Living a make do and mend approach to Talent Management / Human Capital?

Author: Peter Fennah   Category: Talent Management

Living a make do and mend approach to Talent Management / Human Capital?

The handbrake on the mobility of talent created by Brexit is arguably off, is your organisation’s talent management programme agile enough to cope?

Here are five key challenges for HRDs at a time of emergent growth:

  1. Robust linkage of organisational growth targets, embedded models of talent management and clear ROI of the Talent / Human Capital strategy
  2. That very low staff turnover doesn’t result in the stagnation of organisational creativity
  3. That high-potential candidates are successfully promoted across divisional silos
  4. Turning candidate data into insight and inevitable success
  5. Ensuring leadership potential is realised via Transition Coaching

Robust linkage of organisational growth targets, embedded models of talent management and clear ROI of the Talent / Human Capital strategy

Risk in investing is symbolized by these three slot machine wheels or dials with the letters R O I representing return on investment in

Stretching company growth targets can require rapid staff attraction and selection rates. Often there is limited time at this point for HR to do more than operationalise the Board’s request. By contrast HR re-positions itself when it engages with the tricky Shareholder’s question of:

‘How does your talent strategy help realise the stretching financial targets of the company and create a ROI?’

This requires HR to align revenue growth targets with increased leadership effectiveness and additional staff who in turn need to be managed and led well to achieve financial goals. Defining the strategy that will deliver these results is the Board level discussion HRDs need to be engaging with. This will result in integrated discussions with the FD to showcase the strategic investment in considering how new leaders are brought onboard in such a way as to lead to inevitable success in achieving revenue targets.

Through these conversations more consideration is given to selecting and appropriately onboarding leaders to new roles so that desired outcomes are gained. Without this end-to-end thinking targets are often missed or just met. What doesn’t consistently occur is exceeding targets, something associated with exceptional leaders. Most HRDs avoid the discussion of how effective their talent strategy is due to the difficulty of measurement but this doesn’t need to be an excuse anymore. Both leadership and aligned team performance can be measured over time. If we focused upon putting in a strong system of focused feedback and support the ROI would be much clearer.

Overall, we need to go beyond the traditional talent model of looking for generic leadership in candidates, which focuses upon the Values, Capability, Potential and Aspirations of the individual. Whilst this identifies strategic thinking, etc. how well does it capture the more abstract leadership character traits, such as courage, humility and drive (Fernadez-Araoz, Groysberg & Nohria, 2009)? Are we settling for mediocrity because we are not prepared to persuade the Board to stretch for something more?

In reviewing how fit for purpose your talent strategy is for the competitive market over the next three years consider: How flexible is your Human Capital strategy to locate and develop exceptional leaders? How effective is your talent strategy in identifying, assessing and developing these leaders? Are you making use of best practice research, which highlights the importance of broader leadership characteristics, such as IQ, Emotional Intelligence (EQ), Ethics, Social Intelligence (SQ), Strengths, Learning Agility, Motivation and Personality Preferences suitable to the role? Do you have a systematic approach to coaching your leaders to realise their potential impact upon the organisation?

Table 1: How flexible is your leadership assessment and development process?

Living the Values Strategic Focus Leading Change
Moving at Pace Customer Orientation Leading Others
Intercultural Sensitivity Building Effective Partnerships Leading Agility
Innovation Delivering results Corporate Aligned Authenticity
Accountability Business Results Orientation Courage
Engaging Others Team Building Humility

Are very low staff turnover rates causing a stagnation of organisational creativity?

Ironically, many businesses with the recession have successfully retained their staff but now need to create more mobility to avoid the downsides of a stagnating workforce with low levels of staff turnover. We have found that staff may be fearful of moving on to new roles and HRDs are providing Career Management workshops and coaching to re-inspire staff to look at developing opportunities across and outside of the business.

New talent from outside the business is required to ensure that business keeps pace with external competitors. Getting a blend of staff who are able to inject creativity and drive is important. This requires both a customer focused and competitor informed approach to ensure sustained innovation. Moving staff across divisions and providing cross functional projects aligned to holistic organisational needs is a great way of overcoming the dangers of stagnation.

Promotion of high-potential candidates across divisional silos

Strangely many people find it easier to leave an organisation and join a new division than it is to move across divisional silos within a company. Enhancing the mobility of talent within your organisation so that it isn’t an exceptional event remains a tricky challenge for HRDs and individuals alike.

This is where a more robust assessment of leadership talent, particularly with a focus on learning agility, can assist. In addition, the provision of appropriate transition coaching and mentoring can also help people gain opportunities and succeed as they engage with stretch projects or onboard into new roles.

So many organisations leave the success of a stretch project down to chance. Letting the individual and the respective line managers involved work it out for themselves. This relies upon all parties knowing what good practice and support looks like – whilst the theory may be known translating it into practice remains a rare occurrence for most organisations. When was the last time a best practice good news story was written up in your organisation about the support, sponsorship and success of a stretch project?

Due to the very nature of the stretch project new and unforeseen challenges are likely to emerge. The people involved may be facing these novel issues for the first time and can struggle. Particularly when they are asked to carry on their day job responsibilities at the same time. Providing timely support and encouraging its use as part of a structured process, rather than reactive crisis, is a part of many best practice projects.

Turning candidate data into insight and inevitable success

There is a wealth of data collected on internal candidates as well as externals going through the selection process but this commonly hits a brick wall once the hiring decision has been made.

Insightful use of this information combined with the line manager’s expectations/needs provides the opportunity to design an impactful onboarding and onward leadership development plan. The use of 360-degree feedback on performance at the nine month in role stage offers a further opportunity to springboard the success of the individual.

Most organisations fail to fully capitalise on opportunities to shape leadership behaviour. Increased investment in line management performance appraisals is only one part of the solution. Proactive development planning and the scaffolding of appropriate interventions drives leadership improvement.

Managing high potentials by providing them with sufficient Challenge, Support and Feedback is often uncomfortable for line managers who are themselves squeezed in terms of available time. Investing time to coach high potentials so that they can be more successful as compared to spending time with those resisting change is a hard shift in behaviour for most managers to adopt. Far easier to abdicate responsibility under the guise of giving autonomy. There is also a need for both the candidate and manager to recognise that high potential doesn’t mean high performance straight away. The need for regular feedback will be required to release the high potential’s capabilities.

Line managers may not have sufficient clarity themselves about the nature of the challenge that they ask high potentials to cut their teeth on. Discriminating operational priorities, realistic expectations linked to sufficient resources, wider sponsorship support and political backing is all required before throwing high potentials into long standing wicked organisational problems.
Many times high potential leaders are given responsibilities and encouraged to apply their intellect to create new strategies that will benefit the business. Peter Drucker’s observation that ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ appears to be missing from many line managers briefing discussions.
Consequently, many high potentials fail to create a performance WOW factor in their stretch assignments because their strengths were not appropriately harnessed and supported. By recognising that new-to-role candidates are not super heroes, that they do have allowable weaknesses and therefore need support in order to be successful can create the conditions that lead to inevitable success.

The best Onboarding and Leadership Transition coaching packages also include assistance to the pressurised line manager building capabilities and offering extra capacity to organisations engaged in rapid growth.

Without strategic alignment to the organisation’s goals and robust individual leadership development plans then the odds seem stacked against high potentials making the transition successfully. Are we really providing our leaders with the best scaffolding to make success easy? Or are we risking their appetite for future engagement in challenges as we throw them into another set of wickedly complex problems?

Research by Shaw & Chayes (2011) identified 75% of high-potential leaders experience significant to moderate problems when they move into a new role. How is your organisation ensuring they “create, champion, and drive ways to bolster talent” (McKinsey and Company, 2001).

Transparency; embedding your talent strategy

Perhaps it is surprising to be saying this but in order to release someone’s potential you need to share with them that you can see it and believe they can do it. The degree to which organisations inform individuals who they identify as having talent for the next level, as compared to those who are strong at level performers, is key if you wish to embed a talent management strategy.

Many organisations refuse to tell people that they have been identified (or have not) as having potential for performance at more senior levels. This can result in their disengagement with the future state you are seeking to achieve or pursuing a false dream. The impact for the individual is that they don’t gain clarity over what needs to be strategically learnt and have slower rates of progress in preparing for a new future. They can also be disruptive due to the lack of attention.

This obfuscation of development risks stagnating the speed of developing leadership capability within your organisation and becoming overly reliant on buying those who are a ready fit when you need them. Aside from being inefficient overall it also generates unnecessary confusion. People want to know how they are performing; yes we don’t like it when we are not doing as well as we would like. But, we especially don’t like it when no one offers support in order to be more successful.

Ensuring leadership potential is realised via Transition Coaching

Expecting perfection is a dangerous mirage that wastes everyone’s time yet we hold out for it in recruiting people as well as when delegating. 

We all have allowable weaknesses; instead we should be focusing upon how effective our development support package is for transitioning leaders and helping them to reconfigure the strengths that they have to meet the needs of the role. Typically the real challenge here is in forming new perspectives and shifting mindsets rather than developing new skills.

As we know that the fastest learning comes through social interactions. Packing in mentoring, coaching and line management explicit discussions on the nature of the challenges people are about to face as well as those currently being grappled with provides high potentials with a rich learning environment. This is required if we are seeking to translate potential into inevitable success.

But, it is easy to focus just on the high potential without recognising the need to coach the line manager to ensure that they are investing sufficiently in forming an effective partnership with the high potential. Often high potentials are only in role for a limited period of time before being moved onto a new assignment and the quality of support from the line manager is a vital ingredient in the success of the individual.

Often line managers are unclear in setting their expectations, providing sufficient influence and sponsorship support and orientating the high potential within the culture of the organisation. Coaching line managers in this process helps to align everyone generating the necessary conditions where success is truly an inevitable outcome rather than lucky happenstance.

For more information on how your organisation can create the conditions for inevitable success please contact us.

About the Author

Peter Fennah is Director of a partner with Ashridge and Manchester Business Schools providing strategic executive coaching and agile leadership development solutions to organisations engaged in change.

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