Competing Through People  |  October 2012  Edition
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MAC 2011

Leadership Development is Hard Work  


I get a tickle out of some of the stuff I see advertised as "Leadership Development".  From outdoor adventures to weekend retreats to cooking classes to read my book and take this quiz . . . you name it.   These quick fix fads come and go.  But we know that there are no shortcuts to becoming an effective leader.  It takes hard work. 


 Research has shown over and over again that there are only three ways to develop the knowledge, skills and abilities (read behaviors) needed to be an effective leader.  They are, in order of impact:


1.    Jobs or assignments,

2.     Learning from others, and,

3.     Self-Development or Coursework.

The most valuable development comes from combining these three factors but almost all development occurs from jobs and assignments.  Not just any old job or assignment will do however.  The assignment has to have some intensity that ignites our senses and focuses our attention.   New behaviors have to come to bear.  Good development typically involves working with new people and taking some risks.  If you can immediately do all parts of a job or assignment, than it is most likely not developmental. 

Yes, good development is not stress reducing.  But challenging jobs or projects are not only developmental; they can also be the most rewarding of a career.  Without some challenge, a job is just a job.

"HR Just Doesn't Get It"


I spoke recently at a state-wide conference of HR leaders held at a conference center along with other organization's events.  I was standing by the registration table when two men approached.  One picked up the HR conference brochure.  His companion noted that they were at the wrong place, this was a meeting for Human Resources people.  The first person physically recoiled and dropped the brochure as if it was plague-infected.  I approached and helped them find their meeting.  I asked why he reacted so negatively to being at  a meeting of HR leaders.  He answered "HR just doesn't get it" and walked away. 

I know, more HR bashing.  I started my career in HR but moved on to other business roles.  I haven't seen much change in the profession over the years to warrant a different opinion.  What can HR do to improve its reputation?  Here are some thoughts.

  1. Put the business and business strategy first, not people.  As you may have read or heard me say before, an organization's talent only has value to the extent that it supports and drives the strategy.  Build talent practices from your particular company's strategy, not the most recent fad.
  2. Be as much, if not more, an advocate of the business as an employee advocate.  Stop calling employees HR's "customers".  Companies only have one customer - those that provide remuneration for value delivered.  HR needs to focus on that real customer and build talent practices that serve them, not employees.  
  3. Be proactive versus reactive.  HR tends to be whipsawed by changes in the business.  Take time to learn the business, get ahead of the curve and propose solutions that prevent problems rather than cleaning up the mess afterwards.
  4. Get out of the transaction business.  Employee life-cycle transactions are needed because you have employees.  However, none of that work delivers value to the market place nor is it critical to the success of the business.  Streamline transactions, centralize them or outsource all of it.  Focus on the talent practices that create, sustain and improve the capability of the organization.
  5. Differentiate your talent approach.  Not all jobs are equally critical to business success and not all employees have the same capability.  Know which roles and people are critical and build talent systems that recognize and support those differences.
  6. Recognize that no business decision is risk-free.  HR has a reputation for just saying no and telling leaders what they can't do.  Not helpful.  Do your homework, provide options, spell out the associated risks and facilitate a decision that is the lowest risk with the greatest benefit.  I heard a leader facetiously emphasize this point by saying, "Stop telling me what I can't do, just tell me if its a misdemeanor or a felony!"


Do you have any suggestions on how HR can improve its rep?  Let me know at [email protected].



What Are You Up To?


I get that question a lot so I thought I'd pass along some of Michael Couch & Associates recent projects.


Challenge:  A human services non-profit must improve the overall capability of its organization to address its ever changing environment and client base.
What We're Doing:  Developed a process to access the present capability of the organization and to identify the high-value actions to improve capability.  Built leadership competency models and processes to accelerate the development of critical talent.
Challenge:  A global manufacturer is forecasting a significant gap in critical talent that will hurt its ability to compete
What We're Doing:  Designed and facilitated team projects to build competency models, complete workforce planning, improve selection, create rotational/development processes for new talent and build a talent infrastructure.


Challenge:  A financial-services organization wants to make sure that it continues its growth.
What We're Doing: Designed and facilitated a strategic planning process that drives a high level of engagement with the Board and Staff, bbuilds on their recent growth, iidentifies additional markets/regions to address, and is consensus building.
Challenge:  The CEO of a global manufacturing business realized that they need a vision for the organization that is very different than it is today - the level of change needed to be significant.
What We Did:  Designed and facilitated a visioning process with the executive leadership team that clearly defined the new vision and assured that the Leadership Team was on the same page with the vision and the work needed to achieve it.
In This Edition
The New World of Talent
Putting Strategy Before People
Minding the Gap in Talent
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