Uncovering Talent

Executives generally have a few key attributes they look for in the next generation of leaders that display a promise of outstanding things to come. Executives then become huge advocates for the individuals that are demonstrating these aspects; they write gleaming performance reviews and do what they can to ensure these stars are in the limelight when promotion decisions are made. These prized attributes usually represent a subset of the competencies identified in their organizations talent models and will constitute a trusted shortcut for busy seasoned executives.

However, there is an aggregate cost for these seemingly obvious choices, as they tend to grant unearned halos on some and cast shadows on others. This will cause organizations to disregard critical flaws in their targeted talent and they will overlook the capabilities of others who are hidden in plain view.

The halo effect created on the targeted talent allows their advocates to assume they possess additional skills and competencies (which in a lot of cases is not true) without actually vetting or recognizing the assumptions. Rapid promotion of these individuals without sufficient due diligence causes organizations to miss the opportunity to correct areas of concerns early in the process while the employees are still workable to change. In some cases decision makers will realize that the individual cannot flex, which is even more troubling. Rapid promotions can unfortunately reinforce behaviors that will not sustain success at higher levels. Capability gaps eventually emerge in these “super stars” that can cause them to stall or completely derail.

Now, looking at the other side of the equation, individuals who do not demonstrate the prized behaviors to the same extent do not benefit from the advocates and may be pushed into the shadows; they are assumed to be missing fundamental skills (again without proper vetting). There is not ample focus and energy in the talent discussion to bring to light their actual capabilities or contributions to recognize that the are ready for the next level of challenges. Thus becoming hidden talent, passed over for positions for which they are more qualified and stalling their careers often forcing them to eventually seek out organizations without such blinders.

As an example, some leaders reward an individual who stands out and takes charge. Those individuals that tend to gravitate to the spotlight, can manage up, and ensure acknowledgement for their achievements are more likely to be noticed. What is generally less clear is how these same individuals influence peers or how much scorched earth damage they created to realize those achievements. At the same time, an unintentional shadow may be cast on those who quietly create alignment and create momentum across the entire organization as they may also more readily share the credit and do not focus on being in the limelight. It is also not an accident that they are consistently on the teams that make a difference for the organization, it can be a TIGER team or something similar. The evidence is clearly there, but you must be able to see it.

Things to do:

  • Know which attributes are the shiny objects that may cause you to take shortcuts in your view of talent. For example, beware the assumption that those who are good at managing up are also adept at creating followership; likewise, notice who is creating followership and results without much fanfare.
  • Watch out for buzzwords or adjectives that either push someone into the shadows or create halos. There are substantial diversity implications as the short-cut models may not be valid against a more heterogeneous group.
  • Ensure that talent discussions are based on data. Leverage development assessments to ensure a well-rounded view of the individual that does not rely on assumptions. It is remarkable how much data an organization has regarding its talent that is not included when key decisions are actually made.
  • Identify critical roles in the organization that provide core experiences for developing the talent pipeline and ensure that the scan for internal candidates is broad and the decision process is objective and disciplined. These roles create important paths for developing the future leadership pipeline and should not be clogged by the result of a limited view of organizational resources.
  • If necessary, bring in an external party who will question assumptions and ensure a robust discussion.

It is very natural for executives to leverage their own experiences in identifying and cultivating talent. In doing so, will tend to veer toward quickly creating a type of focus. At the same time, as stretching is critical to any physical activity, an organization must stretch its ability to identify, vet out, and grow a wide range of individuals to ensure the overall growth of the talent pipeline and the ongoing success of the next generation of senior executives.

To find out how MCDA CCG, Inc., can help your organization plan for critical leadership transitions, contact us here today

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