefings on strategic challenges.

3.3.5 Regularly test your talent's engagement

Organisations cannot assume that their high potential employees will remain highly engaged. Research17 shows that one in three high potentials admits to not putting all their effort into their work, while one in five believe that their aspirations are markedly different to what their organisation has planned for them.

Agencies should regularly check the level of engagement of their high potentials and seek to understand their career aspirations. Strategies include appointing career stewards to guide career aspirations and expectations, or regularly obtaining feedback from talented employees on their satisfaction
with jobs, career opportunities and work-life balance.

3.4 Talent tracking

Tracking and monitoring of talent can also be useful in maintaining engagement levels. There are many systems on the market that can assist with talent tracking. Care is needed in choosing a system that is simple to use and affordable.

Individual Profiles (often known as career profiles or talent profiles) are a low cost tool that can be used to track talent. These serve as an internal resume and can facilitate discussion and understanding of an individual's experience and development needs. Individual profiles are used by HR and
at senior management talent discussions to enable detailed discussion about the development, engagement and deployment of identified talent. The profiles capture past experience (both professional and academic), along with career highlights, aspirations and sought after roles.


15 Hamori, M., Cao, J. and Koyuncu, B. (2012). Why young managers are in a nonstop job hunt. Harvard Business Review: The Magazine. July-August 2012

16 Martin, J & Schmidt, C. (2010). How to keep your top talent. Harvard Business Review. May 1010.


Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018