Category Archives: Talent Management
Creating a Leadership Development Program That Actually Creates Leaders

The Leadership Development Program (LDP): Many companies have them 1 For the record, I’m referring to rotational LDP programs as opposed to LDPs designed around seminars and workshops. The latter can be value-added (or not) as well but are outside the scope of today’s post – and with good1.

A good leadership development program can be a great talent pipeline for future managers and executives.

For the record, I’m referring to rotational LDP programs as opposed to LDPs designed around seminars and workshops. The latter can be value-added (or not) as well, but are outside the scope of today’s post.reason. Theoretically, developing high potential employees early in their careers is a great way to build a talent pipeline of future supervisors, managers, and executives.

In practice, however, many of these efforts fail. Often they either don’t effectively cultivate the talent that participates in them or else they do a good job of developing incumbents but don’t retain them upon program completion.

We can tackle the topic of retention post program another day, 2 but today I want to briefly touch on three characteristics that I believe are critical components of any successful LDP.

1. Buy-in from management

A good relationship between an LDP and his/her manager is critical to ensure the incumbent gets the critical experiences necessary to make the assignment a success.

This is perhaps the most important component of all in an LDP. In most leadership development programs, the incumbents don’t bring a lot of noteworthy skills to the table. Instead, they are primarily considered high potential due to either exceptional performance in a prior role with the company, or (if they are recent grads) their educational pedigree.

In either case, it’s imperative that the LDP incumbent(s) work closely with managers committed to ensuring they get the critical experiences and training necessary to put them in a position to add value to the organization post-program.

Ultimately, if program participants are paired with managers who don’t buy-in to the program (or worse feel threatened by the incumbents) then said participants won’t get the critical experiences needed to make their rotational assignment(s) a success.

2. Meaningful work (stretch assignments)

Just as important here is meaningful work. Often times in LDP programs, a manager/team may not want to invest significant time and resources into someone whom they perceive to be a temporary (rather than permanent) fixture.

We learn by doing.


In order to ensure an LDP participant gets meaningful work, the assignment has to be long enough for the team training the LDP to get some ROIC from training him/her. The incumbent also needs time to learn the role so that he/she can become a strong contributor to the group. Most human beings learn by doing, and the only way an incumbent can get experience doing meaningful work (without being a liability) is by spending enough time in a role to develop into a strong contributor.

3. Clearly defined goals

To this point, moving LDP participants into roles without structure around the assignment’s goals can lead to program incumbents feeling aimless. A good LDP should have a clearly defined set of experiences and competencies for participants to get/develop during the assignment.

As someone who is actually in a pretty good leadership development program right now, I feel pretty as if I have a unique insight into what makes a good LDP, but as always I don’t have all the answers.


Categories: Talent Management
Work Life Balance For Women Working in 21st Century Corporate America

Today I’d like to share my thoughts on a topic that Facebook COO Sheryl Sanderg has once again brought to the forefront of public consciousness in her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.  In the book, Sandberg examines why – when compared against men – women occupy a disproportionately (controlling for education, career choice etc.) small number of corporate leadership roles.

The book elaborates on a number of the root causes behind women’s under-representation in the executive ranks, but in this post I want to focus on the role of work-life balance and its function in preventing women from occupying as many leadership roles as their male counterparts.

Sandberg’s book has drawn very strong reactions – some positive and some negative – on this front. The principle criticism seems to be that women are being called on to juggle the impossible demands of work and family life, and that in her book Sandberg doesn’t put enough onus on the employer to figure out ways to mitigate these challenges (in the form of child care/flex schedules etc.). Some common criticisms of the book are:

Jodi Kantor of the New York Times suggested that Sandberg “places too much of the onus on women who are already struggling to fulfill impossible demands, and too little on government and employers to provide better child care, more flexible jobs and other concrete gains.” Deanna Zandt wrote in Forbes: “I’m all for assertiveness training…. But without simultaneously taking on the structures that keep those norms in place, women are…helping to reproduce [them].”

I personally disagree with the above critiques. More specifically, it isn’t the role of the employer to develop a flexible schedule – for men or women – to accommodate families and work/life needs. Businesses can utilize these perks as part of their talent attraction and retention strategies if they choose, but the needs of a firm will always fundamentally bleed into the personal/family time of any employees that move far enough up the corporate ranks – that’s1. And executives are compensated handsomely for that time.just the way it goes1

There are some good questions around if women (on average) with children even want to work the insane hours executives typically work. There are also some very good questions around if 60 hour work weeks are even needed to get work done at the C-Suite level. 22. There really might be a way for executives – men and women both – to “have it all” from a work-life balance standpoint if we rethink the way that we work. This change brings with it some accountability/span of control issues that would likely dramatically impact executive compensation, but the WSJ does make some good points in their article on the subject. I don’t know how flexible companies can make C-Suite level positions (it varies by business), or what their economic incentives would be to do so (again, it depends on the firm), but the compensation questions around it fascinate me. Topic for another day…

Regardless, I don’t think the challenge of creating gender equality at the executive level falls on corporations to solve – I think it lies with society itself. As a society, we have to find a way to address cultural norms around gender roles.

It’s more difficult for women to get ahead in corporate America than men because they (typically) shoulder the majority of child rearing and household

duties/responsibilities. I’m all for couples making the decision to have one partner or the other run the household/focus on the childcare while the other focuses on his/her career if that’s a choice they make together (though it may not be the best idea), but in the majority of American households, today women are often assigned the household/child-rearing duties by default.

Ultimately, we live in a global economy, and any multinational business’s operational needs are going to come before the work-life balance needs of its executives. What I think U.S. society can do a better job of, however, is raising male and female children that are equally capable of thinking about pursuing careers as high flying executives or part-time workers (when their children are young) or even stay at home parents.

Right now the deck is stacked against women for cultural reasons – when women have children it is almost always the woman’s career that stalls as opposed to that of her partner. This is something society needs to address.

…And who knows… if we really do achieve gender equality around household duties and responsibilities then the workplace may shift to reflect this as well (or maybe C-Suites will just be full of single people).

This is a tough topic with no easy answers. If you have any ideas around how to address this challenge please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Categories: Talent Management
Hiring “Rock Star” Talent is Not Always Best Practice (Spark Hire)

Today I want to share a guest blog post I wrote for Spark Hire. They’re a great
1. I think more companies should be utilizing video interviews in their sourcing process (for both cost and engagement reasons – great post for another day).company that specializes in video interviewing, and I’ve enjoyed reading their content the past several months.

Read it at Spark Hire here:

Hiring “Rock Star” Talent is Not Always Best Practice (Spark Hire)

Categories: Talent Management
Consistency vs. Customization in Compensation Structures – Pros and Cons

Today I want to talk about a common problem faced by businesses (and by extension1. I’m actually in the process of a move. I’m sitting on the floor writing this (the furniture is all gone) and it all has me feeling vaguely whimsical. Let’s see where this takes us.compensation functions): 1

When managing its compensation structure, how should an organization account for the fact that some functions add more value to the business than others?

This is a fundamentally different question than figuring out how to reward a contributor dramatically outperforming one’s peers in the same job (higher merit increases and pay adjustments will create separation over time). It’s also different than valuating a specific job particularly highly (if a skill set is hot then the market will set the rate as a product of supply and demand).

The question I’m posing is around the challenge of addressing the fact that in a hypothetical widget sales organization, the widget salespeople may materially2. This sort of problem is a common one in many organizations, but I like using widget analogies so let’s go with this tonight. generate more value for the business than the operations people (as an example – it could just as easily be the other way around in a product-focused company).

This doesn’t mean that the skill set the salespeople have is more valuable in the overall external market than are those of the operations people in the organization (they may or may not be), nor that the skill set is harder to learn/develop. In fact, let us instead assume in this analogy that the widget salespeople only have more value than their operations counterparts internally.

Should the sales people be paid more? Depending on if you believe in internal based pay models or market based pay models your answer may vary.

…But what if an individual contributor within a function generates more money for the business than his or her manager? Should that employee have a higher base salary? If his or her commissions causes a dramatic pay disparity between he/she and the manager, should said commissions be capped at a certain percentage?

A company could choose to leave the commissions uncapped, but it might then find it can’t attract individual contributors into the management ranks because the pay hit is too significant.

…Of course, this may not be a bad thing. There is an argument to be made that the historical tool used to reward top individual contributors (moving them into management) is a deeply flawed way of selecting managers (just because one is a good doer doesn’t mean he or she is a good manager). Even if this is the case, however, the fact remains that if managers make a fraction of the pay of the employees they’re managing and aren’t selected based on their performance as individual contributors there is a real danger that said managers lack the credibility with their reports to lead them.

I don’t know what makes the most sense here – as always, it mostly depends. The topic has been on my mind lately, however, and I wanted to share some quick thoughts with you tonight.

Categories: Talent Management
Building Great Benches Starts With Helping Your People Understand Themselves

Throughout life, as human beings our goals and priorities have a tendency to shift.

We don’t want children, and then we do. We’re mobile and then we’re not. We care about promotional opportunities, and then we find the job we really want and settle down. We’re hungry to maximize earnings, and then we make “enough” and begin to focus on other things.

In this way life is much like a river’s current. It is always changing, and will never be exactly the same across any two moments in time.

This makes talent management difficult. When doing succession planning there is no way to really know just how well our best laid plans are going to work out. As HR professionals we encourage the business to invest time and resources to develop the people identified as future leaders… but there is still so much about those people that we just can’t predict.

Human beings are volatile… unpredictable. This reality doesn’t mesh too well with talent management, however, because succession planning is really all about molding future leaders via exposure to critical experiences. The idea that those experiences may not produce the desired effect from a developmental standpoint turns much of the succession planning process on its head.

I don’t really know how much of talent management is art and how much is science… I have a sneaking suspicion that neither component is the most important piece of the puzzle, though.

Instead, the focus should be on developing a well defined company culture that provides employees with the flexibility to identify their strength, weaknesses, likes, dislikes etc. This is how an organization stocks its benches with the right talent.

A company that gives its employees a firm sense of what it means to work there – and provides them with the opportunities to identify where they can make the biggest impact – is an organization that will always have the right people in the right jobs at the right time.

Categories: Talent Management
Change Management After an Acquisition – How to Marry Two Cultures

The other evening we began an interesting conversation around mergers that I want to elaborate on today. Specifically, I want to touch on a few different strategies available when integrating two cultures and the pros and cons associated with each.


This strategy is best used primarily when there is a significant difference in the size of two companies coming together. In an absorption situation the smaller company is brought completely into the fold and made to adopt the cultural norms and values of the larger/parent firm. I think the biggest pro of this strategy is that it doesn’t expend considerable time and resources trying to mesh the norms and values of two (possibly very different) companies. The biggest con is of course that the merger could end in total failure if the culture being forced to adopt the values of the parent company is materially unable to do so without losing core elements of its value to customers (though if this is the case one wonders why a merger would take place to begin with). The more likely negative outcome of the absorption strategy is that turnover ends up rising considerably as employees unable or unwilling to cope with the culture change leave the organization.

Preservation of Independence

Another option is for both merging companies to maintain their independence. While they become one enterprise from a P&L / share price (if publically traded) perspective, in day to day operations both businesses would behave as seperate companies. The biggest advantage of this approach is that the two companies will maintain what makes them both great, and the biggest disadvantage is that by failing to synergize a lot of value is being left on the table.

Marriage of Culture

In this “Best of Both Worlds” approach, both companies look at what works in their organization while also evaluating what the other company does better. This is a great idea in theory since – as is implied by the title – the companies maximize synergies. In practice, however, the time and resources required to do this the right way are seldom available – and even when they are generating buy in from leadership in both organizations can be very difficult. Even if both companies are of a similar size, the ability to do an honest assessment on both sides requires leadership teams from both firms to set aside hubris and look frankly at strengths and weaknesses. This is easier said than done…

Going to wrap it up here, but as always please share your thoughts below.

Categories: Talent Management
Hiring for Talent vs. Hiring for Cultural Fit

I won’t try to re-invent the wheel here. Instead, I want to talk briefly about what it means to be “talented”. From there the question of when to hire for talent vs. fit (for me, at least) becomes fairly obvious.

So… “talent” in an employment context generally refers to one of two things:

1. Exceptional technical ability

2. High potential to develop exceptional technical ability

What technical ability a given employer may be looking for of course varies depending on the job, but the possession of a relatively scare or rare skill set – or the capacity to develop one – is highly valuable in the market place.

1. Exceptional technical ability

2. High potential to develop exceptional technical ability

What technical ability a given employer may be looking for of course varies depending on the job, but the possession of a relatively scare or rare skill set – or the capacity to develop one – is highly valuable in the market place.

Unfortunately, in the first case many employers often overestimate the transferability of talent (and spend too much time focusing on cultural fit), while in the second case they underestimate how important the right conditions are for talent cultivation (materially undervaluing fit).

Journalist Geoff Colvin touches on the spirit of what I’m talking about here1. In addition to “Talent is Overrated”, if you’d like to learn more about deliberate practice I recommend the following: K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer. The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Psychological Review 1993, Vol. 100. No. 3in Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. 1  In addition to “Talent is Overrated”, if you’d like to learn more about deliberate practice I recommend the following: K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer. The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Psychological Review 1993, Vol. 100. No. 3

In the book, he shows that with the exception of a select few genetic characteristics that contribute to success in certain arenas (like height in basketball) that talent is not innate. Instead, it is the product of something called deliberate practice.

Basically, the theory behind deliberate practice states that people who are very good at a specific thing are good at it because they’ve broken down what it takes to be successful at their craft into component parts – and then focused on developing those skills in chunks on a day to day basis.

Talent doesn’t always need to be a cultural fit if it stands out.

Assuming this principle to be true, if an employer wants to hire a world class actuary/computer programmer/project manager/compensation consultant/financial analyst etc. the employer shouldn’t be looking at “cultural fit” so much as it should be measuring skill transferability. The asset that the employer is paying for in this case – technical ability – is likely to yield the needed value only if the technical ability the talent has is aligned with the needs of the organization. As such, I would argue that an interview (and job posting) process that accurately identifies and tests for the skills needed to be successful in a role are much more important than cultural fit in cases where companies are hiring for a specific skill or experience.

Conversely, if an employer is hiring a candidate for his or her capacity to learn then the cultural fit is *much* more important. In this case an employer is hiring a candidate largely because of his/her cultural legacy. A candidate’s background (schooling/life experiences/work ethic etc.) make he or 2. And for the record, more jobs require the second type of candidate than the first. The first group is made up mostly of highly technical jobs (doctors, lawyers, scientist etc.) The majority of roles are learned (primarily) on the job and require candidates with the right temperaments and behaviors as opposed to specific technical skills.she an attractive training prospect. 2(And for the record, more jobs require the second type of candidate than the first. The first group is made up mostly of highly technical jobs (doctors, lawyers, scientist etc.) The majority of roles are learned (primarily) on the job, and require candidates with the right temperaments and behaviors as opposed to specific technical skills) As such, if a candidate isn’t a good cultural fit then the work environment will likely prove to be sub-optimal for training purposes (leading to unrealized potential and a presumably failed to hire).

Not all work requires exceptional talent. Often a new incumbent just needs to fit in.

Closing… If I’m recruiting for a role where the incumbent’s existing abilities will define his or her success in the role (and any training is negligible or non-existent), then I am looking for skills and not fit.

On the other hand, if much of what an incumbent does in his/her new role will be based around learning internal processes then cultural fit matters a lot more in the selection process.

In the case of the former the incumbent defines the role, while in the case of the latter the incumbent is stepping into a pre-defined space where his or her ability to succeed will be determined largely by the ability to fit into what the employer does.

Categories: Talent Management