The best talent strategies

Your Talent Strategy: How to Avoid This Huge Mistake

As you formalize and add more rigor to your talent strategy and focus on your nine-box grid, be careful that your focus doesn’t become overly myopic. The best talent strategies help all employees to grow. 

A Tragedy from Behind Closed Doors

I was in a contact center executive role when “Sara” a young manager on my team called me, clearly fired up about a potential opportunity. It had been a long time since I’d seen such energy and excitement from her.

“Karin you know how you’ve been encouraging me to take a lateral move to broaden my experience? Well, the perfect job just came open in the quality department. I can really imagine myself in it. I know I would do an amazing job. Can you call HR and put in a good word for me?”

I was glad to see Sara coming around and open to a lateral move. Most of our previous development conversations were overshadowed by her frustrations of why she was not getting promoted.

I knew she had potential, but she also had some growing to do.  And, she was right. This support staff role was PERFECT for her and would give her the experience and perspective she needed before I’d feel confident putting her into our succession plan for the next level.

I called HR immediately to ensure she would get a chance to interview for this lateral move.

Where Talent Strategy Conversations Start to Break Down

“I’m sorry Karin, you don’t have Sara listed as high-potential in our system. We’ve been told to reserve all lateral moves for succession candidates.”

Huh?  Wait, what? That’s a thing for lateral moves?

I understand using the succession planning process 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 well-meaning HR person was confused, bless her heart. So I called her supervisor to clear things up.

The conversation with her boss went like this:

“Well, I’m not saying we’d never consider Sara for a lateral move, but it’s against our new policy. Maybe you accidently (wink wink) put her in the wrong box.  I can move her to high-potential now if you’d like, and put her on the slate.”

Wait, what? Now we need to game the system?

Why Developing Only High Potentials Can Derail Your Talent Strategy

Talent reviews are an important part of a healthy succession planning and development process. I’m a big believer in a solid 9-box process and have facilitated hundreds of such conversations over the years, both as an HR leader and now with our clients.

They help you prioritize your leadership development focus and investment, ensure you are developing diverse talent at every level, identify clear paths to accelerate growth, get the right people in the right seats, and expand parochial thinking about talent— getting past the notion of “my people” and “your people.”

And yet, even good systems can have dangerous side effects.

A few reasons to take a broader approach to development:

1. Organizations and priorities change.

After the Sara incident, I went back and looked through all the talent review grids I had saved from my previous role as HR Director.

I was so curious to see who we had identified and where they were now.

Some of the people from the best parts of the grid had since been promoted and their careers were thriving at our company.

But, interestingly, other high performance-potential candidates had been recruited away. Sadly some of the box 9ers we had invested in the most had been caught up in mergers, downsizing, and other drama and been forced out.

There were also managers who had been once deemed lower potential now holding significant leadership positions. They hadn’t received much formal development.

2. 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. This is particularly tricky if managers learn they have to game the system for their people to be even considered for a lateral move.

Well-intentioned, overly-stringent guidelines will encourage leaders to create workarounds to find the flexibility they need.

3. You’ll lose solid talent.

And of course, the most obvious challenge is that if employees feel stuck, they’ll find a way to get unstuck and go somewhere they can continue to grow.

Use this Development Discussion Planner to help your employees prepare.

One of the biggest reasons people tell us they only focus on developing high-potential talent is a lack of time. With a little effort, you can ensure every employee on your team has an up-to-date career development plan.

I’m sharing this tool we use in our long-term leadership development programs to help managers hold more effective and efficient development conversations by inviting their employees into the process. You can download the PDF here.

Ask your employee to reflect on both their current and desired future roles and answer the following questions.

What strengths would you like to leverage and grow?

Leveraging strengths is a great way to start the discussion. How can you test and build upon these strengths across a variety of contexts? Once the discussion moves to action planning, think about ways you can pair up your team members to help one another.

In what strategic relationships would you like to invest?

Often the most important work to get ready for the next level or a strategic lateral move involves building more influential relationships. Encourage your employees to think about where they need to invest in relationships for their current role, as well as future roles. Who can help champion, sponsor, prepare for, and give them a taste of their desired future?

What challenges are you looking to overcome?

This is an important calibration point. You want to know if they know what’s holding them back. Much better to start with their perspective before adding yours.

What skills would you like to learn or improve?

Our training clients often tell us that they are often surprised by the answer to this question. Giving your employee some time to think about this in advance will lead to a meatier list.

What support do you need?

Ask your employee to come with a specific “ask.” This helps overcome the two most frequent answers to this question, “I don’t know” and “I haven’t thought about it.”

See Also:

9 Creative (Low Cost) Ways to Develop Your Managers

The 5 Biggest Succession Planning Mistakes

6 Secrets of a Utility Player: How to Hire for Indispensible

How to Help Your HR Team Be More Strategic

Looking for ways to grow your leaders?  Learn more about our leadership development programs.

How to exit your job with grace

How to Exit Your Job With Grace and Support Your Successor

How do you exit your job with grace?

You’re on to the next thing. Perhaps it was your call. Maybe not.

Maybe you’re happy. Perhaps you’re not.

In fact, perhaps “not happy” is an understatement.

But it’s not about you. It’s about the mission and your team.

And the important work ahead in this time of crisis, ambiguity, and change.

How will you prepare your successor to do what must be done next – without you?

Because the mission is bigger than you.

Observations From a Few Folks Watching

When Karin was in HR managing talent and 9-box-grid placements, it was always fascinating to see what leaders did the moment AFTER the announcement that they were moving to a new role internally or externally.

Some couldn’t transition fast enough. Like a bat out of hell, suddenly they had new MITs (most important things), new people to meet, teams to build.

They left their old team to figure it out, demoralized, wondering how they would keep it all going until the next guy was announced. And, quite frankly, wondering: If the work was so important, how could their boss change priorities so quickly?

When these leaders sabotaged their successor or raced off to their next gig without a care in the world, it said a lot about them and their priorities.

How to Exit Your Job With Grace

1. Check in with your team.

Thank them. Remind them why their work matters. Ensure everyone has a clear path forward during the transition.

2. Make information easy to find.

You know where you put it, but can anyone else find it? Make a list of all the things that are “just in your head.”  You worked hard to gain that insight, that process, that tool. Progress depends on not replicating work you’ve already done, but building on it.

3. Don’t insult “anyone or anything.”

We love this advice from Business News Daily:

Regardless of whether it’s true, show that you regret leaving such wonderful people behind. The most important part of a successful job exit is to avoid throwing anyone under the bus. Even if you’re not leaving on the best terms, don’t play the blame game. You don’t want to ruin your career by trash-talking your former colleagues or managers.

4. Help your successor build relationships with key players.

The hardest part of any transition is building vital relationships, which takes time. Can you leave your successor with a people map? Here’s who you go to for what and why it matters. Here’s who cares most about these issues. Watch out for this land mine …

5. Share your lessons learned.

If your successor steps in the same landmines as you, you haven’t done your job, no matter how good that feels.

6. Be available, but distant.

You’ve prepared your previous team for their future, given your successor all the tools and information you can, and have moved into your next role. Avoid the temptation to react to how the next leader does things differently (and they will). If your successor has questions, be available to respond, but not engage. If team members who you were close with call to complain or ask for your intervention – don’t. Rather, coach them on how to navigate the change and have positive discussions with their new leader.

7. Be prepared to feel the change.

When David transitioned out of one executive role and into another, Steve, a mentor who owned a venture capital firm, offered this wisdom: “Give yourself time and space to say goodbye and feel the loss. They were good people. Your next team will be great too – and you’ll be a better leader for them if you feel the change for yourself.”

Your Turn

The ability to exit your job with grace and dignity is essential for your long-term influence. You’ll build a reputation as a leader who leaves everyone and everything better than you found it.

We’d love to hear from you: What is one step you’ve seen leaders take to exit their job with dignity, grace, and effectively set up their past and future teams for success?

See Also: How to Prepare Your Successor For Success

How to Demonstrate Your Leadership Potential Right Now

How to Demonstrate Your Leadership Potential Now

You know you’ve got leadership potential.

But, how do you get others to see it? Particularly, now. After all, your boss has bigger fish to fry than talking about your career.

But this crisis could go on for a while.

And you care about your future and want to make a bigger impact.

In-person visibility is at an all-time low. The company off-site where you would normally have some great hallway conversations is now virtual.

But the good news is that in some ways it’s even easier to emerge as a leader and get noticed for your leadership potential.

Because you know what your company needs right now?

Great leadership at every level.

If you’re stretching out of your comfort zone, contributing what you can, truly caring for the people around you, making the tough decisions, and prioritizing what matters most—you are bound to get noticed.

5 Ways to Demonstrate Your Leadership Potential Now

This is your moment.

New leaders always emerge in times of crisis.

Stay focused on adding value, making a consistent contribution, and worry less about who gets the credit.

It might not happen right away, but trust me, there will be a point that people look back and say, “Who made a difference during our time of crisis, what did they do, and why did it matter?”

You want your name at the top of the list.

Here’s a start.

1. Connect deeply.

Everyone is struggling in their own way right now.  Show up with deep empathy (and a bit of vulnerability) and work to connect. Influence starts with trust and connection. And you know what else? It feels good! For you and for them.

2. Keep your cool.

Grace under pressure is by far one of the hardest leadership competencies to teach. And, it’s one of the most important leadership competencies needed right now.

When everyone’s freaking out about a fast pivot, or visibly oozing pandemic stress onto everyone around them, the people who can provide stability and calm stand out.

Just like stress, calm is contagious.  Anything you can do to help the people around you stay grounded will add huge value. Be the one who helps the team stay focused and productive.

3. Consistently contribute I.D.E.A.s to improve the business.

And not just any ideas. Bring ideas that are strategically aligned with what your organization needs to do to thrive in the next 18 months.

No one has all the answers. That’s your invitation.

Show that you get what matters most and bring ideas about how to solve a big problem, and in the next 9 box review, your boss will be sharing how resourceful you are with excellent critical thinking skills. You can use our I.D.E.A. model to vet your ideas and then make your case.

4. Be sure every meeting you attend is better because you were there.

Leading remote teams resource pagePeople are Zoomed out. Everyone we talk to is sharing that remote work is leading to more meetings, not less.

You don’t have to be in charge of a meeting to make it better.

Check out our FREE remote team’s resource center for ideas on how to lead remote meetings, run better remote one-on-one and more and work to make any meeting you are a part of better. Suggest alternative ways to communicate, including asynchronous communication.

5. Lead a team to solve a problem.

There’s no shortage of challenges right now. Pick something that’s really frustrating you, that’s within your ability to make better. Find a few like-minded people and work on it. Don’t do it because you need visibility. Do it because you care and want to make your organization better. Every leader I’m talking to right now is looking for more gung-ho, solutions-oriented people to help.

Be the person others see as working to make things better.

Your turn.

What ideas do you have for someone looking to demonstrate their leadership potential right now?

How to be a Better Leader as Your Responsibilities Scale

How to Be a Better Leader as Your Responsibilities Scale

Transitions in scope and scale are tricky. If you continue to approach your work exactly the same as you did at the last level, you will surely fail. On the other hand, if you abandon all your best characteristics and approaches that won’t work either.  As you work to be a better leader as your responsibilities scale, you want to stay true to your values, leverage your strengths, and be deliberate in finding new ways to serve your larger team.

Sam and Jenny

Take Sam. Sam was beaming with excitement as he told me about his promotion. He was in the throes of a transition from supervisor to manager. He’ll now lead leaders.

“But it’s scary,” he confided. “I know I have to handle this whole thing differently. I was very close to my team. We talked about everything and shared common interests. Now I must distance myself, not share too much, not get too close.”

Sam continued with the list of all her other behaviors that MUST change. I heard none of what must stay the same as his scope increased. He was at risk of losing the very best qualities I respected in him as a leader—particularly his ability to build deep trust and connection that led to loyalty and deep collaboration. People wanted to work for Sam, so he attracted an “A” team.

And then there’s Jenny who had been promoted for her long track record of strategic thinking and strong execution. Her new role was enormous and there was much to learn. We met to discuss her performance agreement and goals, and I asked, “So what’s your strategy for taking this team’s performance to the next level?” Silence. “What are you doing to build your team?” Crickets.

She’d been doing a great job learning and keeping things moving as they had before. But she wasn’t yet leveraging her best gifts, the ability to identify a transformational vision and rally the team around it. She was trying to lead like the leader before her.

How to Be a Better Leader as Scope and Scale Increases

If you’ve just been promoted, here are few ideas to keep in mind to ground your leadership and influence.

1. Inventory your strengths and opportunities.

Carefully consider the strengths that helped others see you as the candidate for this increase in scope and scale. You might even ask those who helped you get this role, “What is it about my leadership that made you think I was a good fit for this position?” Then consider how those strengths might work well in this bigger role and make a deliberate plan to leverage those strengths in your leadership.

Also, consider which aspects of the job come less naturally for you and make a plan to get the help you need until you can get up to speed. It’s likely that one of your new direct reports is a rock star in this arena. Have the humility to ask for help.

2. Translate the landscape.

You are in a wonderful position of having a more strategic seat at the table while having fresh memories about what it feels like to not have all that information. Pieces of the puzzle are coming together for you in a new way. Capture that feeling and share it with your team. Explain the strategy as you would have wanted it explained to you yesterday.

You can also use your new vantage point to help your boss and peers understand how the latest processes and policies are playing out in the field. Combine your old knowledge and new insights into an enlightened and integrated perspective.

3. Be visible, approachable AND get out of the way.

As a leader with a broader scope and scale, of course, you want to be visible for your larger team and you want to be approachable. But don’t get in the way. Nothing will annoy your new team more than having your door so wide open that employees skip right over their direct manager and come right to you,

Respect your team and their authority. Of course, there are important times for skip level meetings and interventions, but it’s important to respect your direct reports and the work they are trying to do with their team. Help them lead their teams more effectively by working through, not around them.

4. Listen, learn, and be strategic.

Go on a curiosity tour and learn all you can, but don’t react. You’ll be tempted to jump in and fix stuff because you have the answers, and perhaps can do it better than anyone else. That’s not your job anymore. Delegate the immediate fixing, and then take it up a notch. Look for patterns. Consider the strategic implications and root causes. Build cross-functional teams to tackle the challenges to make a greater impact.

5. Build better leaders.

Your most important work as a leader of leaders is helping them grow. The tragic truth is that many leaders spend less time developing their leaders as they increase in scope. Nothing will drive results faster than strong leadership at every level.

6. Respond versus react.

As your scope and scale increases, so does the gravity, quantity, and urgency of your challenges. Great leaders pause, listen, gather facts, and respond. Sure, that response must often be quick, but frantic reaction slows down helpful behavior. Learn to keep your cool early in the game.

7. Become a Roadblock Buster.

Spend time making things easier for your team. Find out where they’re stuck, and offer to remove roadblocks. With that said, here are two words of caution. First, don’t jump in without asking. Too much help will make your team feel like you don’t trust them. Second, be sure to take a moment to teach your team while you’re busting down those barriers.

Oh, and be sure YOU’RE not the roadblock. Respond quickly with needed approvals and work to diminish unnecessary time wasters and bureaucracy.

8. Invest in your development.

Many leaders spend less time on their own development the further up they go. Don’t fall into that trap. As your scope and scale increases, so does your responsibility to lead well. Get a coach. Have a collection of mentors. Read constantly.

Your turn.

What’s your best advice for becoming a better leader as your job gets bigger?

See Also:

5 Secrets to Great Skip Level Meetings

Executive Visits: 4 Great Approaches For Influence and Impact

How to Be the Leader Employees Want to See Walk Through the Door


secrets to an actionable talent review

7 Big Rules For a Successful Talent Review

Their faces turned a little green when they realized I was in earshot. “I’ll talk up your candidate if you talk up mine,” and “Let’s be sure to downplay their developmental opportunities so they end up in the right box (referring to the performance potential grid),” AND worst of all, “He’s not perfect, but who is, and we’ve been friends a long time, and he’s paid his dues,” is not what the HR Director (the role I was playing at the time) wants to hear before a talent review.

“Guys… (and yup, they were all guys)… You get why this is completely counter-productive right?”

We fixed that scene.

But the truth is, we all know these kinds of conversations are happening right outside the door of many talent review sessions, just beyond HR’s earshot.

Seven Big Rules For a Successful Talent Review

That’s why when a client asks me to help with their talent review process, we always agree to these rules upfront. Otherwise, it’s just a pretty grid that many hope will be ignored. That doesn’t advance the talent strategy of the organization and just leads to frustration.

1. We’re future-focused

This is particularly tricky for leaders doing a talent review for the first time. Human nature says “Pick me (or someone who looks and thinks like me).” But if you’re really focused on a future succession plan, a long step back to consider the skills needed for the future is vital. Take a few minutes (having an objective third party can help) to really define the KSAs needed for your most strategic positions (and BTW, some of your most strategic positions may be highly skilled folks at the front line.)

2. We speak the truth

Yes, talent reviews are important for identifying successors, but the EVEN MORE important part is finding the gaps and working on ways to grow the team to address them. If “John” is AWESOME, but still needs work in critical thinking, for &%@#$(@3% sake tell us that, so we can help John and get him the training and experience he needs for success.

3. We care about the business, and the human beings we are talking about

We’re not trying to derail careers, we are looking to be helpful. Take a deep look at what the business and the people within it need. Let’s build a plan to leverage strengths and support development. Ask: EXACTLY how will we help people grow people into these roles?

4. Every resource is a corporate resource

When we identify someone as high-performance/high potential, we’re all committed to developing them and looking out for the best opportunities for them and for the business. We’re committed to letting go of “mine” and “yours” and working together to seek out lateral assignments (that may feel like cutting off our right arm) and promotions.

5. The list we create will guide our staffing decisions

This is perhaps the most vital. Building a map that no one has any intention of following is a big waste of times. If your team is not aligned on the decisions made in the session, take a pause and revisit the outcomes.

6. How do we support and grow the hi-po individual contributors?

They’re at the front-line, you need them, they may even be leading a small team, but they’re not your next CTO. How do you re-recruit these A-players and help them build a successful career, here?

7. BONUS:  Take some time and talk about the other big rules you care about and want to agree to

Linger here as needed. Go to go fast, to have a successful talent review.

Your turn. What are the most important “rules” for a successful talent review?

performance potential matrix

The Performance Potential Matrix Demystified: 5 Behaviors Keeping You Out of Box 9

You know your boss is headed into the talent review meeting. You’ve updated your resume, had the heart-to-heart, and said your prayers. And then… the response, “It went fine… just keep up the good work… oh, and be patient.” And you wonder what this performance potential matrix thing is all about.

If that’s ever happened to you, it’s probably because of a “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” type oath amongst the execs having the conversation. And rightfully so, the most important part of any talent review conversation is candor. And no exec wants to tick off a hi-po by being the naysayer–even when it’s true. Because, you never know who you will work for next.

But as the holder of the marker, leading hundreds of succession planning conversations inside Verizon and with many clients since then… I’ll tell you right now, yes– candor is key– and so is feedback.

I will also share that every single time someone in my organization asked where they fell on the grid I told them, and why. Not who said what, of course. But the only fighting chance someone has to get better is to know how they’re being perceived. Candor is rare. And valuable.

5 Behaviors Keeping You Out of Box 9

When I lead these discussions, I don’t accept “There’s just something about her style.” Or “He’s just not that strategic.” Such generalities are BS. And so we drill further. When we get to the real issue, there are 5 issues that come up again and again. So if you’re not where you want to be on the grid, or you’ve been sitting in a square… “ready now” but getting passed over again and again, consider if you fall into any of these behavioral traps.

  1. Your Performance is Sketchy
    The performance part of the talent review is pretty clear-cut. If you’re not knocking it out of the park, no matter how brilliant or talented you are… results matter. If you’ve taken over a bad scene that’s not your fault, even better… fix it.That will be great fodder for the next performance-potential discussion.
  2. You’re Always Talking About Your Career
    If you have 37 mentors, and are seeking advice from everyone with a title who will listen… chill out. In my keynotes, I call that woman “Carol Career Path,” who’s more focused on the job she wants, than the job she has. “Carol” always gets laughter and many “I know this woman (or man)” nods. Carol is everywhere. Don’t be Carol.
  3. You’re the Loudest One in the Room
    Either literally or metaphorically. Either way it drives folks crazy. Meetings take twice as long when you’re in town. If you find that you’re doing most of the talking, instead of wondering why everyone else is so quiet, try changing half of your sentences to questions, and then be quiet. Really listen. High-potential leaders get others talking.
  4. You’re Overly Competitive
    This one’s tricky, particularly in a stack-ranked world. And, I’m quite sure it kept me out of box 9 early in my career. It took me a minute to understand that peers are your lifeline. Yes, your team’s performance matters. Yes, yes, you’re more likely to get into box 9 if you’re sitting at the top of the stack rank. But keep the bigger picture in mind. The company needs EVERYONE knocking it out of the park. High potential leaders look around and see who else they can help get the results they neeed.
  5. You’re Rude
    Yes, rude. It comes up in nearly every discussion. Some rock star thinks they’re above the need to treat people with dignity and respect. To say “good morning” and “please” and “thank you.” If there’s any chance you’re treating your boss with more manners than you are your assistant, you may need some more work in this arena.

You’re working too hard and care too much to sabotage your career with these behaviors. If you’re not where you want to be in your career, I encourage you to ask those you trust for candid feedback about what might be getting in the way.

Are You Letting Your Team Outgrow Their Past?

Most leaders mature (and yes, that’s me on the right). And yet, often when someone has been with the company for a long time, it’s their old image that sticks. Be sure you’re helping your team outgrow their past.

I’ve seen too many companies go “in search of” the ideal candidate, hire them, and then find they had the right guy all along (after the first one didn’t work out). In fact, I’ve been that guy.

This post was inspired by a recent post by Dan Rockwell encouraging his readers to overcome their past. Brilliant insights. As I was reading it, my heart felt heavy for all the leaders I know who are desperately trying to escape their past and can’t grow beyond their early reputations.

“The past is a weight that grows heavier with the passage of time. Little mistakes grow larger. Offenses get heavier. Failures persecute.” -Dan Rockwell

Most leaders mature. And yet, often when someone has been with the company for a long time it’s their old image that sticks.

Be brave enough to see who’s really showing up.

Anticipate maturity and watch it florish.

Don’t miss out on the most fun part of being a leader– watching others grow.

Be an advocate.

Don’t overlook the game changers who were once young, naive and a little overly _________(brash, politically inept, unconfident, overconfident).

You were too.

Who do you need to give a second chance to?

What are you going to do this year to take your leadership development program to the next level? Call me at 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.

What Wikipedia Can't Tell You About Action Learning Projects

Done well, action learning projects are one of the very best forms of leadership development. A great action learning program (ALP) has tremendous benefits:

  • New ideas from fresh perspectives
  • Real work gets done
  • Learning is contextual
  • It doesn’t feel like training
  • Participants must manage through complex situations and team dynamics
  • Terrific opportunity to showcase talent to the executive team
  • Safe testing ground for high-potential talent

If you have no idea what an action learning project is, Wikipedia actually does a pretty good job of describing it.

Action learning is an approach to solving real problems that involves taking action and reflecting upon the results. The learning that results helps improve the problem-solving process as well as the solutions the team develops. The action learning process includes (1) a real problem that is important, critical, and usually complex, (2) a diverse problem-solving team or “set,” (3) a process that promotes curiosity, inquiry, and reflection, (4) a requirement that talk be converted into action and, ultimately, a solution, and (5) a commitment to learning. In many, but not all, forms of action learning, a coach is included who is responsible for promoting and facilitating learning as well as encouraging the team to be self-managing. In addition, the learning acquired by working on complex, critical, and urgent problems that have no currently acceptable solutions can be applied by individual, teams, and organizations to other situations.

But what Wikipedia can’t tell you is why this beautiful design so often fails. Having been involved with hundreds of action learning projects over the years, I’ve seen amazing, breakthrough work and also colossal train wrecks.

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Implementing an Action Learning Program

1. Lack of Project Sponsorship

Participants get REALLY excited about their project, and pour their heart, soul, and many long hours into making it happen. But they’re oblivious to the political dynamics lurking beneath the surface. They didn’t have access to the right people or all the information. They spin their wheels, and these high-potential employees feel frustrated that they wasted their time, and become resentful of the experience. Sure, learning to stakeholder is all part of the game, but if the mountain is gnarly, a knowledgeable sherpa is only fair.

2. Unclear Parameters

Be clear on big rules, resources, and other parameters. If the real deal is they must solve the problem with no funding or other limitations up front, say so.

3. The Wrong Players

Action learning projects give participants exposure to executives. Not all exposure is good exposure. Be sure you pick the right talent who are ready for this experience. Yes, stretch, but don’t send them into the deep end the first day they learn to swim. I’ve seen people’s careers seriously damaged from being pushed into such programs before they’re ready.

4. Lack of Supervisor Commitment

Sure, one sign of a high-potential leader is that they can do THIS and THAT, meaning they pull off the work on this project while doing their day job. But it’s important for supervisors to understand the investment necessary in such programs. If they consistently get in the way of participants attending meetings or doing their fair share, the high-potential participant can become very stressed worrying about balancing their relationship with their boss and preserving their reputation with the ALP team.

5. Lack of Implementation Resources

Typically such programs result in recommendations with an assumed handoff to the appropriate team or department for implementation. Be sure to secure the appropriate commitment. Nothing’s worse than the “Whatever happened to that project?” feeling. A few false starts, and your ALP will lose all credibility.

Done well, it’s hard to top action learning for leadership development. Be sure your design is well-thought through.

If you’re interested in creating or improving your leadership development program, or running an Action Learning Program for your company, please give me a call for a free consultation.

kellyriggsJoin me tonight on Biz LockerRoom radio at 4pm EST for more details click here.

Talent Reviews: What They're Saying Behind Closed Doors

The talent you count on as central to your brand could rub people the wrong way. What you do well, may not do you well.

After two decades participating in talent reviews, I’ve noticed a pattern. The talents candidates count on as central to their brand, are often talked about negatively when assessing their readiness for promotion. Be aware of what decision makers may be saying about you. Your strengths may be weakened in other’s eyes.

5 Talents Reviewed (ups and downs)

Here’s what I’ve heard said about good guys behind their backs. Worry that addressing over-used talents will stifle current performance.

Your boss knows, but you don’t grow.

Be aware of your talent and both sides of the conversation.

1. Servant Leadership

To Your Face: “You always put your team first.” “You avoid the politics and do what’s right for the customer.” “Thanks for creating that culture.”
Behind Closed Doors: “He can’t manage up. “He doesn’t sell his work.”

2. Passion

To Your Face: “I love your passion and energy!” “Your passion inspires your team.”
Behind Closed Doors: “She’s a bit much.” “Is he for real?” “Why is she so excited?” “We need to work on executive presence.”

3. Expertise

To Your Face: “You’re my go-to guy.” “I won’t attend an important meeting without you.” “No one knows “X” better than you.”
Behind Closed Doors:  “Can he move across functions?” “We can’t afford to lose him in his current role.”

4. Sponsors

To Your Face: “You’ve got Joe in your corner. He loves you, that goes a long way.”
Behind Closed Doors “What’s going on here? Why is he so focused on her career?” “Sure, Joe’s his fan, but who else knows him?” “What other relationships has he built?

5. Results

To Your Face:  “Your results are amazing.” “I know if I give it to you it will be done well.”
Behind closed doors: “I get she has results in this function but can she scale?

Don’t Lose You

I don’t want you to be less passionate or to hide your expertise. Neither do they. Use your gifts, and be sensitive to unintended consequences.

  • Understand that your talent can get in the way
  • Talk to your boss about how you’re viewed by others
  • Ask others if they see downsides to your talents
  • Pause after receiving feedback show you’re open for more
  • Observe others with similar style, what annoys you about their approach?
  • Ask what do the other execs think about my style?

Build on your talent with awareness. Ask for input. Adjust with authenticity.

Succession Planning

The Secret Behind the 9 Box Performance Potential Grid

Do you know which box you’re in on the performance potential grid? Do you know performance-potential conversations are having and what it takes to get to box 9?

“Our cultural instinct is to wait to get picked…No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.” -Seth Godin

If you have been told you are “high potential” do you know how many others are in the same “box?” in line for the same jobs?

If you don’t know, you should ask. If these programs are being executed well, those identified as having higher performance and potential will receive extra development and stretch assignments.

Being on the grid can be very helpful.

However the grid is based on perception and opinions. If you are in a good spot on the grid, great but don’t depend on it. If not, don’t freak out take action.

A grid does not define you.

Why Being on the Performance Potential Grid is Not Enough

Blaming the system is soothing because it lets you off the hook. But when the system was broken, we wonder why you were relying on it in the first place.” –Seth Godin

Organizations reorganize. Sponsors retire. Mergers happen. Politics change.

It’s quite possible that all the people who put you on the grid yesterday will be off doing something else tomorrow. Then, the grid is just a grid. Those opinions have moved on.

Performance Potential Grids don’t promote people, people do.

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. But other high performance-potential candidates had been caught up in mergers, downsizings, and other drama. Some are still unemployed. There were also people who had been once deemed “lower potential” now holding significant leadership positions.

Don’t wait for the grid

How to Get Noticed as a High Potential Leader

See Also:

How To Find the Perfect Mentor

Your Talent Strategy: How to Avoid This Huge Mistake

4 Ways To Ensure Your Successor's Success

The same mentor that jokingly told me, “always follow an idiot” also smiled and said, “and always leave an idiot as your successor.”

I’ve seen it go both ways. It’s painful to watch your team’s hard work unravel.

For the last week, we’ve been talking about Building Results that Last Beyond Your Tenure, including, Building a Strong VisionEstablishing the Right Behaviors  and Encouraging Interdependency.

An important piece of this puzzle, is leaving a remarkable successor.

4 Ways to Ensure Your Successor’s Success

This process starts early. Once you are ready to leave, it’s too late to search. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Build a Deep Bench

Surround yourself with rock stars. Go find them in other areas of the business and recruit them to your team. Invest substantial time each week working on leadership development. Mentor, teach, have them subscribe to Let’s Grow Leaders 😉 The biggest mistake I see here is that leaders focus on developing one protegé. Timing might not work out. If you are doing it right, others will come knocking looking to recruit her before you are ready. Work on building an entire farm team.

Lead with Transparency

The last thing you want your successor to say is, “I had no idea your job was like this.” Share what you can with your team. Help them understand the deeper challenges you face and how you approach them. Expose them to some of the politics and how you navigate.

Consider What’s Needed Most

My favorite Monte Python saying is, “and now for something completely different.” It is likely that what your team needs most after you leave is not more of you. They’ve had that. When choosing a successor consider what the team really needs most. What has changed in the business environment? What kind of leader would most challenge the team at this stage of their development?

Get Out of the Way

Yes, you must transfer knowledge. Do everything you can to leave your successor anything they may need in an organized and easy to follow-way. Keep lists, contacts, and how toos.. in case they want to use them. And then, get out-of-the-way. Offer to always be available, but stop checking in. Whatever you do, don’t hang around offering commentary to your old team. The new leader needs to make her mark in her way. She doesn’t need to worry about what you are thinking or saying.

How To Build Results That Last Beyond Your Tenure


I’ve heard all of the following phrases and many more like them uttered over the years.

“I can’t take a vacation, every time I do the whole place falls apart.”

“I had that organization running so well, and then she took over what a mess”

“Well, she was the lynch pin that held that whole place together, now that she’s moved on I am not optimistic”

“I came back from maternity leave early, I just couldn’t stand the thought of cleaning up the mess”

“She built all those relationships, we can’t replace that”

Not only have I heard these phrases, I am embarrassed to say that I have said some of them.

Sometimes they are true.

Sometimes they are not.

Either way, it’s not leadership.

An important sign of real leadership is what happens after the leader moves on.

  • Is there a clear vision?
  • Does the team have a clear brand and shared values?
  • Do the next steps seem perfectly clear?
  • Does each member know how they can best contribute?
  • Can the team rely on one another to get things done?

And yet, some leaders seem to take secret pride when things fall apart in their absence. They exude a quiet form of giddy when their team can’t function without them.

Short-term results are important. But how do you build a team that can sustain results long after you have moved to the next assignment?

If you are a “indispensable” leader, something is really wrong. You are not adding value long-term.

What can you do now, to ensure your impact will last?

Is Your Team Built to Last?

Jim Collins has fantastic research about how great companies do this in his books, Good to Great and Built To Last. Important research, great reads.

But if you are like most of my readers, you are not the COO of a Fortune 50 company. You are you. You have done your best to build a great team. You care deeply about the results you have built. You care even more deeply about your team. How do you ensure all this sustains?

Over the coming days, I begin a series on Building Results That Last Beyond Your Tenure. In each post, I will share my insights, along with more questions for our Let’s Grow Leaders Community.

I look forward to our conversation on how to…

  • Establish a Strong Vision
  • Develop Key Behaviors
  • Create Interdependent Success
  • Leave a Remarkable Successor

Take a few minutes. Reflect on your stories and get ready to share. Not ready to share stories? Bring on the questions. Together we will explore the excitement, challenge and nuances of building results that last beyond tenure.