Monthly Archives: October 2012

Can we portfolio manage talent?

And the argument continues….

The “60-30-10” or, in some cases, the “70-20-10” distribution performance system, with its evolving merits and de-merits, continues to be a favorite topic of discussion among theoreticians and practitioners alike. Beyond the argument for or against a forced distribution and its primary effects, there is a critical secondary implication that has already made its effect felt in the evolution of the Human Resources function.

HR, especially in in the last 5 to 10 years, has made galloping strides in its strategic and operational achievements. Yet, one must admit that this function still struggles to categorically and credibly demonstrate the impact of such accomplishments, in spite of its laudable progress. And here is where perhaps a consequence of the forced performance banding may be seen.

As a trusted business partner, talent policies and decisions constitute a fundamental cornerstone of HR’s ‘raison d’etre’.  In a system where managers must identify 10 percent as bottom performers in each role or job and perhaps remove or improve the bottom 10 percent, here is a crucial question to ask – “Is removing or improving the bottom 10 percent valuable in all cases?“

 And if we extended this line of thinking to the very beginning of the performance cycle, the goal-setting stage, the same question can be asked differently and more powerfully – “Should we not differentiate between job aspects to set aggressive standards for high critical goals and accept meeting adequate standards for the less critical ones?”

Purists may chafe at this, but it is a practical thought to ruminate on – do we need excellence in everything? If managers and leaders can provide assurance to their members on where excellence makes a pivotal difference, and where good performance is good enough, they may be enthused and motivated to put their best where it actually does matter.Maybe it would be a result-oriented exercise for HR to treat talent management like an investment banker would treat portfolio investment and diversification for high and optimized returns.

Maybe then…well informed choices on the work elements that require greater attention can be made, and tough goals may be set on only their key performance indicators.

Maybe then…having top performers in every role need not be an expectation, and may be targeted to where performance really matters most.

Maybe then…employees will have crystal clarity on where improving work performance would make the greatest difference to business and their success.

And, most importantly, maybe then…organizations can reliably direct talent and resources (more so when they are limited) to where they would me more effective and impactful

Today’s business and HR leaders are smart, well-meaning, and willing participants in good talent management decisions. The exciting opportunity for both lies in keeping this intent alive and converting it to successful results by developing systems and tools that give the best signals to make more accountable human capital decisions


Collaboration that wows!

“If you want to hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions, and you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy…”

This was the legendary Steve Jobs speaking on how Apple is run. This multi-billion organization is truly managed like a start-up – while individuals lead various activities, collaboration creates its success.

Cut back to October 22 1879 – when the invention called the electric bulb burnt in Edison’s laboratory for over 13 hours. History records Edison as the inventor of the electric bulb – but this revolution was part of an incredible collective effort. The electric bulb, they say, was dreamed by Edison…drawn by Batchelor…mathematically proved by Upton…built by Kruesi and Boehm…tested by Lawson, Force and Jehl!

Collaboration. Teamwork.  Has today’s ‘corporatespeak’ bandied these words in a casual manner that does little justice to the depth and intensity of what true collaboration or teamwork can be?

Truth is, collaboration is far more than the mere bunching up of disparate people to perform a task or achieve a goal. Truth is, while it takes people to create a team, it takes a huge leap of faith and a breakthrough attitude to create teamwork.

The journey to collaboration begins with belief and trust. A shared belief that we, as a team, have what it takes to spell and write success. Confidence (as at Apple), that work can be divided to get the job done and an unshakeable trust that my colleagues will come through with their part of the work to bring it all together to excellence.

Teamwork is camaraderie that considers colleagues as close friends. A camaraderie that supports one another in the wake of crises or challenges, protects one another in the face of disaster and, as in sports, displays primary allegiance to team members over rank or hierarchical leadership.

Yet, collaborative teamwork is not irreverence of authority or indiscipline to structure. It is the highest degree of individual proficiency that acknowledges and commits itself to the whole with implicit trust and confidence. Such teamwork evokes the pride of its leadership and does it terribly proud too.

How can we set up such teamwork – be it in structure or in motivation levels?  How can we sidestep the explosive minefield of being a mere mathematic equation of the sum of individuals with no visibility of an indivisible whole? Many inspiring stories of great teamwork tell us how.

  • All team members commit to the highest standards of personal competency that act to ungrudgingly enhance the competencies, efforts and outcome of their colleagues
  • Even in their unique role and expertise all members have an unwavering and collective focus on the big picture that is more audacious than the rest
  • Every member pledges true accountability and places this transparently on the table for their colleagues to see with clarity and unambiguousness
  • Collaborative teams do not look to external recognition and rewards from their leadership or management – they support, appreciate and cheer their colleagues to success and achievement
  • Collaborative teams have managers and leaders as team players – as facilitators at whose desk the buck stops to smooth the road ahead. They work for the success of their teams, without the myopic views of authority and status that undermine their effectiveness

My attitude, my accountability

 “I can’t give him a good rating with that attitude”…

“He lacks the right attitude for being a manager”…

So speaks the manager.

Aha! Says the employee. This is my manager’s favorite escape route to deny me my raise, my promotion, and opportunities. What does he mean by attitude? He cannot even define it, leave alone quantify it!

Thus the twain never does meet!

Probe a little further, and we find that attitude complaints can be broadly categorized into two. One has more to do with definable work habits and skill nuances – diligence, lack of flexibility, teamwork, interpersonal skills. The other, however, is a slippery eel. It defies specificity and confounds one with inconsistent shades. Little wonder the manager cannot quantify it, and the employee cannot understand it.

Result? It gets slapped with labels that are not only loose but dangerously limiting for an individual’s career growth.

The truth is, technical (or functional) skills do not always translate to performance skills. Organizations focus on hiring and promoting employees for technical skills but pay less attention to their performance skills. Technical qualifications only indicate that one can do the job; behavioral competencies and attitudes define whether or not one will do a great job for the company, whether or not there will be a face-off between the personal style and the organizational culture.

Treatises by pundits abound on what organizations should do about enhancing the right behavioral competencies in their employees. True, at the end of the day it is for the organization to safeguard its goals of revenue, profits and performance.

But I am going to place the boot on the other foot – on my foot as an employee. Attitude is personal – my behavior and attitude builds my brand identity and equity and I have to take 100% accountability for it. It is not mere rhetoric when I say, “Ask not what my organization does for me….”  The truth is, my organization is the only playground I have to showcase and build my performance equity, and I had better take it seriously. The greater reality is that my performance skills can only be reflected through my organization’s performance – and so I will make my attitude shine through my company’s performance and not take recourse to the lame outlook of isolating it.

Even if I am selfish as an employee, this makes sense. I want to succeed, and I want to sign my brand before anyone else kills me with their signature. And if I am a healthy cynic, as most of us are, this makes immense sense.

So let me, as an employee ask myself these questions, do an honest self-assessment and steer my course to be true to my inner equilibrium.

  1. Do I make commitments or excuses?
  2. Do I make myself part of the solution (saying, “let me find out”) or add to the problem (saying “I do not know nor does anybody else”)?
  3. When I err, do I have the integrity to say “I was wrong”, or the temerity to say “It was not my fault”?
  4. Do I compromise on what I should not and fight for what is not worthwhile?
  5. Do I genuinely listen or merely wait for my time to talk?
  6. Do I strive to be better than good or feel I am not as bad as many others are?
  7. Do I say “It may be difficult, but it’s possible, or do I say “It may be possible, but is too difficult”?
  8. Do I have the courage to do what I fear, or constantly fear what I should do?

My attitude is what I wear everyday and what I can always control. So let me leverage it as much to benefit me as to prevent it from harming me. Let me not wait for my organization to pave the way for my success, let me take accountability to succeed and carry my organization to success too.