Organizations spend large sums of money designing and deploying talent management and development processes. They plot their aspiring leaders into matrices, grids, and other templates. These are very helpful but they are not enough. The CEO needs to be connecting personally with the best organizational talent. This is the best way to really know what is happening with them, to gauge how much value they deliver to the business, and to find out if they are living the dream. Believe me, the dream can quickly turn into a nightmare. Why is that? Because, in most organizations, you have “human talent bottlenecks” and people “demotivators”. I am referring to your middle managers and other leaders who have serious leadership gaps and can significantly affect your organization’s talent energy and passion levels. Their behaviors range from taking credit for the work of your best talent, to manipulating the results of these A players, to filtering the communication lines between the CEO and the talented staff, and to blocking advancements. As a CEO, I have worked with some of these people, and I have had to craft plans to go around them and to deal with them. Here are some of the steps I took:
1) Connect directly with A players and make sure everyone knows the exchanges are candid and transparent. I held a list of the top 30 to 50 A players, critical employees, and promising leaders. My goal was to meet with them every 4 to 6 weeks formally or informally to gage their job satisfaction levels. By forging personal relationships with them, I was able to break through the games and filters put in place by some middle managers.
2) Ask your problematic leaders and other “human bottleneck” to take 360 degree surveys. This is the best way to surface issues of leadership, micromanagement, manipulation, and other dysfunctional behaviors.
3) Hold talent management review in groups so that feedback and perceptions comes from multiple leadership sources. That will isolate the unsupported and irrational views of some of the worst offenders.
4) Make sure you tell these leaders that you know what is going to and that it needs to change. They will deny all of this but with the support from specific feedback and 360 degree survey input, you will have the opportunity to change the game. In the end, I recommend you put these less-than-mindful leaders in performance improvement plans. I have done so and it worked well to a certain extent.
5) Invite your best talents to strategic projects and in special task forces. See them in action. How their impact to the organization. Results do not lie.
As a CEO, I trusted the assessment of my direct reports. But I wanted to make my own assessments to make sure there were no gaps in talent evaluation. Once I identified deviant behaviors from some of my leaders, I took actions to protect and “free” the potential of our best organizational talent. A bad leaders will impact your organization in many ways. Do not allow them to demotivate and negatively influence your best talent. Stay close to them and take action.