Sara called me excitedly: “Karin you know how you’ve been encouraging me to take a lateral move to broaden my experience the perfect job just came open. I can really imagine myself in the role. Can you put in a good word for me?”
“Imagine all the people…”~ John Lennon
Excellent, I thought. Sara was so convinced she was ready for a promotion, but I knew she had a little more growing to do before she was ready. She was right. This job was perfect for her, and I was glad she was willing to consider a lateral move. I called HR immediately to ensure she would be considered.
Huh? Just how did that make any sense? I understand using the grid to define pools for promotions, but were we really going to stop developing everyone else? Besides if a solid performer can’t be promoted, and can’t move laterally, are we really going to just let them stagnate in the same job? Surely this HR person was confused, so I took it a level higher.
The next conversation went something like this: “Well, I’m not saying we’d never consider Sara for such a move, but maybe you have her in the wrong box. I can move her to high-potential now, if you’d like and put her on the slate.” Okay, now it was getting even more stupid. Systems that need to be played are never effective.
4 Reasons Talent Review Systems Break Down
John Lennon had a point. Good systems can have dangerous side effects. Talent reviews are an important part of a healthy succession planning and development process. Here are few reasons to be careful:
- Organizations & Priorities Change – I went back and looked though the grids I had used in my organization as an HR Director years ago. Many names from the best parts of the grid have since been promoted and having strong careers within the company. But other high performance-potential candidates have been recruited away or have left to start their own companies. Sadly some of whom we’d invested the deepest development had been caught up in mergers, downsizing, and other drama. There were also people who had been once deemed lower potential now holding significant leadership positions. They’d missed out on much of the development we offered to the others who are no longer around.
- People Change – I’ve seen organizations get so hung up on doing succession planning down to the lowest levels of the organization, that managers get labelled as high potential or low potential very early in their careers. Labels are hard to change, even when the people do.
- Potential Is Subjective – Every leader has their own definition of what constitutes high potential. Even with reasonable calibration politics, personality and favoritism can get in the way.
- Feedback Gets Watered Down – The big rules in most talent reviews are what’s said in the talent review stays in the talent review. Makes sense, to a point. You want people to speak freely without fear of third hand feedback. But if leaders are saying things about a manager that they would not say to that manager, how will they ever grow? I wrote about this in more depth in: “Talent Reviews: What They’re Saying Behind Closed Doors”.
I’m all for replacement and succession planning. Such processes support more deliberate and fair leadership selection. But don’t fall into the trap of only focusing serious developmental efforts on your shiny stars of the moment. Limiting rich development to the top 20% of your team is a waste. Imagine the power of tapping into ever human being on your team’s most powerful potential.
PS: Now that I’m an entrepreneur, I was delighted to be featured for the first time in Entrepreneur magazine with my story, Why Sucking Up is Bad For Business.