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Investing in Talent for the Long Term

Authored by: Roger Pearman and Robert Eichinger

Boards, CEOs, CFOs and the collective C-Suite make lots of long-term investments to facilitate the organization flourishing into an uncertain future.

Airlines and air transport companies buy new aircraft years or even decades before they will enter the fleet. Some buy aircrafts before they are even deemed safe for flying. Some buy futures positions on fuel to hedge unknown market conditions.

Long haul carriers buy fleet vehicles.  Some buy new electric or hydrogen powered vehicles that are still in development. 

Organizations invest in new facilities that will not be available for productive use until well into the future. Examples include vehicle battery plants, new chip plants and those for solar and wind power equipment. Further, they enter new and undeveloped markets for their products and services which will not be profitable in the near term!

All these things have three common characteristics:

  1. Working on future initiatives takes present time and resources. In addition to doing today’s job, executives must take time and invest to make sure the organization performs into the known and unknown future. They do not have any absolute confirmation that the initiatives they are starting will pay off.  They are incented to work on the future, not for being right. Taking time today for the uncertain benefit of the future is difficult for already terminally busy and stressed executives.
  2. They are all in the service of the future organization, so that it can flourish based upon some known information about the long term paired with a lot of educated assumptions and guesses. They are making material decisions in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity.
  3. Many of the people who make these decisions, work on the projects and/or are directly accountable will not be around when the results or outcomes emerge. They will never occupy the next building, nor ride in the next truck, plane or cruise ship nor experience results in the marketplace in which they are projecting to influence and compete.
Planting Trees for the Long View

Let’s bring it closer to home.  Say you own a nice property on a lake. There is one section of the property not yet fully developed. The landscape designer suggests a stand of Japanese Maples with a planned garden path, gazebo and a contained fire pit. It would finish off the whole property beautifully and be a personal oasis. You are in the late stages of life and you would have to do some of the work to contain the investment. The trees and flowers and landscaping, aside from the monetary investment and personal work and time, would take some years to complete and a decade to flourish. Although a appealing idea, you may not be around to fully enjoy the finished project. It would be for the kids or the next owners of the property.  

Would you plant the trees? Or would you use the money and time for other things that can be enjoyed now?

Planting Talent for the Long View

Another responsibility of the Board, the CEO and the collective C-Suite is to find and develop the top leaders and managers for the future, to assure that the organization will flourish long term.   

It’s a long-term career journey starting with interns in their upper teens and early 20s and ending with placement in one of the top jobs at 40-50 years old, and performing better than all who have come before. It takes 20-30 years to develop legendary top managers and leaders for unknown challenges.

And, it takes a talent management village to build talent for the future. There are many steps and many critical and material players, most of whom may not be there when the outcomes become known. We have outlined elsewhere (videos and articles) the responsibilities of all the players.

Specifically, the collective C-Suite has to be engaged in the total process from internship to the ultimate top jobs. Otherwise bench strength will not be sufficient to fuel the future, in the near or long term. You can start late but you can’t wait to get interested until your talent shortage hits crisis mode.

Simple is to demand and fund best-in-class talent management programming.

Essential is sending inspiring, emotional and even urgent communications supporting talent management practices.

More taxing is being personally engaged–sponsoring, mentoring and/or coaching long term talent.  Being present to educate the next two or three classes of top managers and leaders. Practicing inclusion and creating professionally nutritional exposures and experiences. Being an exemplar. Walking the talk. Leading the choir. Taking the time today to make tomorrow ever better. 

Executives such as Jack Welch of GE and Andy Pearson of PepsiCo estimated they spent 20% of their time managing current and future talent. Welch, Pearson and other executives that have produced a successful bench have been fully engaged. It can and must be done.

If Not Now, When?  

Endless surveys have reported that less than ideal time and attention are being paid by too many current executives to assure the long-term talent-related success of their organizations. There will be wonderful new buildings, plants and products but there will not be the talent to make use of them.   

You must take the time to plant the right fruit trees, even though you may not be there at harvest time to taste the fruit. You must invest in cultivating the vines, lest there be no wine. A simple bench near the lakefront isn’t an appealing stand-in for a well-planned and peaceful Japanese garden. 

There is a known way. Invest in it.

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