03rd February 2016

The Real Talent – Management Gap

The world of the talent specialist is continually evolving with increasingly sophisticated insights and technologies on the science, practice and process of leading and developing people.  When I was an HR and Talent Executive I found these developments fascinating and exciting. And I still do.

Now I work in Executive Search, partnering with clients to source great leaders.  I’m lucky I have some great clients who, when they go to market, want to raise their managerial capability, not simply replace what’s left. As I’m searching for candidates, it confounds me the number of people in management at all levels, across all functions, and in all industries who still don’t get the basics of managing or leading people. And by basics, I mean basics.

This is what I’m referring to as The Talent – Management Gap.

To their credit HR (and the Talent team in big organisations) are constantly investigating new ways to engage leaders in leading and developing staff.  And, the technology market is responding in kind with new systems, tools, frameworks and thinking.  The big company HR systems like Workday, Oracle, SAP, etc. are getting ever-more sophisticated, and the sexy systems for start-ups and SMEs like BambooHR, NetSuite, etc. almost look like fun to use.  Let’s not even get started on how savvy software like Small Improvements, Reflektive, and Workboard are helping to reinvent the practice of performance management.  I mean who wouldn’t want to do a performance review when you have software this classy to do it.

Meanwhile line managers on the whole are no better skilled than their forefathers from the middle of the last century.  Last year I posted on the fact that today’s issues with the operation of performance management were virtually unchanged from those identified by Douglas Macgregor in 1957.  In 2016, line managers are under increasing pressure to deliver more with less and, more often than not, are incentivised more on ‘product’ outputs than people development.  We see this when we interview candidates on their track record with people.  It’s the special few who’ve achieved great people outcomes, created strong personal networks and who demonstrate skill and real pride in the seeing ‘their’ people develop.

Here’s the paradox.  We engage with technology at the point technology is at when we start using it.  Remember the classic marketing line for the launch of the iPad “you already know how to use it” and we did.  An example. My kids know of music as something you stream through any device you have on hand. My music journey meant learning to buy, store and play music on records, then cassettes, then CDs, then iPods etc.  Kids don’t need to do that journey.  Give my sons a smart phone, tablet or piece of wearable technology and they will get music coming out of it and, they will link it up to speakers you didn’t know you had!

Unlike technology, the opposite applies when it comes to being made a manager.  People enter the world of people management knowing nothing of the latest science or thinking.  In other words.  When you get responsibility for a team you don’t already know how to use it.

It’s been the same story for decades.  By doing good work as an individual contributor people get made into a manager or supervisor and, ‘on top of everything else’, they have to set expectations, manage good and bad performance and behaviour, interpret corporate direction into a mission for the team, and engage the members of the team in that mission so they feel their job and contribution is important.

So what do we do?  In many cases these days newly appointed managers are given a PC and a portal or an iPad and an app, and a process to follow.  The training, if you call it that, will be an on-line course focussed more on compliance to processes and procedures than in building real capability in managing and developing people.  Then, you are on your own, but if you get into trouble, call HR.

The allure of a technology solution to do the hard yards is further fostering the Talent – Management Gap.  We are sweeping a huge management capability problem under a carpet of technology, tools and software.  Sure, it’s cool to push a button on an iPad to give a rating or dictate a few notes of feedback that turn into text on screen.  BUT.  All this could be replaced by a manager looking a staff member in the eyes and having a discussion – hang on, that’s right, these managers don’t have the basic skills to do this…

In my next post I will describe four things organisations can do to bridge the Talent – Management Gap. Each would make a difference to management capability, all four in concert will transform an organisation.

In summary, like it or not the Talent – Management Gap is real.  And it’s only going to get wider.  The leaders and thinkers in HR will, and should, continue to identify new ways to work, perform and relate.  And the technology market will respond with solutions.  However unless organisations take action to improve the average base standard of their managers of people, we will always get what we’ve always got.

Justin Miles, Partner, Generator Talent Group

The Generator Talent Group is a Trans-Tasman consulting organisation with a specific purpose in mind: We set out to be the consulting business we would’ve liked to engage with when we were clients. With extensive corporate careers behind us our Partners & Consultants are pragmatic, work fast and deliver with energy and enthusiasm to solve problems and make a difference in our clients’ organisations.


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