Questioning Talent…

Talent and succession planning. That was my week last week. Engaging, enchanting, entrancing and enjoyable.

Our people solve problems, seize opportunities and sell our capabilities. They partner, deliver and achieve. Without them nothing would happen. With them everything is possible. Our people are our past, who we are today and what we dream of being tomorrow.

Last week was my meeting of the year – our talent and succession planning meeting – a formal review once a year. The good news is that I am involved in many more frequent discussions about our people, their talents and our opportunities…but we only have this formal review once a year.

That combination of formality and uniqueness leads to a great deal of high quality preparation. We never have time in that one meeting to discuss everyone. But all groups and teams carry out their own detailed reviews in advance. So I knew we would arrive last week well prepared and well supported.

I have attended many talent meetings. Not as many as I would like, but still a large number. At their best they are a combination of detailed specifics on individuals, opportunities and strengths along with more general themes and developments…opportunities and gaps. What’s not to enjoy?

I often find myself looking for assumptions in these discussions. Moments when it becomes apparent that we are assuming we know what an individual wants from their career…assuming we understand what will make a team member happy.

My two favourites are when we assume our people have the same ambitions and goals that we did when we were their age. And when we assuming we know what would work or be acceptable to an employee or – worse still – to their partner or family.

The obvious answer is that we are all different.  None of us want the same things in life or in our careers.  Success isn’t always defined by movement up an organisation, more responsibility, more people or a bigger budget (to earn or spend).

From my decades of talent reviews, I have one absolute learning – I can only know what an individual is looking for from their career if I ask them.  I have to be interested.  I need to satisfy my curiosity.

And yet we don’t ask. Or we don’t ask enough or don’t ask well enough. It almost seems as if we are worried by what we might hear…or are afraid we won’t have all the answers

And the tell-tale line? The words that confirm this unspoken stand-off is in play? It’s when we hear (or hear ourselves saying) that immortal phrase…‘our employees need to take responsibility for their own careers’. (OK – I agree…this is true…in part. Wouldn’t we all do this much better with the support of our managers?)

Worse still, any leadership wariness we show can reflect as employee concern. Our people feel nervous about telling their leaders what they are after. We can all inevitably worry about expressing desires that we think our company can’t satisfy.

How can leaders know whether we can support our teams and team members achieve their goals unless we ask them?  It’s too easy to let our fears get in the way of us helping our people, ourselves and our companies.

Ask away.  And ask in such a way that we truly find out. What’s important? What do we want our experience at work to involve? What sort of opportunities, experiences and outcomes are we after? The more we know the more we can help…and the more we can be helped.

More conversations more often…definitely more than once a year. More relationship, openness, help, support, success.

And more enjoyment.




About Steve Street

I have worked in R&D within the Pharmaceutical industry for over 30 years. Up until April 2012 all of my career had been with one company, but that has now changed. I left that company and took up a new role on May 1, 2012 - still very much within the Pharmaceutical industry and again based in the UK. I have been blogging every week now for over 10 years but only on an external site since January 2012. Email updates of the blogs can be requested using the ‘follow’ option within Wordpress. The blogs are only ever my personal view of what I see, think and feel. I am delighted if you agree and find value; happy if you disagree with my views and overjoyed if you feel motivated to comment. Most of all I am simply grateful that you read. Cheers Steve
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