Talent Management: Leadership Performance Management Issues


This post explores a number of issues concerning leadership performance from a TM perspective. Although leadership and management are often viewed as related and distinct roles, in this post they will be considered as a single entity (leadership).

Leadership in terms of its role performance has several special features:

  • It establishes the purpose of the organization and does the operationalization of that purpose.
  • It sets the business processes and subsequent elements within it, including role specifications.
  • It ensures the overall performance of system processes are operating properly in terms of of more general business goals.
  • It deals with the “human – machine” interface issues of productivity.
  • It deals with ensuring human talent involvement “elevates” the performance of the business system.
  • etc.

One of the reasons that leadership (especially senior levels) are considered a critical/pivotal role is the fact of its “leverage”. Done well, it can have an “performance elevating” effect on other roles. This is a mathematical like consideration: a leadership role that has 100 people reporting through it has at least 10 times the leverage of a role that has 10 people reporting.

Leverage of course cuts both ways. Done poorly the role has a disproportionately detrimental effect on other peoples’ performance.

We often think about how we recognize and reward those with leverage. But do we think as much about our tolerance for mediocre to devastating performance. I sometimes wonder whether we can honestly say yes:

  • In the 19 January, 2011 Knowledge @ Wharton electronic news letter an article (The Cost of Entrenchment: Why CEOs Are Rarely reviews some research by Luke Taylor (Wharton Finance professor) on why CEOs aren’t fired more frequently. Taylor considers two components: tangible cost reasons and intangible cost considerations. One fascinating thought was that Boards don’t act because of the “personal costs” in terms of time and stress in making this ruminating choice.
  • In the 19 January, 2011 Vancouver Province paper, page A34 a short article titled “Bad Bosses big Problem” briefly touched on how poor leadership performance adversely impacts on employee morale and engagement. However, this is considered a significant problem according to research done by Human Resources Professionals Association.

The second commentary, is one I have read a number of times before and also seen reported by numerous employee attitude type surveys. The question is:

“If we are aware of a systemic issue that affects organizational performance (and commonly shared values around treatment of others), why  haven’t we seen more action to rectify it taken?”

I suspect the answer is in part, we don’t know what to do (e.g., deal with bad bosses) without incurring significant consequences (The Wharton research about intangible costs).

I also suspect, we are asking the wrong question. My position generally is if we have tried to deal with an issue with poor success for a fairly long period of time, we have framed the issue/problem in a un-useful manner.

Leadership performance is a composite issue in terms of:

  • what are appropriate the metrics (inputs – throughputs – outputs – outcomes)?
  • what are the behaviours that are desired/not desired (and this is a messy list)?
  • what are the time frames for performance assessment (inputs – pre-now & now, throughputs/behaviours – realtime, outputs – results, outcomes – what difference anyway)?
  • what can we hold account for: direct and any indirect?
  • etc.

Senior leadership I would propose is responsible for outcomes. Unfortunately these are measured in long  time frames (can be years). Also, it is difficult to distinguish an individual’s contributions from other intervening factors when time frames are longer.

On the more “personal attributes” side, what behaviours are associated with organizational performance. People who are acknowledged to be major forces in organizational success are often far from “nice”. I have also observed that major professional contributors are often very quirky and difficult to be around. Also people react differently to someone else’s behaviour and attitudes.

I go back to an earlier post where I discussed role performance ranges (insufficient – what we expect/hope for – too much). I also noted that we seemed to almost ignore that something desirable can have an upper limit. for example, at what point does self confidence become hubris?

What do I think about recognizing and rewarding high leverage roles?

These are some thoughts and they are very “tentative” in that they express places I would be inclined to spend time considering. What I would be focusing on when I consider these thoughts are: “What are the they foreseeable unintended consequences?”

Senior leadership:

  • The focus to be on behaviours and outcomes.
  • This suggests that rewards would be largely deferred in some form or other. I would get around the dilemma “that the future is out of my control” by indicating that your role is n large part one of navigation to the vision (the outcome). If you can’t navigate, you are not very good at the role.
  • I would also consider what behaviours result in “elevation” of the performance of others and be clear about the insufficient – to over functioning range. On this I would be inclined to be “tight” about accommodating performance near either range limit. Why? Because leadership behaviour appears to have a significant impact on others (the lever principle in action).

Intermediate leadership:

  • The focus to be on the effects of the person’s accountable outputs/results on others. How did your results make a difference to your customer/ recipient/client/whatever?
  • Attention to throughputs because this role is accountable to ensure the business process operates efficiently and effectively
  • I  would also consider the behavioural aspect in much the same manner as for the senior level.
  • The timeframes for recognition and rewards would be now to the median term (when outcomes are determinable)

In the trenches level leadership:

  • The focus on how what is accomplished made a difference to  others.
  • How the role deals with input and throughput issues in the area of accountability.
  • Behaviours like the levels above.
  • As above timeframes would be from now to when outcomes are determinable.

Again, to reiterate: Any recognition and reward scheme must be setup and assessed by its consequences (i.e., outcomes).

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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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