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Is the Customer Always Right in Talent Management?

Authored by: Roger Pearman and Robert Eichinger

Is the customer always right in Talent Managment?  Most of the time, yet sometimes not. Talent Management trends are giving us one of those “not” times. It has to do with talent challenges that are simple, yet complex.

For 50 years and through five different companies we have been helping organizations hire, engage, manage, retain and develop people. Over that time, we have had over 10,000 organizations around the globe use our material and tools. Since we have been in business 50 years, and are still in business, it might be safe to believe the tools work.  Word of mouth has been our best customer source.

We have received lots of positive feedback which we appreciated. We have also received constructive feedback we acted upon. We have adjusted and fixed things along the way.  We have no hesitation to change if it is for the common good and the change can be explained and defended.

The one constant, to this day, is that everything we have offered is said to be too long and too complex.  “Too many competencies. Definitions are too long. 360s are too long.  Reports are too long. The supporting books and digital resources are too long. The feedback takes too long. It all takes too long to do.  Make it simpler, shorter and easier, please.”

We have taken some small steps to shrink things but there is a point beyond where we’d simply be stripping value and validity.

It’s People Science

We are in the business of people science. Our IP, tools and processes are founded in science, best practices and practitioner-verified use. People are complex and our level of complexity meets our subject. We have to produce tools that are complex enough to deliver the promise or we do everyone a disservice. We support better hiring, better onboarding, better managing, better retention, better assessment, better development and better talent pipelines and succession benches. Frankly, it is as simple as it can be to address people engineering.  Hire the right person as an intern and, 25 years later, deliver a legacy CEO.   

Is people science easy, simple and short?  Consider these illustrations.

  1. Finding and selecting a life partner  

It couldn’t be simpler, right? Lots of people do it. Only two people are involved…and maybe some relatives, or a matchmaker. You have time. There’s flirting, dating, getting engaged and, very often, a marriage ceremony or civil union service. There is a lot of data and many variables to examine. Is it easy to do? It must be as so many millions of people go down this path.  

How is it all working?  The US divorce rate is about 50% with the typical first divorce coming at about the age of 30. That rate has increased slightly during the stay-at-home Covid period. So, half of the couples made a decision that did not end with the result they had targeted. While emotion plays a big part, perhaps they didn’t consider enough information or the complexity of longer-term relationships.

  1. Mental health

At any given time, it is estimated that about 25% of the population are having a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issue. There are 326.7 million people alone in the USA. That’s 81,675,000 people with a mental health issue, ranging from minor to life changing. There are 30,146 Psychiatrists available to treat those 81 million. There are 192,497 licensed therapists. There appears to be enough educated professionals to treat and provide remedies for those afflicted. Most have advanced degrees in people science.  

So how is it going?  All in, including all kinds of therapies, treatment success is about 50%. The results vary widely with different diagnoses. Where medication is used to stabilize and slightly improve functioning, perhaps the underlying issue is not solved.  There are many cases of people stopping medication, allowing the original issues to resurface. So, lots of education and science and again a 50% success rate. Is it because mental health issues are not simple, and treatment can’t be shorter or be planned to only scratch the surface? 

  1. Having children

Creating a child, and growing them into a self-sufficient adult must be simple and easy because of the huge numbers of people doing it. You don’t need a license.  Aside from life altering and limiting medical or mental health challenges, the goal is to develop children into well balanced and productive adults, who then evolve to repeat the process.  

How is it going? One-third of young people (26.4 million) still live with a parent or parents beyond the traditional “launch” years. 48% of liberal arts college graduates have not selected a major and minor that leads to a self-supporting job or career. 50% of liberal arts college graduates never have a job that includes what they learned in their core curriculum. Some are saddled with student debt that is not sustainable, though the numbers are more encouraging in STEM roles. 

We are also losing adolescents at alarming rates to drug use and suicide. By the time they make it to the age of adulthood, and shortly thereafter: 

  • 46.6% of teens have tried illicit drugs 
  • 11.89 million 18- to 25-year-olds used drugs in the last year
  • 4,777 aged 15 to 24 years old died of an overdose, accounting for 11.2% of the overall deaths.
  • Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people age 15 to 24 in the U.S. 
  • Nearly 20% of high school students report serious thoughts of suicide and 9% have made an attempt to take their lives, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  

So, raising a child free of addictions and abuses while being levelheaded, gainfully employed and in a solid relationship must be harder than it looks!

People are complex. People engineering is complex. And there is science for that.

Back to Talent Management

Boards, aided by respected search firms, pick the wrong CEOs more often than you think. There may be dozens or even hundreds of seemingly qualified candidates to pick from, internal and external, and lots of information about each and yet selection mistakes get made, and with great confidence!  Big mistakes, after which organizations may pay millions in separation agreements, lose valuable time in the marketplace, damage their brand or even bankrupt the organization. No matter the week of the year, the business headlines profile these stumbles.

We (Talent Management Professionals) source and recruit broadly, even globally, and end up picking some who fail to perform. We select people who are believed to have a strong career future only to derail along the way. 50% of first-time managers struggle and fail. Some may try again and be more successful, but some never make it. 50% of first-time top level leaders struggle and fail.  

On the other side of the equation, there are good selections made, yet people leave.  Unintended turnover is largely due to poor bosses and/or organizations not providing the right and vigorous developmental opportunities to those with real career prospects.

A significant percentage of leaders and managers fail because of the lack of people skills, commonly referred to as EQ. Managers and leaders are better at managing hard assets than soft assets. They are better at managing money, facilities, supply chains and fleets than people. 

There is a moderate relationship between those who believe people management tools are too complex and those lacking in those people skills. If you are good at people skills, you know how long that took and how difficult it was. It doesn’t come to most of us naturally. You would understand that being able to leverage people, up, down, sideways, inside and outside to get great things done is complex.  

Sourcing and developing someone with prospects from an internship to becoming a 40-year-old executive is hard work and necessarily complex. It takes a village. Lots of people play a part over those 20 years. To work, it has to be coordinated.

It is so important, and necessarily complex, that a function has surfaced that specializes in Talent Management. A child of Personnel and Human Resources, it is sufficiently complex that it has been isolated in its own function or department. Starting with the War for Talent and through today, getting prospects that can effectively replace the top leaders is still a strong need and talent specialists are needed to fill it.

Year after year, surveys all say that Boards and CEO’s are not happy with the production of “ready” top talent, as described in the Leadership Machine or the Leadership Pipeline. These are books by respected thought leaders and people scientists and many more have been and are being written.

Sufficient science, best practices and respected practitioner testing exist to do people science right.

The very basics

There are three levels of roles making up a full career from intern to top leader:  individual contributor, team lead/supervisor/manager, and leader (Director, VP, C-Suite).  Being able to perform the accountabilities in any one level takes about 30 competencies. There are multiple ways and combinations of competencies that can lead to success, so no one needs them all. About half will do in specific organizational contexts.   

Teams collectively have to have almost all of them, but no single person needs them all.   There is a stairstep phenomenon. Some skills at lower levels are primers for learning similar skills at higher levels. From intern to 20 years later, everyone will have to get good at a subset of the 3×30 competencies. There are few people who will make it all the way. They are commonly called High Potentials and High Protentials and they may comprise up to 10% of any workforce.  A common characteristic they share is learning agility. They are willing and able to learn new competencies along the way. 

The more of the top jobs that are filled with High Potentials and Protentials, the more successful the organization will be.  They learn most from direct experience—the experiences, exposures and jobs that follow the DIVA meme (Diversity, Intensity, Variety and Adversity).  They develop using work as the classroom and the school of hard knocks as the finishing school. They get the work done but develop for the future at the same time. Developmental bosses play a major role.  

The plan is simple, but not easy. Not everyone can do it. The task is complex.

If it really were simple and easy, we would all be doing it right. No divorces. Healthy minds and bodies. Successful children. All great hires. No unwanted turnover. Everyone would be successful.  

If it really were that simple.

In the meantime, we are here to help.

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