As business leaders continue to grapple with their organization’s top talent challenges, here are five common talent-related questions they should consider rethinking.
Old: “How quickly can we fill that open job?”
Better: “What abilities will we need in the future?”
Staff openings need to be elevated from replacing “in-kind” employees as fast as possible with assessing and determining which skills and capabilities the company is likely to need in the future. Talent-oriented leaders are always looking to upgrade whenever and wherever possible. They look to build with a forward-looking performance profile.
Old: “What’s/who’s the problem?
Better: “What’s the deeper meaning of that?
Talent problems are often the most vexing and uncomfortable challenge for business leaders. Too often managers want problems to go away as quickly as possible, and as a result they tend to reach for superficial responses. Slow down the “quick fix” answer or avoidance behavior by facing the talent issue with a deeper level of curiosity and inquiry. The lean six-sigma approach of asking “why” five times is a better way to gain insight on the challenge and provide better solutions.
Old: “Does that feel right?”
Better: “What evidence and data leads us to that answer?”
The world of people management is now catching up to the rest of the business. Talent metrics and predictive analytics are replacing gut-feel and uniformed opinions. Challenge staff to describe talent situations with relevant data, trends and numeric analysis. Push them to justify resource investments with return-on-investment application and commitment. Ongoing talent scorecards and dashboard reviews should replace one-off conversations on what’s doing on.
Old: “What can you do?”
Better: “What can we all do together?”
Gone are the days when business leaders delegate the work of talent to the human resources department with fragmented efforts. More effective approaches integrate the sub-disciplines of HR — recruiting, compensation, training, etc. — into a more holistic perspective. For the courageous line leader, try this question: What might I be doing to cause or contribute to this talent problem?
Old: “Is this promotion or removal too soon?”
Better: “How can we make this stretch promotion work and/or address this performance issue now?”
Leaders often overestimate the risk of accelerating a promising talent into a bigger role and underestimate the negative impact of ignoring underperformance. In both situations, the better move is to lean into action. First, make bigger bets on potential and apply supporting resources to make a “stretch” promotion successful. Likewise, making room for upgrades often means treading into uncomfortable conversations and actions with lower-performing employees. In both cases, the risk of inaction is much higher than taking bold moves.
These five questions are just a sample of what contemporary leaders need to upgrade when managing talent. Be aware of where talent fits on your leadership agenda and begin posing better talent questions for greater business success.
Kevin Wilde is the former head of talent and organization capabilities at General Mills Inc. and now serves as an executive leadership fellow at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.