The Benefits Of Getting This Right

Before considering the challenges and potential solutions, let's for a moment whet our appetite with some of the rewards when we get it right. Here are just some of the main benefits identified by leading organisations in this field:

  • Ability to realise market opportunities through having resources available.

  • Morale benefits from positions being filled internally.

  • Ability to retain ambitious people in the organisation.

  • Enhanced reputation in the marketplace enabling us to recruit better people.

  • Focused internal development rather than external "sheep dip" training.

  • Increased certainty of top management performance.

  • Saving on the cost of outside recruitment.

The Challenges

HR Credibility

Rightly or wrongly, many HR professionals continue to be perceived as lacking the business understanding that enables them to play an active part in the strategic debate. This is confirmed by the number of strategies that we review which fail to take full account of the people implications of implementation.

When challenged, we often hear "Oh we have passed that on to HR - they are working on it". But, by the time they have "worked on it", the strategy has been communicated inside and outside the organisation and HR are playing catch up!

Disconnected Competence Frameworks

Sadly the existence of complicated, generalised lists continues to blight proper debate about managerial Performance. Remarkably few organisations are able to define, with any clarity, the key aspects of top management performance that have materially contributed to the organisation's existing position and what aspects of that performance must change to deliver future performance.

Without complete clarity about the Performance that we require from our leaders, how can we identify the next generation and answer the all-important question: "Potential for What?"

Changing Work Expectations

Unlike previous generations, we know that we can no longer rely on people staying loyally with one organisation for the whole of their working life, while we consider them for positions that may or may not emerge (and often don't tell them they are being considered for!). People with potential are looking for growth and development as part of the psychological contract that keeps them engaged and motivated with their organisation.

Post Recession Impact

Current economic recovery is positive news for most organisations. Yet, the tough times we went through has meant that many development budgets were reduced or even cut by 100%! I despair at this knee jerk reaction. All the books I have read about economic cycles point to the fact that every downturn is followed by an upturn. And with every upturn there is a shortage of well qualified and equipped managers and leaders in organisations who can take advantage of the opportunities. Surely, lessons must have been learnt this time!

The Solutions

As usual, the Wadenhoe response is blunt and commonsense - we see the solution in three parts:
  • Defining Performance within the strategic context.

  • Line Management Talent Spotting, supported by Development Centres.

  • Development of potential - not training!
Defining Performance within the Strategic Context

The word Performance must be central to every organisation's vocabulary. It is fundamental that they are able to define clearly the deliverables that are required of an individual position, now and in the future. Yet, many line managers are abdicating their responsibilities to HR to define the managerial and leadership behaviours. In turn, the HR function is often placing undue dependence on generalised lists of competencies for guidance.

I am not really damning competence frameworks, but they all require rigorous thought that in turn provides accuracy and value from the framework. Having gained clarity about the managerial and leadership deliverables in terms of actions, behaviours and achievements, the next stage in the process is to translate these into the key personal characteristics that any person performing effectively in the role will require. At Wadenhoe we call this Rolescoping® and it ensures that we thoroughly understand, not just the headline behaviours but the quality and intensity with which they must be delivered.

Line Management Talent Spotting, supported by Development Centres

Line Managers should be the "eyes and ears" of an organisation, with a key engagement and coaching role as Talent Developers. In particular, they need to understand how the headline behaviours change across job levels and how this can be used to provide creative and stretching opportunities for identifying potential.

Development Centres, although not an end in themselves, can provide that additional clarity and objectivity required to accurately confirm an individual's promotion potential. Whilst they share some of the characteristics of practical "selection" exercises and interviews, they need to be much more structured and closely defined than either. Their accuracy relies on looking for specific behaviours in a set situation, and clearly categorising the level of capability that is achieved.

Development of potential - not just training

Yes you are right, what I have described is labour intensive and therefore relatively expensive. However, the good news is that the process of development becomes highly focused and involves much more in-house development as opposed to very expensive and often ineffective external training.

Clients we are working with have benefited from our Wadenhoe Research Papers: "Learning for the Top" and "Auditing Natural Learning" and have been able to use opportunities on task forces; shadow boards; secondments and interim positions to develop specific characteristics within an individual.


For the last 25 years we have been making our living by working with organisations to help them strategically identify and develop people with potential. So, if would like to discuss any of the ideas set out in this paper or find out more about the solutions we have developed, please email Sue Bell on: sue@wadenhoeconsultancy.com

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