I frequently meet business leaders who are frustrated with what they see as a lack of key players at the higher levels of their organizations. They are looking for those individuals who have the rare mix of demonstrated performance, the potential to take on more responsibilities, and the aspiration to advance in their careers. It is not just the matter of quantity that concerns these leaders — quality of talent is also an issue. In many cases, leaders acknowledge that they don’t have a diverse talent pool on which to draw when making talent decisions.
As the conversation moves to a deeper level, additional factors behind this dilemma start to emerge. Often, organizations struggle to see beyond the “usual suspects”—that is, the handful of leaders whose names typically come up when opportunities are being discussed. Without realizing, the decision-makers find themselves trapped by culture and past precedent. As a result, their choices are limited by the subset of their workforce they can envision as potential successors. Over the years, they have crafted a narrowly defined view of what the “right stuff” looks like.
Often, as leaders fail to find the talent they need, younger, high-potential employees struggle to see a future for themselves in the organization. As a result, the very talent the decision-makers are seeking is heading out the door.
If the previous scenario sounds familiar, you might be encouraged to learn that your organization’s talent pool may be deeper than you realize.
A good way to create additional depth is to incorporate leadership assessments into your development and succession planning processes. Assessments focus on areas proven to be crucial to leadership success, rather than on long-held but often untested beliefs. They help to remove the name and face from talent decisions. Leadership assessments can help to supplement a manager’s judgment with objective data—acknowledging the balance of art and science present in people-related decisions.
As I work with organizations on employing talent assessments, I see them realize benefit such as:
Identifying future leaders earlier, allowing longer lead time for development
Extending their talent pipeline deeper into the organization, fueling future growth
Sending new signals about talent—clarifying what attributes are valued and rewarded
Creating new pathways of career opportunities for employees to explore
Helping employees discover their “positive blind spots”—skills or talents they did not realize they possessed
Over time, as you use assessments to open up career and development opportunities, you can enhance your employment brand as a place where employees can grow and thrive.
So how can you start using talent assessments?
Consider engaging a partner – There are many assessments available, but it can take some help to find the ones that best meet your needs. Fortunately, many organizations offer the necessary expertise to help. Assessment providers and industrial/organizational psychologists can guide you through the process and serve as a valuable resource to your talent management efforts.
Select a few initial targets – Identify a handful of roles or an organizational level that will let you test the concept in a controlled but meaningful way. For example, you could consider using assessments with a critical workforce segment such as customer service representatives, or an organizational level such as first-line supervisors. Look for groups that may not be well understood from a talent perspective—you may be pleasantly surprised at what you learn from the assessments.
Focus on the critical attributes – Analyze the selected role/organizational level to identify the attributes needed for successful performance– these are the elements you want to assess. This is a great way to clarify expectations for incumbents and those who aspire to the position.
Start small and expand – Avoid the temptation of doing too much too soon. Learning as you go and gradually expanding your use of assessments is a great way to bring other stakeholders on board.
Connect the assessment to other activities – Help employees and their managers understand why they are participating in an assessment, and how the resulting information will be used. Linking assessment findings to an individual’s development plan can make the process relevant and actionable.
By making talent assessments part of your talent management processes, you can identify your next generation of leaders and increase the engagement of valuable employees. Even more important, you can begin to mine the hidden talent “gold” in your organization.
Our guest blogger this week is Mark Plaster. Mark is President of Markwood Partners, and has a wealth of career experience in the areas of HR strategy and consulting, talent management, executive succession, leadership development, and change management. Mark has led the development of comprehensive talent management strategies and implemented processes to assess, develop and manage leadership talent. Contact him via email or LinkedIn.