People worry about becoming obsolete. And they should. In a global marketplace, jobs change quickly, but there is a way employees can curtail their worries and stay relevant in their work lives — stretch.
We discovered five practices that successful people use to personally stretch themselves:
- Learn on the fly in any situation.
- Be open in your thinking to a world beyond where you are now.
- Build a diverse network so that you can connect to the people who can help you make your future happen.
- Be greedy about experiences that will prepare you for tomorrow.
- Bounce forward to stay motivated through the ups and downs of a career.
Organizations and managers can help their employees deploy these five practices. One approach can be particularly effective because it provides an opportunity for learners to tackle multiple practices. At the same time, it provides an approach for learning and development to collaborate with the talent management process, enriching both.
In typical talent management reviews, human resources sits down with managers to determine where talent sits in the organization, conducts succession plans and then plans development activities for various levels. At learning events, directors attend director training, managers with other managers, and so on.
The challenge with this method is that managers do not get to know the talent in other organizations and on different hierarchical levels than their own in a meaningful and memorable way. Bjorn Atterstam, the former group head of talent and leadership development at Prudential, thought there had to be a better way.
The responsibility for organizational development and developing the right capabilities must lie primarily with the leaders in the organization, in Atterstam’s view. He and his team designed a total immersion event staged in Hong Kong for more than 100 leaders. Using professionally written scripts and actors, the group was able to develop a collective view on how the company’s strategy could conceivably play out and how to deliver results in a complex environment. With mixed-level teams, senior leaders had an opportunity to observe and coach junior leaders.
At the end of one of these multilevel events, Atterstam and the Prudential talent team asked the senior-most leaders to stay an additional half-day. The executives’ impressions were fresh observing people in the applied learning situation. The senior leaders were asked, “What talent are we going to need? How are you going to be ready to have the leadership team you need to succeed you? Who have you been exposed to here that we need to develop and in what way?”
The senior leaders were far more engaged in making on-the-spot developmental assignments happen as a result of the networking and working together with real people instead of reports and profiles. This created an organic approach and culture of developing talent.
Fredrik Schuller, partner and senior vice president at strategy alignment company BTS, confirmed that this organic and integrated approach to development can yield big results. At one top-five energy company that used a BTS strategy simulation, the senior-most leaders served as participant observers instead of using outside coaches or psychologists.
One executive told him, “I’ve only heard names in talent management reviews before. By observing people in action with the strategy, I get such a better view. Usually my interaction with people has me telling more than listening. Here I have to shut up and observe, and I learn more about the talent that way.” The role of observer in the learning situation has become such an insightful experience that there is a waitlist among executives to participate.
For the development participants, the rewards are also impressive. Because these are large events, they scale their networks sideways and vertically in the organization. They get a rich experience, accelerating their development. Everyone benefits, and the people development process comes alive.