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The Top Talent Test (T3)

Organizations have many ways of identifying who their best people are or who their “top talent” is. It runs the gamut from companies conducting panel interviews, large scale calibration sessions and conducting predictive testing on who they think is “the best.” Now, I am not here to disparage any type of program or process that focuses on identifying, developing and retaining key employees. In fact, if you work for an organization that has ANY type of talent management practice in this area, you are already way ahead of the curve.

However, I am here to caution that often in our zeal to be ahead of the curve and rollout the next generation talent management practice(s), we often fail to hit the mark a bit and overly complicate the issue. To be perfectly blunt, if as a manager and leader I am doing my job properly, I know who my best people are (in terms of exceeding goals and delivering additional value) because I talk to them on a regular basis. We set goals, we set metrics and we have coaching sessions. Yes, there are many intangibles as well that need to be identified – the ability to innovate, demonstrated continual learning, coachability and desire to “be more”; however at the end of the day it comes down to the manager knowing their people because they TALK to them.

Talent management

I personally have a very clear line of demarcation that puts an employee on one side of the “top talent” line or the other. Quite simply, it has been my experience that the very best performers and “top talent” are those that want and crave accountability. Let me explain a bit further by looking at this through a different lens.

In many companies you will find top talent chameleons. These are the employees that have the ability to set themselves up to perform in areas they know they are strong in and avoid areas that they aren’t as good at. They know their shortcomings, but they are skilled at avoiding situations that they think will expose them. So, they pass on assignments that will stretch them, while continuing to excel in their current comfort zone. They are adept at focusing on what they want when they want to. Here is the key; you expose them by making them accountable. If you have identified someone as top talent but they avoid being accountable for anything…then I hate to tell you, but they are not top talent.

I have seen in many organizations the types that know how to get noticed and how to talk the talk and walk the walk; however, they are able to skate along because there is no accountability established. The manager has failed to set any solid goals and objectives, there are no measurements of success and no lessons learned due to failure. When approached about establishing goals and committing to delivering on something, you are met with nebulous explanations about resource issues, non-commitments from others and vague references to organizational shortcomings impacting their ability to deliver. You see, they are happy with the status quo. They love being able to act their way through things and let you “see” them as being a rising star, excelling at whatever it is they do.

Don’t accept this. As a leader, use the accountability test. Your very best people will thank you for it. Once they have been given accountability to deliver on something, the very best will go at their assignment with vim and vigor! They want the challenge and they are prepared to speak to their successes as well as their short comings. They are not afraid to fail as they see stretching and potentially failing all part of growing. Your best talent knows how to learn from failure and apply it against future situations.

So, the next time you think you have identified someone as “top talent” use the accountability test. You need to make sure you aren’t operating under false perceptions but in reality. Sit down with them; put their development plan and stretch objectives on paper. Tell them how their success will be measured. Tell them they are accountable…then wait for their response. Then, and only then, will you really know if that person is, in fact, top talent. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Clear Expectations

As I have alluded to before in other blog posts, one of my daughter’s favourite past times is playing basketball. She started playing on a team/in league last year and has thoroughly enjoyed it ever since. Now that we are ¼ of the way into the new season, it has become obvious to me what the differences are between the team she was on last year vs. this year – and it is astounding. In fact, I can compare it to what you often see in the workplace when it comes to teams, leadership and performance expectations. Here is what I am getting at:

Last year, the team she was on had a fair amount of talent. That is, the majority of the players had a certain skill level (high) when it came to their ability to shoot and dribble. They understood the game, the concepts, how offence and defense was supposed to work, etc.; however, they were a very dysfunctional team. No one wanted to pass, everyone wanted to make the highlight real shot and there was a poor team dynamic on the bench. Players fought, ostracized weaker players, formed cliques (yes – on a 12 person team!) and generally did not enjoy themselves. In fact, it is probably fair to say that the team didn’t improve much over the year and realistically, they probably got worse as other teams in the league got better over time.

Performance ImageOne of the root causes was the leadership of the team. Now please don’t take this as picking on volunteer coaches as I realize they have a tough job to do (I do it myself) but this is an HR blog so I need to make a point here! The coaches of the team traditionally coached higher level and older boys’ basketball teams. So while the coaching principles and approach they utilized with sixteen year old boys worked; the same approaches did not work so well for a group of 10 year old girls. The teaching approaches and methods weren’t tailored towards the skill level of all the girls on the team. For example, high level concepts were introduced before the team had grasped simpler (basic) concepts and while the coaches stressed the importance of passing, there was never a focus on training in this area and certainly no reward/recognition for those that bought into the concept, nor was their “performance management” (i.e. less playing time) for those that refused to pass.

In short, there were no clear performance expectations of any type set by the coaches so week in and week out the girls just showed up, played the game and went home. In the absence of team expectations, or unclear expectations, the girls set their own expectations which, in their minds, were basically to score as many baskets on their own as they could. It ended up being a recipe for a frustrating and underperforming season; one in which my daughter didn’t learn as much as she could. You see the same thing in organizations that don’t focus on setting performance expectations with their employees. The staff show up, put their time in and leave – and the organization underperforms.

Fast forward to a year later and things are markedly different. Each practice the coach sets out clear expectations for the team and players on what they are going to do and learn during the practice. He selects 2-3 focus areas to work on and works with the girls to make sure they understand the concepts and how to apply them in the game. His feedback is instantaneous as he will stop practice to run a drill over again or to simply provide feedback to the team. Every player knows how they are doing and they understand what the coach expects of them. They are now getting to the point where they are seeking out feedback on their own to improve. The coach also sets clear expectations for each game in terms of where the girls need to play, where they need to be positioned on defense and who is inbounding and carrying up the ball. Everyone knows their role for each shift they are on. The girls are also encouraged and rewarded for team play. There is a focus on teamwork on the bench during the game and the girls are recognized and rewarded for supporting their teammates. All the girls know what the team and individual expectations are and they have demonstrated this through improved performance each game over the first part of the season. My daughter has learned a lot and it is due to the strong leadership she receives and the performance expectations that have been set for her. She knows what she needs to work on and what she can control and this gives her a clear path on where to focus and improve.

It is hard to believe that the challenges of a youth basketball team can apply to the challenges of a workplace but the parallels are there:

  • Strong leadership is paramount for organizational/team success
  • This comes in the form of employees (and players) having clear performance expectations
  • In the absence of clear expectations you can expect dysfunctionality (and poor performance)
  • Dysfunctionality erodes at the very foundation of the team concept
  • The right behaviours and results need to be recognized and rewarded with your players/employees
  • Adapt your training style to suit the learning ability of your players/employees
  • What worked for you as a leader in one organization might not work for you in another – you need to adapt and modify your style.

By looking at this through the lens of a youth basketball team, you can see how setting clear expectations with your employees/team are so critical to your success as leaders, managers and as HR Pros. If we can teach/coach our kids by setting clear expectations, surely we can do the same at our workplaces? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of basketman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Succession Insecurity

It has been my observation and experience, in working with and talking to many HR Pros over the years, that one of the most frustrating organizational undertakings has to be succession management.  The level and type of succession management activity that does occur in most companies fits somewhere along the spectrum of:

1) What is succession management? I have heard of it and it sounds nice…..

2) I know what it is, but I just can’t get it implemented in my organization due to lack of focus, funding, etc.

3) Our organizational leaders know it is important but just don’t deem it to be a priority right now

4) Our leadership team thinks that it is simply a matter of tapping someone on the shoulder when the time comes so we don’t need to formalize anything

5) We have a robust talent management program that provides for focused succession discussions on an ongoing basis.  Leaders are tapped with, and accountable for, identifying and developing top talent in our organization.

imageThis post is for anyone who feel #’s 1-4 apply to them.  For those of you that slot in at #5, you should be blogging about the subject and charging others to listen to you on the rubber chicken circuit!  Seriously though, I think that if you selected #1, this post may not even be for you either, but I encourage you to read on, just in case!  So, regardless of where you are on the spectrum (#5 not withstanding) and where you stand with your efforts and successes in trying to formalize your succession efforts, I do believe that the root cause of your struggles may come down to one thing.  At the heart of things is the simple fact that your organizational leaders may be very insecure.  For those leaders that resist any type of effort to identify and develop successors, it usually comes down to insecurity.  When you think about it, it is (somewhat) understandable. We are essentially saying to them, “hey, you need to do a good job as a leader, but in case you don’t, or if you decide to move on to something better, we don’t want to be caught flat-footed, so you need to make sure you have a replacement identified for us.”  Yes, I know that isn’t exactly how we say it, or even what HR Pros are trying to accomplish; however, that is what your organizational leaders hear.

This insecurity is what stalls a lot of succession management efforts for HR Pros in organizations.  Leaders don’t want to think that they can be replaced.  They often don’t even want to think that at some point they won’t even be in in their own role as a leader anymore.  The further up the food chain the leader is, the more intertwined their personal identify is with their job.  That is, 100% of their “self” corresponds with their role as a CEO, etc.  In essence, if they are not the CEO of Acme Industries, they can’t picture what else they would be  (or be doing) – they are essentially professionally ‘lost.’

For the reason mentioned above, I think that is why many of the problems with leadership teams also stem from this insecurity issue.  Along with the fact that they don’t want to think about being replaced by formally grooming their successor, their insecurity has also manifested itself into the selection of their management teams.  Far too many CEO’s, President’s, VP’s, etc. tend to pick management teams that they  feel are not a threat to them.  In other words, they surround themselves with “yes” people who will tow the company line, not make waves and not aspire to be anything more.  This way, the organizational leader never feels threatened and when the CHRO comes a knockin’ to discuss succession management, the CEO’s response is, “well, we are a long way away from that….I don’t have anybody in the current ranks that is remotely close to being ready.”  Boom – there it is, the perfect cop out!

So, how do we combat this “succession insecurity”? Well, the bad news, as I alluded to before, is that there is no secret sauce.  The good news is that there are some ways ahead.  The first thing you need to stop doing is labelling your efforts as succession management.  It needs to be all about talent development.  Position it with your organizational leaders that way.  For starters, it sounds sexier.  Secondly, it is all about making the people across the organization more valuable.  You need to talk about how the company needs to broaden skill sets for growth by getting  leaders involved in different areas of the organization.  Drive the talent development down a level or two – focus on the CEO’s direct reports and their direct reports.  Focus on the need to ensure departmental continuity and organizational talent retention. (more sexy words).

Better yet, work with your CEO on the fact that he/she doesn’t want their workload to double/triple if key people leave or that they don’t want their legacy to be that they they were the one responsible for ACME’s share price dropping by 90% after key executives left and no one was capable of picking up the mantle afterwards.  Bottom line – you have to make it about them and their legacy, after all, it is insecurity that is causing your current efforts to fail, so leverage the ego to make them work!

What about you?  How have you managed to get buy-in and participation in your succession management (I mean talent development) efforts?  Do you think the root cause of the problems in leadership insecurity?  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of  ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


What’s the point in appointing?

One of my big pet peeves in the Talent Management world is when organizations go about ‘appointing’ people into roles. I am not referring to situations where an organization has identified a potential successor for a senior level role like COO, CFO, VP of Dept., etc. Identifying that type of talent early on and then managing it through a rigorous talent development process makes total sense. Reality is that when you do it this way, (identify potential successors and ensure they are given the opportunity to prove themselves on various assignments), you are in fact applying an objective process, which, if managed correctly, will result in a logical incumbent being appointed.

What I am getting at is when companies of a certain size, typically in the 75+ person range and that have identified positions and levels, simply go about and “appoint” people into roles. I have seen far too often organizations that develop all kinds of internal posting policies and internal recruiting systems and then choose to ignore these at their own convenience and ‘select’ whomever they want for the role at hand. My question is always why? Why? Why? Why would you do this? What purpose does it serve? Who or what benefits when you do this?

pointMy thinking is this, if you have enough faith in your hiring system, including faith in the abilities of your recruiters and hiring managers, than there simply is no compelling reason to do this. Your managers and recruiters should be able to properly identify the job requirements and qualifications and then prepare a proper performance profile with effective BDI questions. Because the hiring manager (and recruiter) knows the job so well, they can also prepare a proper interview scoring guide and thus select the right candidate – right? It stands to reason that at the end of the day, if the candidate that you thought was in fact the best, (i.e. the one you wanted to appoint) then they will be the one that best answers the questions and gets the job anyway.

Now, I know some of you will argue against this position and I have heard all the arguments against having an internal posting and internal competition for all positions:

1. It takes too long
2. We already know who we want anyway, why do this?
3. We have a business to run, why do we have to waste time doing this?
4. Insert other whiny response/retort here

As I said, I have heard them all and none of them hold weight. My response to many a department head or executive is often something like:

1. Is reducing turnover important to you?
2. Does having to replace competent, up and coming staff hurt your bottom line?
3. Is employee engagement and satisfaction important to the health of the organization?
4. Really, you can’t post-pone appointing someone and take 2-3 days to put up a posting and interview the most qualified candidates?
5. Are you confident that none of the ‘selection criteria’ being used to pick the appointee are discriminatory in nature (towards other groups) or aren’t having an adverse effect?
6. Are you aware of the knowledge, skills and abilities of all employees in the organization?

At the very least, the last two always give pause for thought. My point is that you don’t know all the answers when you appoint. Career growth and opportunity are almost always at the top of any type of employee survey as retention factors. Lack of opportunities, biased thinking, failure to follow policy and processes are always cited in exit surveys as reasons why employees leave. Knowing that you may not be as gripped in on the knowledge, skills and abilities of ALL the employees in the organization as you think you are, coupled with the fact that by having an internal competition you may be improving retention and reducing potential discriminatory behavior, it begs the question – why wouldn’t you post for the position? Better yet, knowing all these risk factors, what REALLY is the point in appointing someone into a role? What do you hope to have gained?  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do as I say, not do as I do!

As the parent of a young child, I find that I have to catch myself from time to time as I fall into the trap of setting this (bad) example with my daughter. Try as I might, I don’t always set the best example and revert to this poor parental style of telling her to not emulate what I just said/did and that she should be behaving in a different matter. As a parent, I know better. I know I need to set an example for my daughter. I know I need to model the appropriate behaviours for her – treat others with respect, no yelling, put my “toys” away, etc. I know what the rules are, but quite frankly, if I want to bend them or break them, than that is my prerogative because I am the parent. I am the one in charge; I pay the mortgage and the bills, etc. and it is different, because, well, I am the parent! My daughter understands that…right? Sure………

Parent scoldingThis is no different when it comes to our role(s) as HR professionals. We are the ones that make up the rules (write policy), craft wonderful employee handbooks, development retention programs and coach other managers on how they need to better motivate and engage their staff. So in a lot of ways, HR takes on the role of the parent in many organizations – whether right or wrong. The interesting thing, that I have come to find out, is that often we don’t always follow the advice we give out or model the examples that we profess others need to follow.

This really came to light for me a couple of weeks ago when I was having lunch with some HR colleagues. Several of us had begun strategic planning for 2014 and a lot of discussion centered on recruiting challenges, the talent/skills shortage, etc. There was a lot of grumbling and complaining about how their operations partners just don’t seem to get that there is a skills shortage and that they are always looking for ideal candidates – i.e. they must have x number of years’ experience in a certain role/industry. There was a lot of angst being expressed by my colleagues about how organizations needed to get more focused on developing their own people and providing them with the skills they need for future roles AND they then need to give them an opportunity (take a chance) to show they can perform in these roles. As true HR pros, we got into the whole debate of build vs. buy approaches to talent. The whole conversation turned quite constructive and proactive (after the initial grumbling subsided!).

Things got really interesting when we started to discuss succession management in our own HR departments. When we started talking about whether or not we had people ready to replace us or replace our HR Managers, to a person, the responses were along the lines of, “that is a big challenge,” “I have no one that is even near ready to take on my role or my HR Manager’s role,” “I would have to recruit externally to fill my role,” etc. You get the point – as a group, we all spoke about the need to educate our organizations on the realities of today’s workforce and how we need to get rid of thinking of people as needing x years of experience before they can take on a “next level up” job.

The HR group, as a whole, was adamant their company’s needed to get better at developing their people and preparing them so they could step up into higher level positions so there wasn’t always a need to go to market. Yet, when it came time to apply that thinking to our own HR departments, everything we said we believed in we chucked out the window. Because we were HR, the rules didn’t apply. Because HR is different and the skills are so specialized and unique we couldn’t possibly develop our people to the level we need them to. Due the nature of our roles, we couldn’t be expected to “take a chance” on someone. We needed that person to have 8+ years of experience as an HR Manager in the I.T. industry before they could take on that role. That is why HR would have to recruit externally. Operations needed to focus more internally, but HR was an exception – really!?

Talk about a classic case of do as I say not do as I do. It is that type of thinking and approach that causes HR to lose credibility with its clients and business partners. If want to lead in our organizations, than we need to lead by example. We need to model the behaviours that we expect from our organizations. HR needs to walk the talk and be the role model. If we want credibility, this is how we earn it. So let us be the one that develops our people and puts someone in a next level up role because they have demonstrated they have the knowledge, skills and abilities to achieve the outcomes required. Let’s shift the paradigm and stop thinking of people as needing x years of experience in abc industry to do the job. Let’s take a “chance” – something that is very counterintuitive to HR!

What about you? Have you seen examples in your organizations where HR falls into the “do as I say, not do as I do” trap? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lessons in organizational success or What I have learned from watching the New England Patriots

Full disclosure – I am a HUGE New England Patriots fan. Some might call my fanaticism borderline insane, out of control, or simply bizarre. While this blog and this post is not intended to be sports related, I can’t help but venture down this path at least once as I bask in the glow of the Patriots heading to another conference championship game next Sunday.

Quick history lesson – For those non-football fans, the New England Patriots are one of the premier franchises in all of football and perhaps all of sports. They have fielded a team that has competed for the Super Bowl every year for the past 13 years, (winning it three times and playing for the championship five times) despite dealing with the league’s salary cap, free agency and the fact that every other franchise tries to knock them off their podium.

It got me thinking – what has made them so successful? Growing up a Patriots fan they were a complete joke for many years. During the late 80’s and into the 90’s, except for the odd season, they were one of the worst teams on a regular basis. So what has been the key to success for them and how does that translate into the business world?

Pats logo1) Ownership stability – the team went through 3 owners during the time period mentioned above. In 1994, Robert Kraft purchased the team and has been their owner ever since. He provides economic stability to the players (employees) and essentially ensures that there are no rumours or threats to re-locate the team (company) to another state. In short, the team (company) is firmly grounded within the community.

2) Positive work environment – Mr. Kraft (a.k.a. the President of the company) was able to secure a brand new, state of the art stadium for the team in 2002 (a.k.a. office space) that made coming to the games (provided a comfortable work environment) a positive experience for the players and its fans (customers).

3) Leadership stability – the Patriots have had the same head coach (CEO) since 2000. The team is able to focus on winning (turning a profit/shareholder value) instead of dealing with the constant change and turmoil brought on by changes in leadership. When you have stability at the top with the owner (President) and coach (CEO), the team (employees) is able to focus on organizational excellence and not worrying if the organization (business) will be around next week or next month.

4) Aligned & clear vision – Their coach has installed a playing system (business plan) that is well understood by the team (employees) and its coaches (managers). The Patriots’ players (employees) are given clear goals and they are aligned with the team goals (company’s vision and business plan). Each player knows what is expected of them and how their performance will be measured.

5) Talent management practices – One of the main reasons for the continued success of the Patriots has been their ability to draft key players and develop/acquire high potentials/performers through free agency (i.e. talent acquisition and development). Their star player (employee) is Tom Brady who was a late round draft pick of the Patriots. The impact of their scouting abilities (recruiting) cannot be understated in this regard. They are also very adept at identifying players from other teams that are undervalued at their current club (company) but add great value to the Patriots – again, further examples of their superior talent acquisition practices. The Patriots are also very adept at developing their offensive and defensive coordinator positions in-house. (i.e. middle managers). They focus on talent development and succession planning so that if/when a coordinator (manager) leaves; they are able to replace them with a “ready-now” employee. The same holds true for their players (employees). The Patriots always have someone trained and ready to step in should they experience some turnover.

What do you think? Are these 5 key factors in organizational success? Is there anything that I am missing here? What does your team do well…or not well that they could learn from the Patriots? As always I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Axel.Foley/Flickr.com

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