Browsing the archives for the Geek 5 category.

Advice from the Top: Jack Welch

Advice from the Top, Leadership

Jack Welch helped create the leadership movement.  He led GE to enormous success during his reign.  Welch always took decisive action and kept moving forward.  Time has shown that some of the techniques that worked for him can be hard to replicate.  In any case, he is a leader worth listening to.

There is an article at MSNBC called “Excerpt: How to be a good leader” which is part of an interview with Jack Welch.  He discusses the transition of moving from a peer to a leader and managing big teams and small ones.  He was trying to answer the questions of: What does a leader really do?

He makes several points that are common to most leadership advice.  For example, leaders have to develop talent and build strong teams.  They are also responsible for setting direction.

Some of his other points are good advice, but not as common to hear.  He talks about the importance of curiosity.  The leader should ask a lot of questions and always be looking for a better solutions.  This helps prevent complacency.

Leader should also model risk-taking and making mistakes.  That creates an environment of trust in which employees are more likely to try new things without fear of punishment.

Welch also discusses the importance of celebrating – and doing it frequently.

Check out the article for more details.

How well do your leaders do these things?  How well do you do them?

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Are you a porpoise or a sunspot?

Geek 5, Managing people, Org savvy, Uncategorized

Are you a porpoise or a sunspot?

Hopefully you are not either one.  Hopefully, if you are a manager, your direct reports are not either.

In previous posts, I’ve described some clever phrases that have emerged from succession planning meetings such as the slime factor and the cringe factor.  Here are two more phrases coined by non-HR folks.:

The porpoise– an employee whose performance goes up and down.  He does not sustain performance improvements after coaching ends.  Once he thinks he isn’t being watched any more, he goes back to bad habits until a new problem re-starts the coaching cycle.

Sunspots – Similar to porpoises, sunspots do best when being watched, but for different reasons.  Sunspots like attention and are constantly seeking positive feedback.  They shine brightly when their work is getting attention.  They grow dim and performance slides backwards when the light is not shining on them.

Managers have to bring porpoises from poor to good and they have to bring sunspots from good to great.  Both porpoises and sunspots require too much energy from the manager – they are high maintenance.  The focus should be on getting them to perform well whether or not they are being watched. 

Descriptions of Gen Y employees indicates that this group will tend toward being sunspots who want accolades for performing normal job responsibilities.  As a manager, focus on delegation and independence to get them working independently.  Otherwise they’ll suck their energy needs out of you.

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Beating the Talent Statistics

Geek 5, Managing people

In a previous post, we discussed an article written by Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt called “How to Keep Your Top Talent” from the May 2010 HBR.  They presented some frightening statistics about the risks of losing high potential employees.   Continuing the conversation, we’ll cover some of the mistakes they discuss in the article. 

Don’t assume engagement

One mistake is to assume that HiPos are highly engaged.  The statistics indicate that many of them are considering leaving and don’t give full effort.  HiPos tend to have out-sized expectations and realize they have lots of employment alternatives.  This can make them edgy and restless.  HiPos are often the first people to be disappointed when the company’s struggles impact compensation and opportunities.  They don’t want to tough it out.  They want to be rewarded and recognized for their contributions.  In these cases, managers and companies need to be creative in offering developmental opportunities and visibility to HiPos to keep them engaged.

HiPos are corporate assets

Another mistake is delegating the development of HiPos to line managers.  Martin and Schmidt argue that HiPos should be managed more centrally.  This allows the HiPos to be developed without a negative financial impact to the department.  It also prevents a line manager from “hoarding” or hiding good talent.   For the most part I agree with this advice.  HiPos should be treated as corporate assets.  However, they also have an operational, line role that needs to be managed by the line manager.  In my view it needs to be a partnership between the line manager and the larger organization.

Check out the article for details on other common mistakes made in dealing with HiPos.

Don’t forget the needs of the organization

It is a good article, but I do take issue with one aspect.  The article gives all of the power to the HiPo and only focuses on what the company can do to satisfy and retain them.  I believe that it needs to be a balance.  There are times when the needs of the organization must trump the needs and desires of the HiPo.  They might need to stay longer in a critical role and not advance as fast as they would like.  They might need to take a pay freeze along with everyone else.    HiPos are usually worth a special development focus.  But don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.  Don’t reward one person to the detriment of others.  Keep a balance between retaining HiPos and running the business and treating all employees well.  HiPos alone cannot run a successful company.  If you balance too far in their favor, you could damage your business.

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Scary Talent Statistics

Business Acumen, Geek 5, Managing people

We’ve talked about succession planning and how it impacts you and your direct reports.  The latest Harvard Business Review has a great article about the retention of top talent.

HBR is a terrific resource for geeks and anyone else looking to move ahead in a broader management role.  HBR hits the Geek 5 in several ways.  One way is that it is a solid source of business acumen.  You’ll learn a lot about business and finance and strategy.  The articles are well-written, based on solid research and often presented in a case study format.  HBR also hits the Geek 5 in terms of having research-based articles about leadership and managing people.  This article is one of those.

The article written by Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt is called “How to Keep Your Top Talent”, and it appeared in the May 2010 HBR.  It can also be read or downloaded online.

The article is based on solid research from both the Corporate Executive Board (focused on general business) and the Corporate Leadership Council (focused on leadership and HR).  These are expensive organizations to join, but they offer a wealth of information and research and support in areas like Talent Management.  If your company has a membership – you should check them out!

In this post, I’m going to share with you some frightening statistics from the article.  In a future post, we’ll cover the recommendations from Martin and Schmidt on how to tackle the problem.

We’ve defined high-potentials (HiPos) and talked about identifying them in succession planning.  Martin and Schmidt indicate that identification alone is not enough.  HiPos require special attention.  The research indicates:

  • Almost 40% of the internal job moves made by HiPos end in failure
  • One-fourth of your HiPos intends to leave your company in the next year
  • One third of HiPos admit that they don’t put their full effort into the job
  • Employee engagement overall has dropped.  In the first half of 2007 only 8% of employees were “highly disengaged” but by the end of 2009 21% were.

What does this mean for you? 

As a manager, it means that you should be concerned and should start paying attention to your start employees.  As an employee yourself, you should think about your status as a HiPo or not and the impact on your career advancement.

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Five thoughts about succession planning

Geek 5, Managing people, Talent Management

We’ve talked about what succession planning is, what succession ratings mean, and the difference between performance and potential.  Here are some key points to consider:

1.  Succession planning is about identifying key talent and developing employees for bigger roles.

2.  This planning is a form of risk management for the company.  It ensures that key roles have back up, so the business will not be significantly impacted if someone leaves.

3.  Performance and potential are not the same thing.  The best sales representative is not necessarily the best manager of the sales group.

4.  As a manager of people, you have a dual role in succession planning.  You must consider the potential and development of your direct reports and you, as an employee, are discussed in the process.

5.  You can improve your standing in succession planning by:

  • doing an outstanding job in your current role
  • showing a willingness to take on bigger responsibilities
  • living the values and competencies developed by your company
  • letting your boss and other key leaders know about your career goals
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Good Now Doesn’t Mean Great Later

Geek 5, Managing people, Talent Management

If you are a manager, or aspire to be a manager, you will probably be required at some point to evaluate the potential of your direct reports for a succession planning process.  It is part of the “Managing People” risk of the Geek 5.

One common point of confusion for managers is the difference between performance and potential.  Many managers assume that is an employee is a superstar at her job then she will be great for bigger roles and promotions.  Sometimes that is true, but just as often it is not true.

Performance and potential are not the same concept. 

Performance looks at the quality and quantity of what was done in the past.  It measures behaviors and actions and accomplishment of goals.  Performance is measured during performance reviews.

Potential looks at what an associate is capable of doing in the future.  Employees with high potential are also generally good performers.  They are good at their current job, but they also have the ability and drive and skills to take on bigger roles and to be successful at higher levels.

Some employees do outstanding work in their current jobs, but are best suited for staying in that role.  They are high performers in performance reviews but correctly placed for succession planning. 

Here are some possible scenarios with different performance and potential.

PAT:  Pat does well in the current job.  Pat’s does not exhibit any of the skills or competencies needed for future roles.  Pat is like a “Professional in Position”. Pat earns a good performance review rating and gets a bonus and a merit increase. In succession planning, Pat is rated as Correctly Placed.  He is best suited for his current role.

CHRIS:  Chris does well in the current job.  Chris also shows some of the skills and competencies needed to work at a higher level.  For example, Chris shows the ability to learn new information and is often seen as a “go-to” person.  Chris earns a good performance review rating and gets a bonus and a merit increase. Chris shows long-term potential for promotion and is rated as Promotable in succession planning.  With development, Chris is expected to be ready in 1-3 years to move to a bigger role.

SAM: Sam was rated as Highly Promotable in previous succession planning.  Having strong potential and strong performance, Sam just got an exciting promotion into a challenging new role.  Sam earns a great performance review rating and gets a bonus and a merit increase. Sam is learning the new position and working to adapt key skills to the new role.  Although all signs indicate success in the future, Sam is rated in the current succession planning as Correctly Placed.  In the new role, Sam has some growth and learning to do.

In all of these scenarios, the employees were strong performers and they were rewarded during performance reviews.  However, they were rated differently in succession planning.

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Are You High Potential?

Geek 5, Leadership, Org savvy

In a previous post, we discussed the overall succession planning process and covered some basic definitions like “pipeline” and “bench chart”. Succession planning has dual importance to you as a leader. One important element is that you will participate in the process to rate and discuss and develop your direct reports. The other element is that you will be rated and discussed – it impacts your future success. For the Geek 5, succession planning relates to leadership and organizational savvy.

Typically during succession planning, each employee is given a rating by his or her direct manager. Specific language of the ratings varies across companies. Usually the ratings include an evaluation of the employee’s potential to move to bigger roles and they include a time frame.

For example:

A high potential employee is often defined as someone who has the potential to move up 1-2 levels in the organization in the next 2-3 years. Potential is based on having the skills and cognitive ability and interpersonal skills and organizational savvy to succeed in bigger roles.

Additional ratings could include:

  • Promotable – an employee with the potential to move up one level over time
  • Correctly Placed – an employee who is in the right role for now
  • Placement Issue – an employee who is not being successful in a current role
  • Emerging Talent – an employee who shows early signs of being high potential, but it is too early to know for sure

Some important things to note:

  • Ratings are fluid – an employee can be Correctly Placed one year and High Potential the next year. Ratings can also slip backwards.
  • When someone gets promoted, he or she generally moves to Correctly Placed until the new job is mastered.
  • Ratings are not a promise. Promotions are always a balance between the needs of the company and the developmental needs of the employee. The employee might be ready to move, but there might not be an opportunity available.
  • Ratings are used to highlight key employees and to build a bench chart. They are also used to target key development opportunities. High Potential employees are likely to get more specialized developmental opportunities than Correctly Placed employees. However, it is important to do basic development for everyone.
  • Succession planning will sometimes identify “blockers”. This is not usually an official rating, but it merits discussion. Blockers are employees in a critical role who have stalled out. They are often blocking high potential associates from moving up. Sometimes it is necessary to re-assign blockers.

A healthy organization has a mix of all of the ratings – with few or no Placement Issues. High Potentials are often about 5% of the population. That group should be limited and well-screened, so it can be given special attention. Correctly Placed employees are important players who get things done on a daily basis. Hopefully Placement Issues are small in number and can be re-assigned or moved out of the business.

Succession is one critical talent management process that is focused on the future. In a future post, we’ll discuss how current performance and future potential interact.

So how would you rate your direct reports?  How would you rate yourself?

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The Mysteries of Succession Planning

Leadership, Managing people, Org savvy, Talent Management

I find that succession planning is often perceived in organizations as a mysterious and unknowable and threatening process. Employees know that it impacts promotions and career decisions, but they are not sure exactly how. What magic happens in succession planning?

Over the next few posts, I’m going to pull back the curtain and reveal some truths about succession planning – what it is, how it typically works, what you might be expected to do as a leader of people and how you can position yourself positively for the process. This relates to the Geek 5 in terms of actions you may need to take as a leader and a manager. It also relates to your own organizational savvy and career growth.

Succession planning is a key talent management process – especially at larger organization. Each company executes it differently, but it usually follow some basic assumptions and goals.

Succession planning is intended to:

  • identify a pipeline of talent for key positions and create a bench chart
  • discuss the identification of high potentials, with a focus on development needs and possible actions
  • discuss the career potential, performance, and development needs of targeted individuals

Succession planning is about getting people ready for bigger and more critical roles in the organization. It is about risk management. The company needs to make sure that there are employees ready to fill in if a key person leaves or if there is growth and new roles open up. The company wants to have a group of employees who are well-trained and ready to take on expanded roles. Succession planning is about finding those people, setting plans to work on skills gaps, tracking them and getting them ready for when they are needed.

A pipeline of talent refers to the need to think about talent at all levels in the company. For instance, you can’t just focus on successors for one key role. Because if you move a successor into that role, then you need to backfill the old role. You need to know which employees are ready for that.

A bench chart is a document that actually lists positions and indicates who would be considered a successor for that role. Sometimes positions have multiple people listed on the bench chart as potential successors. Some of them might be “Ready Now” for the role and some might be ready in 1 or 2 or 3 years.

If a position comes open, the leadership team can use succession planning information like the bench chart and determine if there is a good internal candidate ready for the role. If so, it is a much easier and cheaper transition than hiring someone from the outside.

In the next post, we’ll talk about succession planning ratings (such as high potential) and explain the difference between performance and potential.

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Changing the Game

Career Challenges, Org savvy

We’ve been talking about the dark side of the workplace. What happens when you make a performance mistake or ruin a key relationship?

Your reaction to a career set back can be summarized into three actions:

1. Change your situation – This is the direction of the previous advice about steps for active career bounce back and passive career bounce back. It is taking action to get back to solid footing in your existing job.

2. Change you – Another option is to change yourself. This could mean making a dramatic change to your work style. If you are perceived as being too aggressive, you work to become more collaborative. Or if you are disorganized, you set up a new organizational system.  It is always useful to continue your personal development and to learn to adapt to your situation. However, it is really tough to make dramatic changes and to sustain them.

Another way to change yourself is to change your expectations. Suffering a career set back can cause you to go from being a star to being average or from being average to being perceived as a problem. Can you live with that? Can you accept your new standing – at least until you have time to bounce back? For many formerly successful people, this would mean separating their sense of self from their jobs. Don’t let your job define who you are – you are also a parent, souse, sibling, child, volunteer, athlete, etc.

3. Change the game – The final solution is to change the game. By this I mean moving on. Leaving the job to pursue success somewhere else. Sometimes this is the best way to go. If you have determined that your career mistake is fatal, it is time to move on. Some situations are not worth the effort of fighting against the negative perception. If you stay in your current job, you face an uphill battle every day. If you move on, you can start fresh. Just make sure you don’t make the same mistakes in your new job!

Career set backs happen to everyone. How you deal with them is up to you.

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When You Bounce Flat on Your Face

Career Challenges, Org savvy

As we’ve been discussing, everyone hits an occasional career set back. Some of these are active issues and some are passive ones. There are steps you can take to fix each of those and to improve your damaged reputation. The steps usually work. Usually. Most career set backs aren’t fatal, but some are.

How do you know when a set back is serious? So serious that you will not be able to get back into good standing or it might even cost you your job or worse.  Part of being organizationally savvy is understanding the difference between recoverable screw ups and career fatalities.

“The worse” happens when a career set back crosses legal and ethical lines. Think about some of the disgraced Enron and Wall Street leaders. They crossed lots of lines. They lost their jobs, ruined their careers and some even ended up in jail. That’s about as bad as it gets. You don’t bounce back from these situations – unless you completely reinvent yourself in a new area. Of course, the Wall Street folks are so rich that they probably still laugh themselves to sleep at night.

Some mistakes will cost you your job. You’ll get fired for violating a policy or making an expensive or embarrassing mistake. Sometimes, once the mistake is made, there is no recovery. What’s done is done and you pay the price. In those cases, you needed to proactively avoid the mistake.  Know the rules, pay attention, do good work.  That’s easier said than done, since hindsight is 20/20. If you get fired, you can hope for severance and try to exit gracefully. If you are fired over a serious performance issue, there is not much you can do to appeal.

Some mistakes propel you into a limbo state. You are still employed, but you are marginalized and treated like a lame duck. Here’s where it gets trickier to assess your situation. How do you determine what the best step is for your career. Here are a few thoughts:

1. Don’t quit – I always advise people to stick it out in a tough situation. You might feel angry and bitter, but you won’t get more than momentary satisfaction from a dramatic resignation. Hang on as long as you can while you figure out your next steps.

2. Consider your recovery probability – Ask yourself a few key questions about your situation and your company. Have you seen co-workers overcome similar mistakes? Do you have a champion elsewhere in the organization? Do you have a valued skill set? Is your boss likely to move on, so you can start fresh with a new boss? Would a big win help others forget about your mistake? If you think you have a chance at recovery and you like your job, then tough it out.

3. Look for a new job – If recovery seems unlikely, you should start job searching. It is a lot less stressful to look for a new job while you still have a paycheck. Also, companies still prefer to hire folks who are working versus those who are unemployed. It makes you seem more marketable.

Be honest with yourself as you assess your situation.  Continue to monitor it.  Be planful with your career or you could find yourself frustrated and unhappy in a dead-end job.

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