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Talent in the pipeline

Talent in the

Sure enough, changes are
inevitably required in leadership to manage the talent of the future. According
to Steve Newhall, Vice President for Europe at
talent management consultancy DDI.

For most businesses,
the landscape has changed beyond recognition. The days of easy prosperity seem
so long ago as to be almost a myth! Today’s business environment is so
fast-moving and volatile that leaders can scarcely keep up with new pressures
and demands placed upon them and unsurprisingly they are struggling to cope.
Fortunately there are some constants that leaders and executives can cling to
that will help them steer a steady ship not just through the downturn, but
beyond into whatever business environment that will emerge.
Recent headlines have demonstrated how badly leadership has failed. High
profile senior executives and company heads have been accused of betraying
their employees and acting carelessly with the businesses they lead. But
perhaps we shouldn’t be so shocked. Even in the good times confidence in
leadership skills across the world was decaying. DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2008/09, released right before the onset
of the downturn, showed that just 35 per cent of HR professionals had high
confidence in their leaders’ ability to drive organisational success. Moreover,
most businesses had done little to build a strong pipeline of future leaders.

“That many leaders have failed to take decisive and fast action to
regaining control of their organisations through leading courageously, with
equanimity and discipline is unfortunately not so surprising.”

many leaders have failed to take decisive and fast action to regaining control
of their organisations through leading courageously, with equanimity and
discipline is unfortunately not so surprising. Knowing the skill sets and
likely innate behaviors of the senior management and leadership population is
one step HR teams can take to immediately make a real difference to the
business. When times are easier, any leadership deficiencies are easily masked,
but in crisis situations problematic shortcomings are thrown into sharp relief.
Everyone has negative personality traits, or “derailers”, that can be
effectively managed around, once leaders understand what they are and are
taught coping mechanisms. Now is not the time to let bad habits prevent cool
and calm management. Staff need motivation and focus, not panic and indecision.

Having identified the behavioral pitfalls, the remaining leadership gaps to
plug are skills. Unfortunately like every department, HR teams across the land
are facing serious budget cuts, just when leaders need support the most. Many
commentators have called for training and development budgets to be protected,
to help organisations survive after the recession. While this is a nice wish,
the reality is that this is unlikely to happen.
The key is to focus the remaining budget on those people who will make most
difference to the business; the most effective leaders and high flyers in the company.
These senior leaders and high potential groups should be the last to be affected
by development budget cuts, it’s critical they are given the skills that the
business needs to survive. Organisations need to be finding, and developing,
those who can innovate and create new ways of working. And new innovations can
only survive through effective motivation and empowerment. However achieving
this type of dynamic environment is often problematic; typically some 34 per
cent of executives struggle to empower staff. The problem is likely to increase
during difficult times, with a rise in tendency to micromanage together with
its damaging effect on morale and productivity. This is in fact one example of
the kind of conflicting priorities that are presenting themselves during this
difficult time; senior staff are increasingly being asked to perform paradoxes,
for example winning new business while cutting costs, monitoring situations and
making business adjustments yet keeping a far enough distance from staff so as
not to overbear.
High potential development groups will need to be revaluated in the context of
the new reality. Maintaining the pipeline of future leaders is critical, but
how many future leaders are needed if the organisation is downsizing? Talent
pools need to reflect the needs of the business not vice versa. Smaller
organisations with the same size talent pool will likely mean more people than
opportunities, leading to frustration. Set against this is that fact that the
downturn offers this group the best learning opportunity they may ever have.

The current climate isn’t without opportunities. DDI believes that these tough
times offer HR teams the best opportunity they have ever had to prove they can
make a significant and positive difference to the business. By reacting fast to
understand the leadership population and how it will react, as well as giving
the business useful data in a way it can understand, HR may finally win its
place on the strategic table.

This is not just important for 2009, or even 2010. There is no doubt that the
constantly changing, ambiguity filled, uncertain environment faced by managers
and leaders today is here to stay. Even when the upturn begins, successful
businesses will be working with new leadership models, new ways of organising
themselves, yet still struggling with the old thorny issues of rapid globalisation,
new technologies, increasing competition and changing demographics of the
workforce. Investing in leaders now will help steady the journey in the future.
Leaders Without Sea Legs, the DDI whitepaper on the leadership challenges of
uncertain times, is available from

Newhall, Vice President for Europe

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