Talent Management: Leadership Performance Dilemma


This post is also inspired by an article in 11 January, 2011 National Post by Mary Teresa Bitti on page FP10 titled “leaders Matter”. The article’s author cites an recruiting consultant (Sussannah Kelly) who suggests that:

“A successful organization holds people accountable not only for short-term growth but for sustainable growth and building cultures tolerant to debate and dissent, for understanding complex systems”

Ms. Kelly raises a very interesting dilemma regarding PM: how do we effectively do PM for long term consequences?

It is also useful to note that in North American culture “accountability” is more than a descriptive term – it is most often a pejorative statement on who “screwed up”. Yet, in PM we need to know who made the great useful decisions that result in long term desired consequences.

For some occupations such as engineering there are extended statue of limitations for failures due to engineering neglect. What other occupations have a similar ethic concerning long term accountability and liability?

For long term leadership accountability, the conundrum is compounded by the following “realities:

  • Tenure is often shorter than occurrence of the consequences.
  • Dissecting an event from a chain of prior decisions that may have involved many people at differing times who materially aided the consequences by what they did or did not do.
  • Impracticality of using the courts to determine who is really accountable for what unless there is a tort or criminal aspect to the issue of accountability (i.e., liability). Courts are used to determine who should “pay” for some wrong, not really for assessing what went well (N.B., I am not a lawyer so I can be corrected on this assumption).

As I ponder M.s Kelly’s proposal it seems that we would end up what we already try and do: have short term and long term (usually deferred) forms of recognition and rewards.

So there are 2 PM questions to ponder here:

  1. Are we structuring the short/long term forms of recognition & rewards appropriately?
  2. Are we making assumptions or metaphysical statements on what is required to be successful. Ms. Kelly suggests what successful organizations require (debate and dissent tolerant cultures and understanding of complex systems)?

The second possibility is what interests me first in this post: Are there a given set of organizational system attributes that are universally present in all successful organizations and has Ms. Kelly tagged them?

I can think of a number of business environmental scenarios where these desired attributes may be problematic. Environments where speed in decision making and execution are the operational norm (think of emergency response, military, real time trading, technically based maintenance, etc. as possible examples). I would need to fully appreciate how Ms. Kelly would see these necessary for success attributes are institutionalized so they do not become dysfunctional in practice.

Actually I can think of several ways to work around the potential problems (But I am a consultant after all!). But I do know one thing – there has to be careful organization design and establishment of cultural norms on where, when and how to/not to. To blithely introduce and institutionalize the prescribed success attributes may fall into that famous warning: “be careful of what you ask for”.

The “where” could also be external as well as external which touches on the concept I have touched on earlier that TM considers system boundary permeability too.

The first PM question is of interest as it has been a recognized need for many years now, and we still seem to have difficulty in getting it right.

In this article a Richard Ivey School of Business Report titled “Leadership on Trial: A manifesto for Leadership Development” was cited on the 4 areas that leadership failure contributed to the recent financial crisis.

  1. Competence: failure to conduct effective environmental analysis, risk management and control
  2. Character: poor values and ethics
  3. Personality traits: overconfidence, hubris and hyper-competitiveness
  4. Commitment: failure to do the hard work for proper governance of large complex organizations

As insightful as this list is, I suspect that if we looked at the organizations caught up in this failure, we would see that they had PM systems that would be considered state-of-the-art (or nearly good as).

I have commented in an earlier post that role PM considers the total band of role performance (minimally acceptable – acceptable – maximally acceptable). It is this upper limit of performance acceptability that is important to appreciate. When we are involved in designing physical/electrical/chemical/electronic/biological type systems we are always considering the upper limits of system performance.

My question to HR PM practitioners is:

“Do you consider the upper limits of performance success (we know what is too much of a good thing) in your PM systems for critical roles and performance situations?”

Think of this in the context of the above list: Shows lack of self confidence – acts with self confidence and assuredness – shows over confidence and hubris.

The way this is written it is in the form of a personality trait, however, I could just as easily frame this too low – too high range for any leadership activity. My own experience with HR PM systems is they often are very vague, even silent on what is too much of a good thing. this is important from another perspective. Unless you know “what is too much of a good thing”, how do you know it when you observe it? Also, if you are not particularly looking for it, how would you measure for it?

I have been away from dealing with HR related PM systems for several years now, so I am open to learning how you are dealing with this system design issue.

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About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
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