It’s easy to forget that talent acquisition and retention are critical issues for many organisations, not just large corporations. Even pacifist religious institutions may find themselves waging a ‘war for talent’. Finding the right ambassadors to lead congregations and spread the faith is more challenging than ever and many of the world’s main religions have begun to sharpen their focus on best practice.

Identify and invest

A research report published in 2014 challenged the Church of England to think about the nature of its senior leadership roles. The report entitled, ‘Talent Management for Future Leaders and Leadership Development for Bishops and Deans: A New Approach’, was prepared by a steering group led by the ordained Anglican priest and former HSBC bank chairman Lord Stephen Green. It received mixed reviews.

Calling for “a new approach to identifying and developing ‘talent’”, the report stated that, going forward, “the key issues for identifying leaders of the future will be around transformation impact, radical and imaginative message and a clear potential to make an impact in different contexts and across the wider agenda.”

It proposed a refreshed leadership development programme for bishops and deans, plus open programmes such as a mini MBA, alongside the creation of a ‘talent pool’ for individuals who demonstrate the potential for strategic leadership – all backed by significant financial investment.

Critics felt that some of the language and recommendations in the report belonged in the boardroom, but it also had plenty of supporters.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby reminded the Church at the time: “We can’t simply go on as we are if we are to flourish and grow as the Church of England.”

Theology and heritage

Four years on, the Church has been busy developing and harnessing the energy and ideas generated by this somewhat contentious document, with two further reports helping to hone a new approach.

“The ‘Discerning and Obedience’ report, which looks at how we express our work theologically, has deepened our understanding, particularly of episcopal ministry and the way in which we select people, while the ‘Cathedrals Working Group’ report has underlined the importance of good leadership, governance, management and team effectiveness,” says Caroline Boddington, the Archbishops’ Secretary for Appointments.

Recruitment efforts lie at the heart of appointments. The Church elects representatives to the Crown Nominations Commission that interviews potential bishops and to the panels that select cathedral deans. Key to the development of the Church’s recruitment and training processes is a need to stay true to its heritage while also looking to the future.

Says Boddington: “We seek to balance a theological understanding of what it is to be a Christian leader with the demands of organisational management. That’s our constant challenge – holding those two things together.”

Some 160 people are currently enrolled on the new leadership programme, which has so far been received very positively, and while the selection processes for bishops and deans have drawn in best external practice, the aim remains the same: to find and nurture those with the ability to communicate the gospel message.

“After all,” says Boddington, “that’s who we are.”

Mission critical

In other areas of church ministry, talent and the approach to leadership recruitment take a different form. Behind the scenes in the back-office support function of the Church of England, for instance, Basil leRoux, Partner at Odgers Berndtson company Berwick Partners, led the search for a Head of Senior Leadership Development.

“The individual we hired came out of the industry, as did their predecessor, so they were both commercial, public sector, not-for-profit clients. For this particular role the requirements weren’t hugely different to corporate recruitment in terms of skill set, but as with any role it’s about setting the context for the candidate in the early stages,” he explains.

“So, in this instance, there was a need to be comfortable in a faith-based environment.”

Part 2 in this series looks at how local branches of two other global religions, Islam and Catholicism, are approaching the talent question.

This article is from the latest ‘Talent and Potential’ edition of the Odgers Berndtson magazine, OBSERVE.

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