11th February 2016

Bridging the Talent – Management Gap

My last post, The Real Talent – Management Gap described the ever widening space between what HR and talent professionals are thinking, saying and doing about developing people, and the reality of the capability level of ‘the average’ line manager.

Coming from 25+ years in the corporate sector I know that the HR and Talent execs in your organisation will be working hard to find ways to engage managers to be the best they can be.  There will be leadership programs, talent review sessions, and new processes designed to engineer out bad managerial behaviour etc. All these will be ever-more sophisticated in their approach, more often than not linked to the latest thinking or supported by the latest technology.

But, if you are reading this it may be because you feel there is a Talent – Management Gap in your organisation.  To quantify the scope of any management capability problem for your own organisation, work through the following questions:

Step one – Establish an Acceptable Standard for People Managers

Think about this:  Your daughter or son is about to start their first job.  Make a list of five skills and five behaviours you want their manager to have and display.  Look at your list.  You’ve just created your version of an ‘acceptable standard’ for people management in your organisation.

Step two – Estimate the size of the problem

Write down some numbers:  How many ‘managers of people’ are there in your organisation?  What is the average span-of-control (i.e. number of people) for those managers? What percentage of those managers would not meet the ‘acceptable standard’ you described above?  Multiply that last number by your span of control number.  That is the number (estimate) of employees having a pretty ordinary experience in your organisation as a result of sub-standard managerial skills and/or behaviours.

Do you have a management capability problem in your organisation?

If so, there are four simple things you can do to bridge The Talent – Management Gap.  Each one would make a difference, all four would transform your organisation.

  1. Train people managers to manage people.
    When I first became a manager – yeah I know, when God’s dog was a puppy – companies invested in training managers.  Companies turned to the likes of DDI and Zenger Miller to deliver classroom programs to everyone to instil the basics of people management; setting expectations, giving feedback and recognising good and bad performance.Sure it all felt a little contrived at the time with all the index cards and skill practice sessions, but it set a standard and I still use those skills today.  Nowadays it’s more common to see new managers having to undertake on-line, compliance style ‘learning’ that tells them what to do, not how to do it.It’s time to rethink the training budget and focus on skill building.  Think about the cost of having all those managers of people who can’t manage.
  2. Make people outcomes a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ performance factor.
    Most companies have some form of performance management instrument.  They key is to tune it to deliver the kind of managerial culture and the kind of employee experience you want.In this instance, if you want a culture where managers of people produce people development outcomes you have to set that as a base standard, your table stakes, the ticket to play . . .That means managers need to be held to account – not for implementing HR process, but for outcomes such as having members of their team promoted, or cross functional moves for development, hiring great new people or ensuring underperformers are moved out.

    For a manager to not deliver real people outcomes should mean an automatic ‘fail’ for the year regardless of any other business results.  If the way they manage their team directly impacts their performance rating, their salary increase or incentive, you will soon have the attention of your people managers and direct it accordingly.


  3. Only hire managers who can manage people.
    In our Search work we are fortunate to have a few clients who are well advanced on the journey to improving their management culture.  So serious are they about these skills as a ‘price of entry’ that we place people management capability as an up-front, knock out screening factor when we recruitWhere a role involves people management, we first ask prospective candidate’s questions like: Tell me about how you set the standard for performance in your last team; How did you hold people to it?  How did you recognise your best performers? Tell me about some of the people you have developed.  Where are they now?  What jobs are they doing?  What did you do to facilitate their career progression? Do you stay in touch with them?”If we don’t get clear succinct answers with real examples, the candidate goes no further in the process regardless of their level of technical experience or accomplishment.
  4. Get rid of managers who can’t manage people.
    Unfortunately some people will never get it.If you have applied these interventions and end up having managers who still can’t manage people then look at the situation this way: You gave these managers training in what is expected, you gave them clear performance criteria and feedback on how they were managing people, and you hired people around them who were working to a new standard.  And, they still didn’t get the message.If, after all this, you have managers who don’t have the savvy to read the writing on the wall, it is time to part ways with them.

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 continue to identify new ways to work, perform and communicate, and technology will respond with solutions.  But, unless action is taken to improve the base standard of what is expected in 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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