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Talent for the future

Jul 17th

Talent development is inextricably linked to the business climate, so what does the future hold for talent development? This issue also includes: mindful leaders; choosing your trusted advisor; and helping a senior leader deliver.

Editor’s view

Talent for the future

The way we’ve talked about and developed talent has been intricately linked to changes in the business climate. Virginia Merritt looks at what the future holds for talent development in the years ahead.

As I write this looking out onto a beautiful wintry landscape, it’s interesting to observe how the prevailing climate does seem to influence what we pay attention to as leaders. I also reflect on how changes in business climate over the last decade influenced how we talked about and developed talent.

Back in 2001, in the febrile ‘high reward’ environment created by the alleged ‘war for talent’, Stanton Marris engaged in an important piece of research to look at the wider issues of talent management. Our report, ‘Magnetic Attraction: The Potential of Talent and the Corporate Brand’, still betrays some of the anachronisms of its time, yet the basic concepts of what we look for in our work – Meaning, Aspiration, Lifestyle, Autonomy in a Structure and Value are still valid today.

From the aggressive focus on attracting the ‘stars’, the focus mid-decade shifted to a more measured approach to retaining and developing existing talent. So, are we similarly looking at how we reinvent the workforce and ensure we have the talent we need to deal with that world?

I am always alarmed when I read of surveys with senior leaders who still say – despite the huge investment in talent development over the years – that they are not confident they have the right people with the right skills to take their organisations into this new future.

In the current climate of impending change, there is an opportunity to step back and review what it is we need, and come up with some radical new models. With a clear strategic vision of the future business (even just thinking ahead to 2012) you can start to think about the capabilities you will need to deliver it. If you can share this as a vivid picture, your talented people will soon work out for themselves whether that is an exciting future they want to be part of or one that is just not a fit for where they are and what they need.

Organisations that can take that brave step into a new world and a new decade will find themselves more agile, fit for purpose and less burdened by the legacies of the previous decade. I look forward to the reinventions and the new energy that will create.

In the news

Mindful leaders

A local school introduces exercises in mindful meditation for their students, but how can being more mindful help busy leaders prioritise important tasks and spot potential dangers sooner?

Recently on TV a small feature caught my attention. It reported a rather surprising innovation being trialled in a secondary school in Kent which is using lessons on building ‘mindfulness’ to help the pupils be more aware of themselves and what is going on around them. The pupils themselves are already saying that it is helping them to focus more both in class and in their school work and achieve better results. The classes are simply exercises in ‘mindful meditation’

Mindfulness meditation is a Buddhist idea also known as ‘insight’ because the intention is to gain insight into the true nature of reality. While concentration involves focusing our attention on a single object, in mindfulness, every aspect of experience is welcomed and appreciated.

This strikes me as something that would be a useful technique for busy leaders who are aware that they and their organisations have become ‘addicted to action’ (a phrase used by a client recently to describe their prevailing culture). To help break the habit, leaders need to learn how to become more mindful; in our risk-aware yet very complex worlds, a mindful leader is someone who will intuit sooner what is going on, ask the right questions and ensure that the important things are being prioritised.

To be mindful leaders, we have to take on the role of an impartial observer of everything that passes before our attention. Our intention is not to be focused, but rather to be mindful, that is, to be fully aware and awake of what is going on in the present moment. It is being used as a key concept in leading important issues like safety to spot potential fatal risks, but it’s one that surely has currency as a core leadership attribute for us all.

Tip of the month

Choosing your trusted advisor

In honour of the great David Maister, who has just announced his retirement, we look at one of his much used concepts ‘the trusted advisor’ and find out how to choose one that’s right for you.

I note from his latest blog that David Maister has just announced he’s retiring this month after 30 years in the field and after receiving the Carl Sloan Award for Excellence in Management Consulting. He’s a highly respected guru of our profession and, although a tireless self-promoter (check out his website www.davidmaister.com), his pearls of wisdom are ones that all consultants learn from.

One theme that he consistently returns to is that of the ‘trusted advisor’. In my view it provides the model for what all consultants should be – internal and external – but it is also a useful guide for senior leaders who need that ‘trusted advisor’ alongside them to help them see the world as it really is.

So, with all credit to the Maister guru himself, here are a few simple questions to check that you are choosing the right person for this important role:

  • Do you have a trusted advisor (in any aspect of your professional or personal life)?
  • What are the characteristics of that person? (i.e. observe what works for you)
  • Do they help you see things from a fresh perspective?
  • Do they help you think things through?
  • Do they do things to show they care about you?
  • Do they tell you the honest truth – and are able to criticise you gently?
  • What do they do to earn your trust?

Your questions answered

How do I handle the difficult situation of telling an executive team colleague that he is simply not delivering what we need from him or his function, yet I want to help him be successful in his leadership role?

A tricky one. Firstly, banish the idea of ‘telling’ him what you think – you have to find a way to help him see for himself what is going on and what contribution he needs to make. How can you do that?

One approach is to suggest a new discussion item at your exec team meetings – a round up of what you are each preoccupied with as the current concerns or major risks to the delivery of your current strategy or change plan. A discussion of the potential derailers will give you (and him) the opportunity to air concerns about things that need to be actioned or prioritised. In addition, I also urge you to have a one-to-one conversation with him as soon as possible as a professional and clearly caring colleague.

There may well be other things going on that you are not aware of and he will welcome that empathetic approach. In a one-to-one you can set out clearly what you see as the expectations everyone has of him, help him be aware of the signals, that he may or may not be picking up, that he is not up to the job and work out together what he should do about it.

Make sure you keep focused on his personal leadership role, not what is happening in his area, as the conversation will otherwise deflect to what his team should be doing differently, when your aim is how you can help him be successful.

This article is filed under: , executive coaching, leadership, leadership development, people, strategic capability, talent development, team leadership, transformational leadership, workforce management

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