Philip Cleaver - explains how Mansell spots native talent and then grooms it for senior management
There is little doubt that recruitment at all levels is becoming increasingly difficult. We all know that the problem stems from a lack of talent entering the industry from schools, colleges and universities along with almost non-existent training programmes during the late 1980s and through the 1990s. The problems are now exacerbated by organisations grimly hanging on to staff at almost all costs, with a resulting decline in the pool of mobile talent.

Changes in the construction industry are also having an effect, in particular the increasing polarisation in sectors such as housebuilding – globalisation at the top end and specialisation at the bottom. The age of the generalist contractor is almost at an end.

A by-product of these changes is that organisations such as my own company, Mansell, now have a much tighter specification for the staff they wish to recruit in terms of both expertise and, as importantly, culture and attitude.

Those factors, in addition to the increased competition for the talent we employ, caused a rethink of our approach to recruitment. Staff retention and motivation are now rightly at the top of the agenda. Training and development of our people has at last become fundamental to our business strategy, as we recognise that it is technical and managerial competence that is going to drive our business. Staff retention is one of the indices by which we measure our success.

If we wait three to five years and do nothing, then we may not have a credible presence in the industry. The solution is relatively simple. We need to grow our own talent and, where the skills gaps are here now, to accelerate or fast-track the development of key individuals to fill those gaps.

At Mansell we have developed a formula for fast-tracking. It is an approach that is necessarily flexible and capable of being tailored to individual needs across a variety of management roles and levels.

When a position needs to be filled, the process begins by identifying the candidate with the greatest potential, a choice based on a range of internal measures. After consultation with the candidate, where we establish above all else that there is the right level of commitment and enthusiasm, we identify the role for which we want that person to develop.

We must grow our own talent and, where skills gaps are here now, fast-track the development of key people to fill them

The individual then completes a series of questionnaires to help focus on the differences between their present and future roles, and in particular on the skills they have now and those required for the new role. At this stage, a clear understanding of the skills gap is most important. The process proceeds with a confidential interview with our human resources department to flesh out and document development needs.

The next stage in the process has proved to be invaluable. The candidate goes to an external assessment centre where they undergo psychometric assessments and interviews, followed by a submission of a written report covering skills, abilities and behaviours. The information from the internal and external processes are consolidated to form the individual development programme.

The real investment then begins. This tends to include: attendance on a residential programme at a leading business school; secondment to a different business unit to shadow a successful incumbent carrying out a role similar to the one to be filled; the appointment of an internal mentor; training in leadership, communication skills, strategy and competition; and passive attendance at board meetings. Throughout the development period, regular reviews ensure that we remain on the right track.

The results have been spectacular. We create not only a strong sense of affiliation, spirit and pride, but also a future manager with a clear vision of the company and its strategy.

We are continuing to develop the process. The next step is to identify groups of individuals with the right potential, and we believe that we can shorten the development period of individuals by as much as three or four years.