Replacing the traditional talent management practices no longer fit for purpose
- 6 Min Read
Lucy Adams, CEO of Disruptive HR debunks four examples of traditional talent management practices that are no longer fit for purpose and shares three new talent trends reshaping the impact of HR.
As an HR Director, I used to hold firm beliefs about the best ways of ‘doing’ traditional talent management. I had a detailed leadership competency matrix with tons of behavioral indicators and an accompanying assessment tool to help leaders understand what they lacked.
My succession plans documented all the senior roles with ‘ready now’ and ‘ready in a few years.’ I had a nice expensive High Potential program with a respected business school. Talent management perfection!
Despite the lack of any real evidence that they were working, I deployed them with the unquestioning faith of an HR zealot. My ‘Hi-Pos’ still failed to get promoted or left. My neat succession plans often failed to materialize. And my leaders continued to get confused about how to complete my 9 Box Grids. No one could remember what the leadership competencies were and the people who got promoted often didn’t demonstrate them anyway!
Traditional talent management is not fit for purpose
As the business world continues to speed up and become more complex, our beliefs in traditional talent management approaches are coming into question. They are no longer relevant in today’s fast-paced world. Or, they rely on assumptions we have since discredited. These include:
Leadership competency frameworks
Most companies have a leadership competency framework that specifies a set of skills and behaviors. We collect the set and we prove we are perfect leaders. But the concept of the perfect leader is of course, totally flawed.
We’ve all got our strengths and things we’re not great at. But the Competency Framework keeps the myth of the perfect leader alive. It acts like a kind of leadership ‘bingo card’ where we try and tick all the boxes. This results in leaders focusing on the bits that are missing and attending training to develop skills in areas at which they’ll only be mediocre at best.
It also perpetuates the idea that leaders need to be the ones with the greatest array of personal strengths – the biggest and best – whereas the leaders who will thrive in this disrupted world are those who can get the best from their teams rather than through individual endeavors and achievements.
The idea that any talent review can happen only once a year and still have relevance and impact is for another, slower age. Moreover, potential is not a fixed and absolute thing. Our potential to succeed depends much on the environment we are in, whom we work with and for, our personal circumstances, etc, rather than some easily identifiable set of traits.
In addition, our system for identifying someone’s potential tends to be through the 9 Box Grid. It is fundamentally flawed for leaders to drive decisions based on line managers’ subjective views on someone’s potential. This is not because they’re rubbish managers (well, some of them are) but because we are all susceptible to rater bias. We are at risk of backing the wrong horses if that’s our only determinant of talent.
Leaders’ efforts at succession planning invariably identify the people they’ve been working with forever. They know them, they trust them, and sometimes, they’ve even promised them they could have their job when they go. This, of course, reinforces the existing silos and tends to produce a collection of “mini-me’s” in terms of leadership style and behavior.
It’s an understandable preference for sticking with what you know. But it’s terrible for a diverse pipeline and the breadth of perspectives that you need.
High-potential programs don’t deliver. They are divisive and expensive and focus the majority of our leadership investment on too small a group of people.
Three alternatives trends to traditional talent management
Fortunately, HR teams are now introducing smarter approaches to traditional talent management and delivering it in ways that have more impact and relevance. Let’s look at three new talent trends.
Articulate what you want them to DO, not BE
Instead of the futile exercise of trying to define what perfect leadership looks like, we’re seeing HR teams focus more on what they want leaders to achieve. One of my favorite examples of these comes from a large systems engineering firm who do it with beautiful simplicity. Instead of the usual numerous leadership attributes in a competency model, they state that leaders must do three things:
By focusing on these outcomes, they ensure that leaders are doing the things that matter whilst not prescribing the best way to deliver them, allowing leaders to use a style that works for them. Whilst the HR team provides support and coaching, they resist the urge to them how exactly how to do it. Instead, they use pulse surveys to measure whether employees feel the organization helps them to perform better, appreciates what they do, and gives them the right level of autonomy to do their best work.
Focus on the majority, not the elite
We’re seeing a declining obsession with the top elite. HR teams are finding new ways to help and ensure that the majority of people reach their potential.
For example, a major pharmaceutical company has a mantra that ‘growth isn’t optional.’ By this, they mean that regardless of whether you are ambitious and want a promotion, are interested in moving sideways, or whether you are a subject matter expert, everyone has a conversation about how they are growing.
A leading FMCG company has started to reframe its talent discussions away from ‘Who is ready for a promotion?’ to ‘Everyone is ready to do something different. How can we help?’. This helps managers to avoid the usual unconscious bias and instead think more broadly about their teams.
Process-lite talent management
Most leaders like talking about their people. They just hate the prep work and the documenting of their assessments and decisions. We’re seeing HR teams enabling regular but process-lite, discussions amongst leaders about their talent. For example, a major financial services company has replaced the annual talent review with ‘Talking Talent’ sessions. These sessions include clusters of around six to eight managers getting together for just one hour a month to talk about the people in their team and the opportunities they have coming up. No grids or forms to complete. Just regular conversations.
Traditional talent management, like so many aspects of HR, is getting a welcome overhaul. The traditional focus of HR teams on the big cumbersome processes and painful assessments is being replaced with more agile, conversational, and outcome-focused approaches. It’s much more relevant to today’s world and much more impactful as a result.