Test the mettle of future high-flyersOn 1 Oct 2002 in Personnel Today Don’t shield them from traumas which serve to mould them into becomingbusiness leadersMany organisations recognise that recruiting and retaining talented peopleis crucial to future success, and are developing programmes specifically aimedat high-flyers. But it is debatable whether these schemes will really deliver the skillsthat will give companies a competitive advantage. Existing research suggests amore forward-looking approach is needed. Typically, the high-flyer’s journey involves three stages: identificationthat they are worthy of greater attention; a transition period lasting eightyears on average; and incorporation into a key position. In most instances competencies will be the key, and possibly the onlyselection criteria. Many diverse characteristics are associated with successful businessleaders, including strategic thinking, entrepreneurship, political acumen,pragmatism and dedication. So an important issue for HR is to know whichcompetencies to assess. However, my main concern, in terms of qualities required of top managers, isthis methodology focuses on the high-flyer’s destination, which is usually somesenior management role, rather than their journey. Concentrating on what we want individuals to become has significantdrawbacks. We cannot expect to find miniature versions of high achievers in thesame way we spot great football talent in young children. It is how high-flyers handle the key transition points that determine theirfuture performance. Nor can we be sure that cloning business leaders of 2002will produce the leaders required 10 years from now. Change is so rapid that managers could be outdated before they reach the endof theproduction line. High-flyers have to be able to adapt to new roles andcircumstances because the future is less predictable. This, in turn, requiresdifferent forms of assessment. Specific competency lists are too general, too bland and, more importantly,too present and past oriented. One solution is to augment them with‘meta-competencies’ that are checked throughout someone’s career. If we define potential as “the ability to learn from experiences onemight have in the future” (McCall, 1998), then new capabilities and theability to adapt become all important. These might include being able to seethings from new angles, adapting to cultural differences, and being open tocriticism. As competency analysts, we must encourage clients to envisage how the worldmight be by the time high-flyers reach the top. When we do this, quitedifferent competencies emerge, such as learning, diversity and environmentalawareness. Development methods would also need to change. Coaching, secondment andstudy courses have their place, but what about the learning experiencesexecutives find most valuable, such as assignments, hardships, other people andevents? Executives say that hardships are critical in their journey to the top.Too often though, high-flyers are shielded from hardships for fear of upsettingthem. Often adverse conditions such as business failures, a missed promotion orpersonal traumas have the greatest impact. We need to find ways of seeing how our high-flyers react to these events.How do they learn from them? How do they perform? Obviously you cannot conjure up these situations, but we could do otherthings to make such powerful experiences part of a systematic learningprogramme. If it is not feasible to create internal special projects orstart-ups, look at providing external opportunities through charity work,non-executive directorships or career breaks. It is essential to know how people cope in difficult or demanding situationsand how they respond to setbacks and obstacles. Every competency has its darkside, after all. If employers don’t assess high-flyers’ strengths to see if they becomeweaknesses, ‘derailment’ remains a real possibility. By continuing to focus on the destination, not the journey, the results notthe process, and strengths not the learning, we will seriously overestimatesome people and seriously underestimate others. By Binna Kandola a partner of occupational psychologists Pearn Kandola Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos.