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Take me to your next leader

Take me to your next leader

Why is it that in many cases, considerably more time and effort is put into the assessment and recruitment of graduates fresh from university than in the appointment of senior executives? Richard A MacKinnon CPsychol – Senior Consultant, Talent Q finds out.

The latter frequently involve merely unstructured interviews, while graduates endure gruelling assessment centres. Anyone involved in the assessment of senior managers will be familiar with the distaste with which many of them view objective assessment methods such as psychometric tests – and the subsequent appeals that they should be judged instead on their ‘track record’.

Perhaps recent events, in both the worlds of politics and finance, will help bring home to organisational decision-makers the deleterious impact leaders can have on their organisations when their psychological make-up, or personality, predisposes them to rely on a few key strengths. Long standing financial organisations have ceased to exist in the last year, causing shockwaves throughout the industry. And while the factors that lead to their downfall are many and complex, leadership style certainly played its part.

These failures have shone a light on the role of organisational leaders and highlighted their failings to their shareholders and the public at large.  Society has learnt a great deal about how decisions at the top are made – it would be fair to say that many are not happy at what they have seen. Failed financial organisations and ministerial embarrassments are obviously extreme examples, but nonetheless it is a fact that poor decision-making among organisational leaders has directly resulted in business failures, mass redundancies and a wider negative impact on the UK economy.

A recent survey of nearly 200 UK HR Directors highlighted some surprising findings which we believe sit at the root of leadership issues in the UK, including: Just 44 percent of respondents believed their talent management processes were clearly aligned with the business’s objectives. The question then arises: why are these organisations still deploying such processes?

Only 32 percent of respondents reported having adapted their talent management strategy to take account of the present economic context. Only 28 percent reported that their organisation takes an integrated to talent management (i.e. linking recruitment to development and ultimately to succession planning). We would view this as a ‘silo’ approach to managing talent, one which results directly in over-administration, inflated costs and an increased risk of losing talented employees to other businesses.

Finally, and perhaps most worryingly, just 12 percent believe that their talent management processes are implemented ‘very well’. These data indicate a fundamental gap between what businesses are trying to achieve and how they are deploying talent management strategies (recruitment, development, executive coaching) in order to achieve it. It also points to a lag between changing business circumstances and any form of adaptive response from those directing talent management strategies.

Now that some of the ‘gloss’ has come off how we view leaders, what are we to do to ensure the next crop of leaders to not make the same mistakes? Furthermore, what role should talent management professionals play in this regard?

Quality candidates for leadership positions need to be identified as early as possible, be developed in a coordinated way and deployed in appropriate positions. This may seem like a simplistic formula but it seems to be missing from many organisations’ approaches. Twenty-one percent of respondents to Talent Q’s survey indicated that their talent management strategy was focused solely on the top layers of their organisation. Surely this makes talent identification all the more difficult? And without formal, appropriate processes, how is talent in the more junior ranks being assessed at all?

Though they are frequently loath to participate, candidates for leadership positions can benefit from the insights provided by psychometric assessments. The benefits are numerous, including: Objective assessment of ability, in terms of numerical, verbal and logical reasoning. Such tests are still the best predictors of success at work that exist.

Insight-provision and raising awareness of personality and working styles – a reflective activity that may be more significant for some than others. Awareness of how others think is a key developmental stage that some adults seem to bypass, leading to frustration and misunderstandings in their interactions with colleagues and subordinates.

360 degree feedback initiatives, when implemented correctly, can illustrate how colleagues feel about working with these individuals, which when combined with objective performance data, provide a clearer view of the potential an individual has to succeed within an organisation. Employees with potential need to be identified at as early a stage as possible. This use of objective assessment is more meritocratic than the old fashioned ‘tap on the shoulder’, which favours those lucky enough to have had some level of exposure to senior decision-makers.

The leaders of tomorrow are faced with working in some of the most challenging business conditions seen for over half a century, while simultaneously under the burden of their predecessors’ past mistakes. The onus is on them to convince employees, shareholders and the media that that have learnt lessons from these mistakes. HR professionals can and should play a key role in ensuring the leaders of tomorrow are well aware of their development needs.

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