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Don’t make these mistakes with your rising stars

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 | HARVEY SCHACHTER |

Most companies these days have programs designed to nurture rising stars but recent research on leadership transitions by the Corporate Executive Board found that nearly 40 per cent of internal job shifts by these so-called high potentials end in failure. Worse, the study found that one in three of these young stars feels disengaged from his or her company, and 12 per cent were actively seeking a new job. In Harvard Business Review, researchers Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt look at the six most common errors in guiding high potentials and how to avoid them:


High potentials work hard and produce results so it’s easy to assume they are highly engaged. But if your rising stars are like the ones in the study, one in four intend to leave your employ within a year; one in three admits to not putting all of his or her efforts into the job; one in five believes his or her personal aspirations are different from what the company has planned; and four out of 10 have little confidence in co-workers and even lessin senior management.
The reason is that they have outsized expectations for what they expect from the organization in return for their work – in terms of stimulating assignments, strong recognition and compelling career paths – and lots of alternative job possibilities. So the researchers say you need to double (or even triple) your efforts to keep these people engaged and make sure you are regularly taking the temperature of how they’re feeling.


The high-potential designation is recognition for past performance but the individual will be asked to deliver future results in a much bigger job. Too often, senior management forgets that when anointing these young stars. Indeed, the research showed that 70 per cent of today’s top performers lack necessary critical attributes in ability, engagement or aspirations for their success in future jobs. So you need to be able to assess them on those three attributes.


Since line managers know their people best, they are expected to guide high potentials. But that can lead to narrow development opportunities for these protégés, and the likelihood of them being hoarded by their boss. Responsibility for high potentials’ development, therefore, must be shared among line managers and more senior leaders who can see the broader picture and treat them as corporate assets.


Human resource executives and line managers seek to place these rising stars in training assignments that will be a bit of a stretch but stand little risk of failure. But that can thwart development, with the future leaders not being adequately developed and tested. True leadership development takes place under situations of real stress. The researchers note that Procter & Gamble Co.’s family care division has identified a series of complex, high-impact positions that they try to fill with high potentials to challenge them properly and allow scope for development.


In tough times, great leaders elect to share along side the rank and file if, say, wage restraints are put in place. But high potentials put in 20 per cent more effort than other employees in the same position and produce greater results, so they expect to be remunerated accordingly. Make sure your compensation gives these A players special treatment.


In touch times, some companies can hunker down and stop discussing overall strategy. Take a cue from the unnamed global information services firm the researchers looked at, which gives high potentials access to a web site where they can weigh in on and even vote on corporate direction.


Remember, it takes all kinds

Monday Morning Manager’s recent discussion on replacing SMART goals with HARD goals led Ed Bernacki of The Idea Factory to comment that it is dumb to think that any one approach will appeal to all people. “It is totally wrong to discredit one approach in favour of another,” he says.

Specifically, SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-sensitive. HARD goals are heartfelt, enriching the life of someone else; animated, in the sense you can visualize what success will be like; required to help the company; and difficult, forcing you to learn new skills and leave your comfort zone. Mr. Bernacki says that structured people, who see little need to question anything, enjoy the status quo and like lists will embrace SMART goals. On the other hand, those who question everyone, are constrained by structure, prefer to be “in the moment” and feel the way to solve a problem is to change it will likely be happy with HARD goals.

More broadly, he says. this illustrates the need for managers to be sensitive to cognitive diversity – differences in the way we think. We have to stop treating the way other people think as wrong and recognize that we do not think alike, nor solve problems alike.

When giving talks, he’ll ask his audience how many make a list on Saturday of things to do for the weekend. About a third do, another third say sometimes, and another third say never. “All people seem to have successful weekends. How can one approach or behaviour be wrong?” he concludes. “It’s not wrong to think in the style that is most comfortable for you.”


The yin-yang of discipline-spontaneity

Consultant and best-selling author Patrick Lencioni is convinced that one of the most important keys to success in business and life is discipline. At the same time, he also believes one of the most important keys to success in business and life is spontaneity. And worse, he is convinced that one of the greatest sources of stress in business and life is feeling guilty about not being disciplined or spontaneous enough, depending on your personality.

In the Table Group newsletter, he notes that some managers are better when they are spontaneous and unpredictable, responding to opportunities as they arise regardless of the schedule, while others flourish within a more structured, disciplined setting. The key is realizing which is true for you, explaining that to the people you lead, and then accepting most of the unpleasant consequences that result.

As well, you should change the way you work so that you have just a little more of the opposite quality – and then relieve yourself of any guilt.


Stick to your own drama

Not enough time to get all the things done you need to do? Sales consultant Jeffrey Gitomer asks you to examine the amount of time you spend caught up in other people’s drama – celebrity news, other media stories irrelevant to your life, gossip – and then eliminate that so you can focus on your own concerns. Sales Caffeine newsletter

Pretend there are no new customers

“What if a rift in the time-space continuum changed the universe and it was suddenly impossible to get new customers?” asks business adviser Seth Godin. “How would that change what you do all day and how you spend your money and what you measure? What if you tried acting that way now?” Seth’s Blog

Make your customers feel like rock stars

Marketing consultant Jackie Huba advises you to copy music phenomenon Lady GaGa and make your customers feel like rock stars. At her performances, Lady GaGa calls one fan’s cellphone at random, earning shrieks of delight when the fan learns he or she will be having a drink with her after the show. Church Of the Customer blog

Put the focus on right as well as wrong

Focus on what goes right in your life as well as what goes wrong, urges University of Guelph psychologist Ian Newby-Clark. Psychology Today

Of measurement and existence

It’s called the McNamara Fallacy, after former U.S. Defence Secretary Robert McNamara, and was first described by pollster Daniel Yankelovich in Adam Smith’s book Paper Money: “The first step is to measure what can easily be measured. The second is to disregard what can’t be measured, or give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily isn’t very important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist.”

An e-mail reminder

Want to remind someone by e-mail of something you have asked them to do? Try using FollowUpThen. E-mail normally with your request. But in the CC address (or BCC if you only want the reminder sent to you), insert (without the quotes) “” However, replace “time-interval” in that sequence with the actual time when you want the reminder issued – in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years. Neat Net Tricks Premium Edition