High-Potential Programs Can Help Some Employees And Hurt Others. Here’s How We Can Design A Fairer System

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Companies invest in high potential programs with the goal of developing their star employees into future leaders. As exciting as these programs seem, poorly designed versions of them might cause more harm than good. While there is no secret recipe for a high potential program, here are three ideas to keep in mind when designing your company’s program to ensure it is effective and fair:

1. Companies that invest in high potential programs financially outperform their competitors.1

High potential programs sit in talent management, a practice that focuses on identifying and developing the ‘A players’— those who have the highest leadership potential and are of great interest to companies — with the potential to fill future leadership roles.2 This segmentation of the workforce allows companies to achieve their business objectives and motivates those labeled as high potential A players to strive and thrive. After tracking 300 organizations across 31 countries over 7 years, researchers found that investment in high potential programs correlated with better financial performance.1

These programs are not faultless, however. Regardless of intention, high potential programs can alienate the B players who make 80-85% of the workforce,3 leading to demotivation, a decrease in productivity and engagement,4 and even at times, higher turnover.5

2. The risk is worth the outcome if the high potential program is robust and grounded in science

Talent management experts need to design programs that clearly outline the variables that make a candidate ‘high potential’ if these programs are to succeed. Strong programs use evidence-based frameworks that can define, identify, and develop potential. Companies risk falling into the trap of misidentifying high potentials and losing future leaders if they identify the wrong candidates

3. The Leadership Potential Blueprint outlines key variables you can use to build an effective high potential program

The Leadership Potential Blueprint is a framework used by organizations to develop their own talent management strategies and make critical decisions about talent.2

This framework focuses on a handful of variables that predict potential. These elements can identify (and develop) the ‘A players’. The framework consists of three dimensions, each containing two variables, organized from the most stable to the most changeable skills and abilities.

A) Foundational dimension: Personality & Cognition

The foundational dimensions consist of the two variables that are unlikely to change — personality characteristics and cognitive capabilities.

Personality characteristics are important to consider. They can shed light on a key aspect of leadership: How does this person interact with and influence others? Some of these characteristics are social and interpersonal skills, assertiveness, dominance, maturity, emotional self-control, and resilience.

Cognitive capabilities predict performance6 and, given their stability, can be great metrics for identifying high potential employees. Leaders who address the daily challenges of running a business need strong cognitive capabilities. These include intelligence, strategic, conceptual thinking, and the ability to deal with ambiguity and complexity.

B) Growth dimension: Learning & Motivation

The growth dimension consists of learning and motivation. These skills are the less stable, more developable elements that reflect an individual’s willingness to learn from new experiences.

In an ever-changing world where businesses and markets are in continuous flux, it is crucial for leaders to have (and use) key learning skills. As you identify high potential candidates, stay on the lookout for candidates who are adaptable, open to feedback, agile, growth-oriented, and eager to learn. Once identified, work on developing them further. Ensure your high potential program offers experiences, assignments, and training that challenge your candidates and nurture these skills.

Leaders are expected to motivate their constituents, so naturally, they themselves need to be motivated. Candidates who have motivational skills can achieve personal and organizational success. In the search for your A players, keep a lookout for whether or not candidates have drive, energy, ambition, a willingness to take risks, and a desire for achievement.

C) Career dimension: Leadership & Functional Skills

Finally, the career dimension comprises the variables that are the easiest to influence and develop — leadership skills and functional skills.

Leadership skills refer to an individual’s ability to manage, motivate, inspire, and develop others. As the name shows, leadership skills are critical for being an effective leader. While some candidates might have stronger dispositions for these leadership skills than others, they are developable. Therefore, high potential programs can foster leadership qualities amongst future leaders, especially if candidates get a head start.

Functional or technical skills refer to an individual’s possession of specialized and generalized business expertise and knowledge. Like leadership skills, they can be taught. The specifics of these skills vary across companies, teams, and roles — when you identify and develop high potentials using this variable, it is important to ask: ‘the potential for what?’

The future of high potential programs

Despite the risks, it seems that high potential programs are here to stay. As companies start to design (or redesign) their programs, they should use evidence-based frameworks to ensure they’re assessing and building talent in ways that align with their strategic objectives. For example, PepsiCo, Eli Lilly, and Citibank use the Leadership Potential Blueprint as the underlying framework for their talent management practices. If your company is looking to spruce its high potential programs up with more rigor and robustness, the Leadership Potential Blueprint is a great framework for identifying and developing your future leaders.

Podcast: Storytelling in the Age of Disruption

In this episode, Shawn Overcast interviews Michael Margolis, CEO of Storied, a strategic messaging firm that specializes in the story of disruption and innovation. He is also the author of a new book titled Story 10x: Turn the Impossible Into the Inevitable.

Organizations in every industry, across the globe, are experiencing perhaps the greatest disruption of our time, with the pandemic COVID-19. We haven’t experienced a public health or economic disruption of this scale in our lifetimes. And yet, (strike this – over the past 20 years), individuals and the organizations that we work in have been no stranger to the experience of serial disruptions. Whether that be the way (italicize to emphasize these words) we work – through advancements in technology, where we work – with the continued expansion of globalization, and with whom we work – and the growing workforce demographic to include 3-4 generations working side-by-side. Michael discusses strategies for how leaders can “meet the moment” and evolve their narrative. In this podcast, we learn practical ways to move our teams and organizations from the story of the past to the story of the future, by first recognizing and reflecting on what comes with the place of ‘no story’ – the place of in between.

Released: May 20, 2020

 

How to Stay Creative While Working Remotely

When we meet in person, something absolutely magical happens. We look each other in the eye, share a story or two, then something may just click and we may even bond! Enforced remote environments for those of us that can stay home and work remotely may not seem as magical, but we can look at it as an opportunity to redesign the way we work and improve upon what doesn’t. We can begin by finding creative ways to do our work and incorporate it in each day.

1. Put yourself in a creative mood.

Even in such an unprecedented, ambiguous, and tough environment like we are in right now, I try to see positive changes where they exist and create the energy of excitement in my day. What helps me is setting the right mood by looking at silly pictures of my family, imagining myself where I’d rather be, or getting inspiration from leaders who are stepping up during this pandemic. As a very visual person, I also like to do an analog activity with myself. For example, I imagine a moment in life that brought me a positive feeling, I visualize the moment like it is happening now, and cultivate that feeling.  Only then, I am ready to continue while keeping that feeling alive… You can also recall any moment that brought you a positive feeling, the last time you moved to a new, exciting place, gathered with family, or played with your dog in a park while throwing a frisbee.  You can create your own ways of getting into the right mood by focusing on bringing that right energy, maybe by going on a morning walk/run, or reading a few pages of a new book or doing a mindfulness exercise.

2. Find inspiration by exploring communities with similar or different interests. 

You could join a professional association related to your career, search an online site like Meetup https://www.meetup.com/ for a group that interests you personally or professionally, or ask your friends and colleagues for a recommendation. To further your creative journey, explore groups with different perspectives.

Personally, I draw inspiration from the ATD NY Chapterand Women in Innovation communities.  At ATD Gabrielle Bayme and I run remote Learning Labsfor talent practitioners to experiment, practice, and take risks by trying their own hands-on projects in a safe environment and get feedback. It helps me be more creative by getting inspired by others and try a few things myself.  At Women in Innovation (WIN), a strong and creative community of women leaders in innovation, I learn so much from attending the online events and being part of the engaging community on Facebook. I constantly draw inspiration from their blog

I also read stories from leaders, listen to their interviews, and attend virtual design workshops to learn from our community and share them back. There are a myriad of events out there and ways to learn how to stay creative while working remotely. I’d recommend narrowing it down by listening to what your heart calls for. What clicks for you?

3. Develop creative ways of working in a virtual space. 

At gothamCulture, we use the digital participatory design workshops model we developed and presented last year at the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI). The main challenge was whether we could create the same energy as it would be in person but in a virtual space. 

When designing these workshops, we took these things under consideration to remain creative and collaborative virtually at the same time:

  • Open Space Technology: We wanted a giant group of people together from various locations and functions in a virtual room and to ask them to contribute the most relevant ideas. 
  • Participatory Design: We wanted to get people to collaborate hands-on while developing a prototype together. 
  • Future Search: We wanted to find a way for people to connect the dots across the entire system. The workshops had to be interactive and built upon each other. 
  • We built the model with three different groups one built on each other. The difference between the groups considered would be the audience, various roles, and locations, or the angle of the opportunity participants are trying to solve for. For example, one group would be responding to “what”, another to “who and how”, and another to “when”.
  • We wanted to be able to tell the story through technology: video conferencing and mind mapping tools. We use Zoom to facilitate these sessions, particularly because of the virtual breakout functionality where we can send people in smaller groups to collaborate. We used diverge/converge to develop solutions that were grounded in the same “shared” reality:

 

How it Works: Group 1

When we facilitate these sessions, we:

  • Enforce participants being on camera and ask beforehand and explain why. We need to be able to engage and hear all the voices. 
  • Engage multiple facilitators and a video conferencing producer to move the group forward and ensure technical support.
  • Use facilitation techniques to make focus groups collaborative and assign roles between facilitators.
  • Build trust upfront by giving just enough context, setting up ground rules with participants, ensuring confidentiality, and using powerful ice-breakers.
  • Incorporate debrief after each session to bring the learnings into the next session.

Finding new approaches to do work and inspiration from communities keeps me creative. This is the time like no other to be experimental, explore different avenues, learn from each other, create an open, sharing and supportive environment to help each other and continue looking for that magic together while working remotely. This is also a time to be kind to yourself and take a moment to breathe, and I hope the suggestions above can help our readers draw a few ideas on working creatively in a virtual environment. 

Essential Leadership in the New World of Work

Since March, our world of work has changed more than any of us ever would have imagined. Now organizations are starting to explore a phased return to previous work arrangements. Last week I shared some thoughts on practices leaders should employ to help their teams successfully navigate their return.

But, for teams and organizations to thrive in the long run, leaders will need to embrace new skills and new ways of leading. And, while there are numerous areas you could focus on developing, here are three key capabilities that will help better prepare your team for future disruptions:

Authenticity – A recent literature review on team resilience suggests that team identity is a key enabler of teams that can successfully recover from disruption. Strong team identity requires a leader who engenders trust through authenticity. Authentic leaders are genuinely self-aware and inspire loyalty and trust by consistently being who they really are. And research has shown that authentic leadership is the single biggest predictor of employee satisfaction. As your team slowly returns to more typical ways of working, you have the opportunity to show up in a more authentic way. Practice openness and true humility. Be honest about the challenges and opportunities you are facing as a leader and as an organization. And, create a safe space for your team to do the same. Read More…

Former POW Shares Thoughts On Surviving And Thriving In Difficult Times

The last few months have fundamentally changed the way many people live their lives day-to-day. Over the last few weeks, in particular, I have noticed an increase in a variety of what might normally be considered “unhealthy” behavior during my interactions with people.

Some individuals seem to be taking one of three paths as they attempt to make sense of their new realities and as they come to grips with being thrust into a reality where they have limited control and where the situation is rapidly changing-

  1. Finding false hope. These people keep finding a date that they hang their hopes on when things will “return to normal”. The challenge is that every time one of those dates comes to pass and things have not returned to normal, they pick a new date, each time seeming to lose a piece of themselves.
  2. Losing hope altogether. These people really seem to be struggling. They seem consumed with every news story and conspiracy theory that they come across. They feel like the sky is falling and they are beginning to (or have) lost hope that things will get better.
  3. Finding resilience. The rest seem to acknowledge their new reality and face facts without losing hope that things will get better (a concept articulated by Admiral James Stockdale called the Stockdale Paradox). They don’t hang their hopes on the next date that things will be fine and they don’t fall into a pit of despair. It is these folks who seem to be best adapted to survive and thrive in environments where they have little control.

Read More…

Podcast: How to Survive and Thrive in Uncertain Times: Lessons from a former POW

In this episode, Chris Cancialosi interviews Ralph Galati, former Air Force officer, and POW and Executive Director of JDog Foundation.

The loss of control and isolation that many people are feeling globally as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is affecting them in a variety of ways. Some people seem to have lost hope while others seem to hold out unreasonable hope that things will “go back to normal” on a certain date only to be let down when their hopes aren’t realized. In this episode, we talk to Ralph Galati, former Air Force officer who found himself shot down over North Vietnam and who then served as a prisoner of war for 14 months before being freed. Ralph shares his perspective on what people may be feeling during this time and how to draw upon the internal and external resources you have to not only survive but to thrive in uncertain times.

Released: May 5, 2020

Faith and the Optimistic Stance

Faith is a word which elicits different thoughts and emotions for each of us.  For some, it is a sense of trusting others or implicitly knowing we are understood or respected.  For others, it can be the feeling that we will always be encouraged by our friends, colleagues and fellow travelers, especially in time of need.  And for many, like me, it is centered on a belief in a higher power.  Often, it is all of those things combined – and more.

Faith and optimism are intertwined.  One cannot truly believe that something positive will happen in the future without taking a metaphorical leap of faith that is centered in optimism.  Be it a soldier looking over in the foxhole at the man next to him or the coworker with whom you’ve worked for years – it takes faith and optimism to know that the other person will always have your back when the challenges – and battles – confront us.

My colleagues at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC) have a wonderful perspective called the “Optimistic Stance.”  Their outlook says, “Gestalt takes a realistic view of the present and an optimistic view of the possible, preferring to work in the development of the potential within an individual or system rather than correcting them.”   In other words, they see each system, be they families, teams or much larger groups, as having inherent capabilities that can be appreciated and noticed.  Once they are pointed out, growth is unleashed, which serves every system. Read More…

Building Empathy To Address Critical Talent Gaps

organizational empathy

Talent challenges continue to be a priority for most agencies across the federal government. Frequent turnover, hard to fill roles, and shortages in mission-critical skill sets are all too common in most federal agencies.

There are countless strategies and approaches agency leaders can, and have, tried to address these complex challenges. But, building organizational empathy may be just the tool HR leaders need to make a near term impact.

Building organizational empathy is a strategic element for organizations trying to hire and retain top talent in an increasingly tight labor market. Research by the benefits technology firm, Business Solver in their State of Workplace Empathy report reveals that empathy is a key driver of retention, motivation, and productivity. More than 90% of employees surveyed indicated they were more likely to stay with an empathetic employer. In fact, respondents were even willing to trade off hours and pay in favor of increased empathy.

In an increasingly competitive talent environment, building a culture of empathy should be a key part of the people strategy in all organizations.

Read More…

Why I’m Taking a Day Off From Being Busy – And You Should Too

For the past 12 years since my family relocated to Northern Virginia, I’ve talked to my dad at least once a week on the phone. I’ve noticed over the past few weeks, though, that our conversations have evolved into a pretty familiar pattern. One that around various versions of one question: “What’s keeping you busy these days?” Of course, I’ve always got a list – starting new projects at work or at home, scrambling to get the next proposal in or find the next client, preparing for the sale of our house, or any other number of to-do’s whether large or small. Even my dad who’s been retired for the past five or so years also seems to always be busy. This phenomenon certainly isn’t unique to me and my dad.

The Culture of Being Busy
A few years ago the Atlantic published an article asserting that “Ugh, I’m so busy” has become the status symbol of our time. And in 2018, sociologist Anna Akbari’s Psychology Today article challenged readers to define their success not by their lack of time, but by the quality time they dedicated to the people and things that they loved. It seems our culture has come to embrace busyness over all else. The idea is that to be successful and happy we need to constantly have schedules filled to the brim. That being important means battling multiple conflicting priorities. Or that productivity means just having too much on our plate to possibly fit in one more thing.

And I think I’ve taken the bait, hook, line, and sinker. I pursue hobbies with such zeal that they look more like vocations. And I work so hard to provide my kids with opportunities, experiences, and activities that I stay busy keeping them busy. But at the end of the day, I don’t think I’m any more productive, significantly happier or more well off because of how busy I’ve become. Nor do I think any of the other folks I encounter who are constantly busy are any of these things either.

Read More…

Are Your Employees Ready For The “Superjobs” Of The Future?

I recently finished listening to the audiobook version of David Epstein’s Range, his 2019 counter punch to the drive for specialization, often represented by the 10,000 hour rule, as the best path for achieving future success. In his book, Epstein pushes back against the idea that deeper and deeper specialization is the best way to achieve success, especially in rapidly changing and unpredictably complex environments. “We are often taught that the more competitive and complicated the world gets, the more specialized we must get,” Epstein notes, but according to his research, given that most business environments today are not governed by standard rules and predictable patterns, maintaining a competitive edge will require organizations to hire or train generalists who are often more willing and better able to find solutions to novel challenges.

According to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends, many business leaders see the trend towards needing more employees who are capable of taking on diverse and varied job tasks. According to the report, a vast majority of respondents expect that the increased adoption and use of technology will mean that jobs in the future are far more multi-disciplinary than they have been. And that as artificial intelligence, cognitive technologies, and robotic process automation take hold, there will be a trend towards “superjobs”, or jobs that combine parts of different traditional jobs into integrated roles – these jobs will span the hyper-specialized areas of expertise of many current workers. Read More…