First published on LinkedIn, November 14, 2016
Everybody seems to be talking about talent management and succession planning. Mostly, they’re criticising the dreaded nine-box grid. I’ve noticed this dread some up in conversation last month at the Northern Organisational Development Network and recently in client meetings. The issue is neatly summarised in this excellent article by Lucy Adams https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/9-box-grid-fatigue-lucy-adams .
I think of talent as the shiny pennies you sometimes get in your small change, gleaming with potential to be different to their weather-worn contempories. We are told if we look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves. Do we nurture these new pennies, or do we toss them into a piggy bank or oversized whisky bottle to dull alongside their tarnished brethren?
If you treat your talent this way – in other words, the same way you treat all your small change – you will lose sight of their shininess, their potential. And, of course, you don’t ever see them again unless you shake out the piggy bank and rifle through your change. Worse still, you must smash the bottle to release the potential since expecting talent to rise to the top automatically and find its way through the bottleneck is clearly nonsense (and it’s no accident the bottleneck is always at the top of the bottle!)
A possible solution
Perhaps it would be better to drop your change into an open-necked jar. That way, you might still see your shiny pennies and can reach in and grab a few, you know, if you want to. But you don’t.
Talent management and succession planning are processes that were created to address this issue. Liken them if you will to an automatic coin sorter. My kids were given automatic coin sorters when they opened their ‘LittleSaver’ (or some such thing) bank accounts; you pop your coin in a slot at the top and it slides into a different holder dependent on the size of the coin. Doesn’t work with 50 pence pieces though and it doesn’t encourage you to do anything with your savings. Even electric coins sorters that can deal with huge volumes and tally up the coins into baggable denominations don’t do that. They just sort it, bag it, bank it.
It strikes me we are dealing with our small change like we deal with our talent in the darned nine-box grid. Sort it, bag it, bank it. Let it fester.
HR professionals have good intentions when designing talent management processes, however they are processes. They have over-rationalised an emotive subject to pretend it is not emotive. They are colluding with managers to avoid the real work of managing talent and planning succession.
- Reconnect with the reason you are managing talent. To plan succession, use those shiny pennies.
- Scrap the process-centred thinking. I suggest root cause analysis of what works and what does not. Talent management is not working. Start with culture, not process. Your (talent) culture eats your (talent) strategy for breakfast, and goes on to polish off your (talent) processes for lunch. Use a culture web analysis to uncover what’s going on
- DO SOMETHING with talented people to nurture and develop them. In the words of Marie Kondo (from the awesome Life changing magic of tidying), to “see these coins, stripped of their dignity as money, is heartrending. I beg you to rescue these forgotten coins wasting away in your home by adopting the motto, ‘into my wallet’!”
It’s heartrending to to me to see these talented people, stripped of their dignity as human beings, populating a nine-box grid as initials in a succession plan that will never be fulfilled. I beg you to rescue these forgotten people wasting away in your organisation by adopting the motto, [complete the sentence in not more than 10 words].
Jeremy J Lewis