Talent Management: The Invisible Promotion Dilemma


The 7 February issue of Fortune had an article titled “The Invisible Promotion” by Vickie Elmer, pages 31 – 32 that raises a fundamental set of dilemmas regarding organizations all too common talent management approach:

“Welcome to the world of invisible promotions, where you can have your job – and your former boss’s too.”

What makes this an intriguing observation is that organizations seem to be adopting this approach as a standard operating practice rather than a bridging crisis management one.

What are some observations that we can make about this?

  • It is and will be found to be unsustainable. People become so locked into coping with current workloads they lose and capacity to see let alone adapt to change as the need rises. Consequence: organizations will fail more frequently due to reduced capacity to adapt to business context changes
  • It is and will be found to be sustainable. This suggests that organizations have been particularly incompetent in understanding how to design in optimum role performance attributes. It takes a business crisis to push organizations into adopting “ad hoc” (just got lucky) type role performance improvements. Wow! talk about being strategic (yes plenty of sarcasm here).

My own sense is the the first possible observation is going to be frequently made. Why? Because loading up is done with a proportional increase in the number of hours worked AND, very little intentional redesign of roles (just collapsing them together). So if the second observation becomes true for an organization, it wasn’t because they knew what they were doing.

My additional observation is this loading up effort is being asymmetrically applied to certain types of roles: so called white collar knowledge work ones.

This suggests that as organizations do this in a “in the moment” opportunistic manner they are increasing their U&R. Knowledge work performance is subtle especially if it is to be done well there is a continual need to learn. Learning is a contemplative and practice effort.

Contemplative in that one has to assess what has been/is  going on and comprehend it – comprehension is the contemplative task. To get one’s mind around something new, unexpected, odd, etc. can takes time. What we don’t know ahead of time is how complex the learning is and how long it will take (variables include: personal learning skills and whether the new/outre is informatively clear enough). So, how realistic is it to believe that people who are “up to their eye brows in work” are going to be effective at this?

Practice is the effort it takes to adopt the new and replace the old. This second item (replacement) is the hardest for many adults. So time and space need to be allocated to this as well. This means people have to be concurrently doing even more now. How realistic is this when they are “up to their eye brows in work” already?

There is a cliche that I find quite disturbing: Crisis is the mother of innovation. This is in all likelihood just nonsense. It takes time to introduce innovation and loading up work on people just flies in the face of this need. Yes I know all about the wartime stories. I also know that those doing the innovation were in the main not on the front lines at the time. What I can acknowledge is crisis points out the need for innovation (the so called “burning platform” cited by change agents).

I have mentioned this in earlier posts: I do not believe we understand what it is to make knowledge work truly high performing. If readers have come across some decent research, I would love to be corrected. We seem to have pretty good ideas on what it takes to make more physical types of work optimally productive (we mainly pour tons of targeted capital investment into it).

What might I see if I was to be satisfied? I will give a “rule of thumb” example from the consulting field: 20% of your potential billable hours needs to be allocated to learning. I understand that many consulting and professional groups use this or something similar rule of thumb.

Over to you dear reader.


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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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