The distraction of talent management

We love to over engineer a management practice, don’t we? And never more so than the area of “talent management”. We take something with a relatively simple principle at it’s core and turn it into an elaborate, process driven, complex, laborious practice. Then wonder why it doesn’t work.

Let’s start by understanding the core principles behind talent management:

To ensure we have the organisational capability that we need now and in the future in order to be successful.

That’s it, nothing more complex than that. But “management science” would have us believe that in order to deliver this we need a range of complex interventions, grids, assessments that require hours of time to complete with little, if any, visible benefit. And then we repeat it on a regular basis.

One of the challenges is our inability to have good quality, meaningful conversations about the ability and capability of people within our organisations and to convey those conversations to them in an honest way. It is also our reluctance to think openly about the future, especially into areas of uncertainty.

Organisations thrived and succeeded before the 9 box grid was created, I’m not sure any of the great industrialists ever attended a calibration session and I’m certain the sun would still come up in the morning if we skipped the annual “talent review”. We’d be much better prepared for success were we to put the processes away for a while and sit and focus on the why not the how.

Simplifying our view on the capability we have, need and will need and how to build and develop is the real trick, not creating more forms that need to be filled in.

 

The secret of exceptional leaders

Throughout my career I’ve often been asked what I think the secret to being a great leader is. I’ve probably said things like, vision and drive or strategic thinking and commercial acumen. The truth is that I don’t think any of these things are the key to being a GREAT leader, they’re pretty much standard practice.

The thing that I’ve observed that really separates the good from the truly exceptional is  a bit closer to home, a bit less glamorous and sexy and yet probably harder to achieve.

It’s self-awareness.

Truly great leaders recognise they’re not as great as others believe and they know how to compensate for it. They’re acutely aware of their strengths and weakness, they recognise how they’re behaving and why – the situations that will trigger them or cause them to react. And they work constantly to maintain that level of awareness.

Most of us aren’t truly self-aware – we build internal stories that allow us to explain away our foibles:

“I’m not impatient, I’m demanding”

“I don’t do detail, I”m a big picture thinker”

“I’m not a micro-manager, I just like detail”

But of course, none of us are perfect and therefore no leader is perfect either. Instead, the really successful recognise, acknowledge and either adapt or compensate for the areas where they know they fall short. That can take the form of public acceptance and permission to challenge, by building teams who have complimentary approaches or simply through self coaching and holding themselves account.

So if you’re on a leadership journey, my advice to you is to spend a little more time focussing on yourself.  Be hard on “you” in order to give yourself a break. There is no model of leadership perfection that you will ever obtain, but you can be the best leader you’re capable of being. There is a path for you to grow and be better, but only you will ever, truly know how.

 

 

The 7 qualities of exceptional practice

  1. Creativity – Whilst it might seem a strange one to start the list with, the ability to bring creativity into design and problem solving is one of the aspects that really sets exceptional practitioners apart. We can all suggest something we’ve done before, but can we imagine the new?
  2. Empathy – I’m really clear that this is different to sympathy – the cross that the profession has to bear. I’m talking about the ability to put yourself in the shoes of others and consider the evidence from their perspective and to understand their lens.
  3. IQ – Sure, I know this isn’t fashionable, but I see a simple link between intellectual horse power and performance. It isn’t enough on its own, but without it you’re surely going to struggle.
  4. Curiosity – The people who excel are fascinated about learning more and constant discovery. They ask questions, explore and see opportunity in every circumstance. They’re restless and intellectually always on the move.
  5. Structured – I’ve written many times about the benefit of systems thinking in the world of work and the ability to structure and think systemically is key. This doesn’t mean that you need to be PRINCE2 qualified or an engineer, but you need to understand how things fit together and how to get started.
  6. Courage – This manifests in different ways, in the ability to have brave conversations, the comfort in being vulnerable and the drive to constantly want to do more and be better. Courage means that we address ourselves as well as others.
  7. Humility – Most of our practice is not about us and we need to be ok with that. We need to bathe in the glory of others, be proud of the contribution we’ve made and enjoy the success that we help build. Our gift is helping others to be the best they can be, not owning it for ourselves.

That’s not a gap, not if you look from over here…

The BBC ran an article this weekend highlighting the gender pay gaps of a number of companies that had already reported. The original article is here.

Already we’re starting to hear some interesting responses to the debate that it has raised:

It’s the wrong metric
The situation is complex
We shouldn’t confuse this with equal pay
Women aren’t as good at asking for raises
Sorting this could be bad for women

The over intellectualisation of the situation runs a massive risk of missing the unmistakable point:

The world of work has been designed to be discriminatory.

That’s not to say that individual organisations have gone out to structure their workforce in particular ways to discriminate against any specific group, just that the world of work over a number of decades has become biased in many different ways and we have been complicit by failing to interrogate it with the level of granularity that it required.

It is absolutely right to say that the issues are systemic in nature, for example the gender imbalance between pilots and crew isn’t (I would imagine) the result of direct discrimination. But, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t wrong and that it doesn’t need tackling.

My biggest fear on this issue is the level of mansplaining that is taking place to justify the figures. We are immediately looking at criticising the data, rather than embracing it. At the same time, we need to support and not belittle companies that are publishing gaps. Ultimately progress will be achieved over the next two or three years and that is when we should be judging people based on progress.

The factors that have led to the current situation are multi-faceted and complex. The solutions will be equally complex and multi-faceted. You don’t change a system overnight. But we will make absolutely no progress unless we accept the basic truth that we have a problem.

And that problem isn’t just about gender, it’s about race, disability, it’s about socio-economic background and ultimately it is about fairness. So let’s not try to explain it away, let’s walk forward together with confidence, courage and a single unifying purpose, to make our organisations better and fairer, for now and for the future.