Nurturing Talent: Retention Strategy Insights from BAT

5 minutes read
How meaningful discussions can empower employees to be the drivers of their careers and identify opportunities for growth
By Sandra Botha, Global HR Auditor, Top Employers Institute

As a certified Top Employer, BAT recognises that talent retention is critical in a rapidly changing and volatile labour market. Limited growth opportunities and a lack of skill development often motivate employees to seek new opportunities elsewhere. To help ensure top talent joins and remains at the company, BAT implemented a Career Conversation series.  

Lucy Evara, Head of Human Resources (HR) for BAT East African Markets and I had the opportunity to discuss this new Career Conversation series and other talent retention strategies during the 2022 Top Employers Institute Best Practices Week. Any organisation seeking to improve its talent retention strategies continuously will find value in our engaging conversation. 

Here are some of the highlights: 

Building an Empowered Organization 

During our discussion Lucy shared insightful perspectives on BAT’s mission to cultivate an empowered organisation. This mission, which serves as the foundation of HR programmes, is to create, “an engaged, agile and high performing organisation with winning capabilities & culture delivering an enterprise of the future.” BAT has identified four key levers to realise this mission:  

  1. Build talent with winning capabilities, 
  2. Culture and leadership behaviour, 
  3. Diversity and inclusion, and 
  4. Fit for purpose organisation design. 

The company regularly seeks input from employees to shape its initiatives. BAT conducts the “Your Voice” employee survey every two years, which gathers valuable feedback on company culture and initiatives. In 2021, employee feedback played a pivotal role in shaping the Career Conversations series, which directly responded to the wants and needs expressed by participants.  


Watch Here: 2023 Global Top Employer BAT Certification Celebration Announcement 


Career Conversations 

Engaging in meaningful career conversations is essential for fostering professional development and growth within organisations. At BAT these discussions, between leaders and their employees, revolve around identifying strengths, areas for improvement, and interests, all within the framework of present and future career performance and aspirations. By empowering employees to take ownership of their career paths and explore the vast array of opportunities, leaders play a pivotal role in inspiring and maximising the potential of their team members.  

There are two critical aspects of career conversations: that they are separate from a performance evaluation and that employees think of themselves as the driver of their careers. While a performance evaluation and career conversation may complement one another, the evaluation provides feedback on past performance and the career conversation aims to explore future potential. Although leaders assist employees with thinking about their futures, the employee is accountable for following through on identified action items.  

BAT’s approach to their Career Conversations series is to give examples relevant to their workplace to make learning practical, transparent, and meaningful. “It’s key to note that these were conversations and not death by PowerPoint. The intent was to make them as engaging and impactful as possible,” Lucy explained. The conversations generally focus on the “four Ws and one H,” – what, why, when, where, and how – to give specificity and clarity during discussions.  


Within BAT’s career conversations, there is a focus on helping people understand the company’s career principles: 

  1. Sustained high performance, 
  2. Strength of your functional and leadership capabilities, 
  3. Critical experiences that you have gained in the course of your working life, an 
  4. Ownership of your career development plan. 

Most importantly, the conversations end with a call to action, which Lucy described as employees “knowing that their manager will speak to them about their readiness for specific roles and considering the questions: Do I understand my development actions? How ready am I for some of these roles? Really just creating a greater awareness so that people can take ownership of their development plan.”  


Read More: Key Takeaways Top Employers Inspire 2023 


Demystifying Talent Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) 

At BAT, biannual “talent checking” sessions are conducted to assess progress on the company’s people development and align on the next steps. “The key elements or outputs that come from these sessions,” Lucy explained, “are talent pooling, which we traditionally call succession planning in HR, and talent supply and demand.” A team's functional leadership cluster is responsible for these sessions. 

BAT utilises talent pools to identify individuals who are “ready now” for specific roles, aiming to facilitate their move within the next 12 months. Additionally, they identify individuals as “ready soon” if they are prepared to transition in 12-24 months and “emerging talent readiness” if they show potential to move in the next 3-5 years. Categorising employees based on their readiness guides career conversations and helps tailor development plans.  

Talent demand refers to roles that need new people and talent supply refers to those who need new roles. By staying aware of these needs, leadership expedites the process of matching talent with internal opportunities. Lucy highlighted that BAT, with offices in multiple countries, takes a broad view and considers relocating individuals if a suitable match is found. This approach enables the company to leverage talent and maximise employee career opportunities.  

Our discussion concluded with the important observation that, ultimately, for career conversations and other talent retention strategies to be successful, they must be supported at three different levels: the individual employee, the manager, and the organisation.  


Read More: Prioritising Skilling and Upskilling Young People on World Youth Skills Day  


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Nurturing Talent: Retention Strategy Insights from BAT

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