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To Tell or Not to Tell – Potential & Succession Outcomes from Talent Reviews

15 Nov

judgmentEvery succession planning and talent review cycle I’ve been involved in has included HR Business Partners and leaders looking for guidance on what to share with employees following the process. The answer to the question varies by organization. Those for openly sharing potential ratings usually cite higher engagement and retention as their rationale, while those opposed most often want to avoid creating expectations and time-tables that are difficult to control, or fear creating ego-tripping primadonnas. My guidance has been, and continues to be, it’s a matter of judgment – be completely transparent about the process and prudent about the outcomes.

In this post, I’m sharing some resources that should help talent managers and leaders making such judgments or uncertain of how to speak with their talent in the various circumstances you may encounter.

A little empathy Center for Creative Leadership‘s whitepaper High-potential Talent: A View from Inside the Leadership Pipeline provides insights from managers attending their development programs.

Major findings include:

  • Respondents said formal identification as a high potential is important to them.
    • 77% placed a high degree of importance on formal identification
    • Those who were formally identified as high potential leaders were less than half as likely to be seeking other employment as those informally identified as a high potential leader (14% vs. 33% respectively).
  • High potentials expect more development, support and involvement – and they get it.
    • They receive a disproportionate investment in their development – Senior Leaders’ time in coaching and mentoring, training and special assignments.
  • High potentials develop others.
    • While 84% responded the organization should invest greater amounts in high-potentials, the same number see themselves as responsible for and are actively identifying and developing other talent in their organizations.
  • High potentials expectations increase for a clear career path – to a level difficult to fulfill in some cases.
    • Commitment and engagement increase across all high potentials when they are given a picture of where they are going and their appropriate next steps in terms of development, experience and movement.
    • Changes to their career plan (e.g., delays in timing) cause frustration and impact trust.
  • They like the status but it has a downside.
    • Increased pressure, anxiety and frustration come with the perceived heightened expectations. This is greatly amplified when the organization’s intentions for their future are undefined.
    • Distrust and disengagement occur when the organization fails to deliver on expectations set with high potentials.

Implications:

The decision to share information related to a individual being named as a successor or potential status should be handled sensitively and the consequences should be weighed thoughtfully.

Opportunity Risk
  • Positive recognition for and perceived benefit to top talent.
  • Communicated status will likely produce benefits of increased engagement, commitment, focus on developing others, and performance.
  • Individual may experience increased pressure and anxiety due to perceived increase in expectations.
  • Organizational needs may not align with Individual’s needs and goals.
  • Individual may view status and development plan as a contract; if contract is not “honored” by the organization, negative consequences outweigh the benefits realized.

Tools & Resources

For those with a policy to formally communicate high potential status with employees, this video from Marc Effron may be a helpful resource, as an easily shareable message from a well-known thought leader articulating this point of view.

My Guidance for Handling Discussions about Succession Planning and Talent Review Outcomes:

General Guidelines:

  • Avoid using color coding or other process labels (e.g., high potential, HiPot, HiPo, flight risk, misfit, salvageables).
  • Show transparency on the purpose, benefits and process but be very selective and prudent about sharing outcomes.
  • Consider the implications of sharing specifics with high potentials as detailed above. Informing someone they have been included as a successor or high potential employee in the plan creates a psychological contract and should be an exception with clear benefit to the organization.
  • Make the message personal. Avoid passing ownership of the process off to others. Share your view of their contribution and help them develop a plan to increase it.
  • Performance problems should be addressed with HR observing the performance improvement process independent of talent development and succession planning.

Potential Responses to Likely Situations

Situation: You wish to notify an individual that they are identified as a high potential leader because you feel it will benefit the organization (i.e., engage and ensure retention of the employee).

“The talent review process helps <company> act as good stewards with our talent and supports our objective to build a high-performance culture. Part of that process is to identify individuals seen as having the ability, commitment and motivation to rise to more senior positions and contribute more strategically in the organization. These are individuals we plan to provide special and necessary support and other investments in to ensure they have the best chance of making the contribution and challenging increases in responsibility we believe they are capable of making in the future; and of course, that they choose to continue making their mark here at <company>. Individuals identified as a high-potential will not be the only group invested in or supported. <company> is a special place where all of our employees are expected to contribute high-value and we as an organization will continue to invest in our people and lead in a supportive way.

As you would expect, this sensitive information is not being openly shared, but you are an individual that makes a special contribution to our company and we see you as someone capable of contributing more strategically and assuming greater responsibility in the future. I share this with you because I want you to know how much I and our Leadership Team think of you and value your contribution. I trust that you can handle this sensitive information confidentially. While it is observable that some contribute in a special way and are involved and developed uniquely, we do not want to segment our workforce or make others feel less valued. In fact, not everyone who has been identified will be told.”

“How do you feel about what I’m sharing?”

“Do you have and questions or concerns? I’ll do my best to answer them.”

Situation: Individual asks “Was I identified as a high-potential?”

After weighing the consequences outlined in the previous section, decide if sharing with the individual if they were formally identified. Whether you choose to tell them specifics or not, you should share with them how the organization defines a high potential in the process and the implications:

Ask:

“As you would expect, this sensitive information is not being openly shared for a couple reasons:

  1. We know these plans are imperfect and will continue to develop. It would be unfair and unwise for the organization to set expectations that we are not certain we keep.
  2. While these plans help us guide development and recruitment, they do not replace our selection process. When a position becomes open candidates are evaluated for the position based upon the job requirements.

. Why do you ask? Is there anything concerning you?”

If the individual was not identified or you do not wish to tell them of their high potential identification, share information like the following and speak to their concerns:

“The Talent Review process helps <company> act as good stewards with our Talent and supports our objective to build a High-Performance Culture. Part of that process is to identify individuals seen as having the ability, commitment and motivation to rise to more senior positions and contribute more strategically in the organization. These are individuals we plan to provide the necessary support and other investments to ensure they have the best chance of making the contribution and challenging increases in responsibility we believe they are capable of making in the future. Individuals identified as a high-potential will not be the only group invested in or supported. <company> is a special place where all of our employees are expected to contribute high-value and we as an organization will continue to invest in our people and lead in a supportive way.”

“Do you have concerns about your future opportunities here?”

“Is there any support or development that you think would help you continue to perform highly here at <company> that we should discuss? I am very interested in helping you.”

If you do wish to tell them that they were identified, see the example above.

Situation: Individual asks “Was I identified as promotable?”

Ask:

“Are you interested in understanding how the succession planning process works, what was said about you or do you have a position in mind that you would like to be promoted to in the future?”

If the individual responds that they would like to understand the process or what was said about them, share information like the following and to address their concerns:

“Part of the Talent Review process is to identify successors for critical positions in the organization to ensure we are able to effectively run the business and execute our strategy. We do not discuss all positions, but for those that we see as critical due to a variety of factors such as the difficulty to run the business while they are vacant or long lead-time to learn the position, we try to identify individuals throughout the organization that we see as capable of performing in that role and when, such as those we see as ready now verses those we believe need time to develop.

This enables us to do a few things:

  1. Explore if the individual we feel may be capable of assuming a critical role in the future has career goals that align with our needs.
  2. Identify and support the individuals identified with the development and experiences needed to perform in the role in the event that they are needed to.
  3. Identify gaps were we currently are unable to identify potential successors.

We do not assume that through this process we identify every individual that has the potential to assume a critical role; it is an ongoing process where we, based on what we know, work proactively to plan ahead.

Related to what was said about you – as you would expect – this sensitive information is not being openly shared for a couple reasons:

  1. We know these plans are imperfect and will continue to develop. It would be unfair and unwise for the organization to set expectations that we are not certain we keep.
  2. While these plans help us guide development and recruitment, they do not replace our selection process. When a position becomes open candidates are evaluated for the position based upon the job requirements.

I see it as part of my role to help you be successful and want to better understand your interests, goals and the help I may be able to provide to help you achieve them in a way that adds value to the company. Do you any specific concerns about the feedback I’m providing to you about your performance and career options here?”

If the employee responds that they have a position in mind that you would like to be promoted to in the future, share information like the following and to address their concerns:

“That’s good to hear. It’s always good to hear that you’re thinking about how to make a greater contribution to <company> in the future. I see it as part of my role to help you be successful and want to better understand your interests, goals and the help I may be able to provide to help you achieve them in a way that adds value to the company.”

 “While the specifics around the succession plan are sensitive and not being openly shared, I’m very interested in supporting you and I will always provide feedback on my perspective of your talents and opportunities to make even greater contribution to the company as we go through it.”

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Fundamentals: One-on-one meetings

29 May
partnershipLeadership is socially demanding. Interaction with those you lead (and hopefully serve) is necessary. I’ve found that it is very unlikely that we as leaders will consistently behave as we wish to – recognizing, coaching, supporting, developing, empowering and engaging…more – without creating some type of structural space/time and process to enable it. A practice that I use and recommend is creating a norm around meeting with each member of your team for one-on-one discussions to focus on their personal learning and performance.
Commit to meeting with each of your direct reports on a consistent frequency. For me, the minimum is 30 minutes bi-weekly. It’s their meeting, so I ask them to schedule the time in open space on my calendar at a time that works for them, booking 3 – 6 months into the future. I’m available for more if they want or need it. Our meetings do get moved as needed, but very rarely cancelled.
I require a written update around a loosely structured agenda built around roles I want to play as their leader:
  • to provide recognition – My Accomplishments (what have you accomplished since we met last?)
  • to serve their needs and support them – My Needs (what can I do that will be helpful to you?)
  • to build trusting relationships – FYI’s (no action needed updates), My Team (skip-level updates)
  • to engage and develop – My Development (what have you planned or accomplished to learn, experience and connect to develop yourself?)
  • to coach and empower performance – My Project Updates (what’s the status / how are you planning to progress?)
The purpose of the written update sent in advance is it allows us to make better use of our time together discussing and responding to the situation rather than using our limited time describing it.
Feedback I’ve received on the process:
  • I get a sense of satisfaction reporting my progress and it forces me to acknowledge ownership of my work.
  • Conversely, knowing the time is coming where I will report on my status and what has been accomplished (or not) also motivates me; I want to avoid having nothing to report but excuses.
  • I like having the consistency. It’s easier to get my needs met without feeling I need to “interrupt” as often.

I’ve provided the same update to my bosses over the years and the process makes me better. One thing that is certain is that if I, as the leader, didn’t set the expectation and require the process, entropy would set in; preparation and the good use of our time would end and I’d likely have what most others do with their time.

Committing to this structure and process makes me a better leader and my team members better performers. It also scales really nicely for those of us that manage global, remote or virtual teams.
If you decide to give it a try, let me know how it works for you.

Personal Best Performance: Learning from Your Successes

22 Dec
Personal Best Concept

Personal Best Concept

I love to succeed. I love to do things that I’m good at for as many people as possible, providing me plenty of examples (or evidence) that I am successful and high levels of esteem are justified and secure. Building this self-efficacy is both important and constructive to motivation. Individual satisfaction and meaning occur when we are contributing Personal Best Performances.

Applying the Hedgehog Concept (Jim Collins, 2001) to our individual careers yields higher performance and more Personal Bests.

A Personal Best has 3 components:

  1. Talent – what you are good (even great) at.
  2. Passion – what you like and want to contribute; what you want to be good at.
  3. Organizational Value – the contribution needed or opportunity to create value.

I have developed a tool for helping clients identify Personal Bests. I have used this approach with a broad group of customers with favorable results. If you’re a consultant, helping a client through this self-discovery process is impacting. In my experience, clients have valued the exercise and some have used the process with those that they lead. If you’re a leader, using this process with your team members is an effective way to support their development and build a stronger relationship, both supporting higher levels of engagement.

Personal Best Interview

Purpose: The purpose of the Personal Best Interview is to guide your thinking about personal development to help you make your greatest contributions through efforts that are personally meaningful and satisfying.

Directions: Answer the questions below to help you identify high-impact development goals for your personal development and to prepare for development discussions with your Manager, mentor or other coaching resource.

Personal Best Examples: Describe 2 – 3 examples of experiences when you felt most enthusiastic and positive about your work.

For each Personal Best Example above, what about that experience made it such a positive and motivating experience for you?

What are your talents (those things you’re good at and can constructively apply at work)?

What are you passionate about (Those things you are motivated and enthused to do at work)?

What contribution can you make to the organization leveraging your talents in an area of passion?

What do you not want to do? (What would you like to avoid doing? (e.g., relocating, shift changes, roles)

What are your career goals and plans? Do they position you to contribute more personal bests?

Short-Term:

Long-Term:

What do you need to learn, become more skilled at, and experience to make your best contribution to the company and achieve your goals?

  • Focus on WHAT to develop or change rather than HOW at first.
    •  Example – “develop the ability to develop and communicate strategic plans to align your team and achieve objectives” rather than “complete strategic thinking training.”

What barriers or development needs could keep you from making your best contribution and achieving your goals?

4 Stages of Contribution

22 Dec

A common area of opportunity to help many of the technically brilliant people I enjoy working with – scientists, engineers, supply chain experts, even financiers – is career development.  These colleagues become frustrated with their perceived inability to engineer and control career advancement when transitioning beyond individual contributor roles where relationships, interest-based negotiation and influence skills become important to get results. In my experience, this results in a presenting problem like (generalized examples):

Career paths are not established and communicated clearly enough…

The organization doesn’t value the technical skills that create value here…just look at who gets promoted…

There doesn’t seem to be any opportunity for me in this organization…

each of which may be true. The problem with these beliefs is that they are totally passive and the expectation is to fix “them” or change how “they” do things. These are difficult expectations to fulfill. However, there is a change that each person can make that is totally under our control and with a much higher probability for success.

A model that I have found helpful is Novations’ 4 Stages of Contribution. I first saw this model in a conference session jointly presented by one of Novations’ consultants and a learning & development manager from Intel. It has influenced the career development processes and tools I have designed and implemented. Since the model focuses on the contribution or performance of an individual rather than position, it integrates well with strengths-based approaches, which I advocate.

Careers are moving from position focus to contribution focus to increase impact and influence. Flatter organizations and critical individual contributor talents need not mean career ceilings. High-performance is achieved by aligning talent with opportunities to deliver greater contribution in-position, laterally, through advancement, or in a role that’s currently undefined. In fact, it is this ability to mine the greater contribution that can be made from each role that truly differentiates top talent and their organizations from the status quo.

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