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Promoting Talent: Ready When?

Authored by: Roger Pearman and Robert Eichinger

Some organizations, as part of the Annual Talent Review and Succession Planning, require bosses to give an estimate of “Ready When” for identified candidates, at very least for those being nominated and discussed as having the highest Potential.

The long version of the inquiry might be something like this:

When will the candidate have both gotten as much out of the current job as possible and have finished any material tasks and initiatives? So, when are they ready to take on a new and challenging assignment on the way up the org chart, while considering what challenge they feel ready to take on?

There are a number of considerations for using the “Ready When” inquiry.
  1. How many of the bosses discussing their team members would really know the answer to that question?

    You would have to understand what the current job offers in terms of lessons of experience. You would have to know where the candidate stood when they started the current assignment and the progress they have made to date. You would have to estimate how many learning opportunities remain. You would have to know what the candidate thinks and wants. You would have to understand what the next alternative jobs require and how the candidate measures up. In other words, can we predict whether they will be as successful in the next challenging job as they are now?  

What do you think? We think it’s a marginal inquiry at best. Most bosses would not do well answering to the reality of the elements of Ready When?  So, the net accuracy of the information they provide is questionable.

  1. Some bosses might be answering another question:  “When would I be ready to release this potential high potential?“  If the candidate is a verified, validated, consensus individual with the highest potential, they will be a valuable team member.

    Much research has shown that, in general, those with the Highest Potential perform 2.5x better than those team members with the least or limited potential to move up the career ladder. Some bosses hoard talent (why wouldn’t they?).  Their pay, bonuses and incentive checks depend upon the talent on their team, so they tend not to care much about succession planning, even when planning for 10 years down the road. They are focused on this quarter, and this year. They need the highest Potential employee to stay as long as possible.  So, instead of replying “Ready Now or Ready in 6 months,” they might stretch to a year or more, or whatever might be seen by others in the room as creditable or reasonable.

So, might many bosses be motivated to underestimate Ready When?

  1. Is the inquiry really “Needed When?” 

    If a candidate is a verified consensus individual with the highest Potential, there are probably bigger fish to fry in the next challenging assignment, perhaps one level up. Other teams need the initiative, creativity, and innovation those with the highest Potential offer. Others might be aware of upcoming openings that would be a great next fit for the candidate.
  1. Or, is it really when does the candidate need to be given their next opportunity?

    There are studies that report those who are true Highest Potentials are impatient to be developed. They are retention risks.  At the upper levels, search firms monitor their impatience to move. They sense the windows of boredom when they might respond to a search call. In our recent experience there were two different CEO’s of large companies that dictated that three years in a key job was the minimum. They did not like those with the highest Potential moving through jobs too quickly. It was a nice thought…that led directly to unwanted turnover.

    By definition, those who are the true highest Potentials are quick learners.  Although they are often thrown into new and different assignments for development, they quickly learn what they need to be useful and get up to speed faster than others. At the point they learn enough to be valuable, they begin to get bored by having to repeat what they have already learned and done. As motivation decreases and their need to do something else rises, they become turnover candidates.  
  1. Or, is it when do they have to be moved? 

    Use them or lose them.

Different players in the talent management saga view this event from different perspectives. The direct boss wants to keep them as long as they can get away with it.  Bosses with openings would like them, maybe even before they have learned everything they need to learn. The organization wants them to stay and might be willing to accelerate movement to retain them. The candidate, who has caught on to the fact that they and others believe them to be an individual who has true, highest Potential might be overconfident and want to move before it’s reasonable. Search calls offering higher salaries, bigger titles, more responsibility, and hefty incentives can be enticing.

Maybe you create a panel for each consensus candidate:

Ready When?Direct Boss
Needed When?Other Bosses and TM
Candidate’s Mindset?Direct Boss, TM, HR and Coaches
Retention Deadline?TM and Upper Management
Long Term Leadership Development?TM and Upper Management

Somewhere in here is the answer, or the answers, or more questions. Seek guidance and support for this last prompt: more questions.

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