Ability

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Defining Leadership Potential

totem-prismA new kid on the potential block

We’ve written a fair amount on defining potential over the years and this remains a critical challenge for businesses.  How do we spot our future leaders and help them get to the position we need them to be in as soon as possible?  Now there is a new answer to this question.

Whilst our work in this area to date has focused on our own research and experience on defining and developing potential, combined with the most popular models of YSC’s Judgement, Drive and Influence and Korn Ferry’s Learning Agility (you can read more on these here), the most recent development is Korn Ferry’s Assessment of Leadership Potential.

Based on the most recent comprehensive research on what has led to leaders being successful, Korn Ferry have a model and product that can guide us all on defining and measuring potential.

Korn Ferry defines potential as “the capacity and interest to develop the qualities required for effective performance in significantly more challenging leadership roles.”

Their research to understand what indicates this potential brought up four distinct categories: the “who you are” drivers and traits and the “what you do” experiences and competencies.  For measuring potential, the focus is on those “who you are” characteristics as these indicate things about you that are more innate rather than learned behaviours or past experiences.

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This has all resulted in a new product on the market, the The Korn Ferry Assessment of Leadership Potential (KFALP), which measures the following:

Drivers – the drive and desire to take on the challenges associated with being a leader.

Experience – the experiences that have shaped and prepared a candidate to be successful in higher-level positions.

Awareness – the ability to identify personal strengths and weaknesses and how they affect others.

Learning Agility – the ability and willingness to learn from experience and apply that learning to perform successfully under new and first-time conditions.

Leadership Traits – specific traits that help leaders to excel: focus, persistence, tolerance for ambiguity, assertiveness and optimism.

Capacity – the cognitive abilities necessary for logic, reasoning and to solve complex problems

Derailment Risks – The ability to manage and avoid the classic derailers of unpredictability in a leader’s behaviour, micro-managing and being closed to others’ perspectives

And of course just like the YSC Judgement, Drive and Influence (JDI) model, this opens up opportunities for businesses to benefit from the research whilst creating their own versions of these models.  Many clients we work with have previously created their own model of potential by combing the YSC JDI and older Korn Ferry model of learning agility.

Now it appears Korn Ferry have produced the ultimate – a model that combines those two ideas and adds some new, rather useful concepts.

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Looking at the detailed indicators under each of the seven areas, it appears that YSC’s Judgement is shown here in the KFALP under capacity, Drive under the drivers section and Influence appears to be spread out across the drivers sub-section of power (an individual’s interest in influencing others) and in the experience section (where critical experiences include negotiations and external relations).

That is all to say that this new Korn Ferry model gives us all a more recently developed and comprehensive definition of potential which envelops the models most widely used in business today – JDI and learning agility.

It’s the joy of being independent that we have the chance to go into businesses and help them develop models and frameworks for defining, assessing and developing potential, that best suit the company objectives and culture.  There’s no doubt that this latest research will be of great value to all talent functions looking to benchmark leadership potential.

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Making ‘No Ratings’ Work

handcuffs-brokenHow to make the transition to no more performance ratings – successfully.

If you’re considering saying bye bye to the classic performance rating system, you are not alone.  You can read here about the findings of many companies who have already made the same move.

It’s not surprising that this has been a popular move because who has ever really enjoyed rating or being rated?  At some point it becomes an awkward conversation.

Congratulations – you don’t have to go through that anymore!  But what do you do instead?  And how does that make things better – for you, your team and your business?  Here are some top tips from our experience with helping managers make this transition, backed up by neuroscience and research from the CEB and NLI.

Explain the change

We know that change can be difficult, particularly when we can’t see why change is happening.  Our brains like certainty, predictability and safety in knowledge, so not knowing what’s happening, what that means for me, what might happen next – and all the other usual hallmarks or organisational change, can lead us to unrest and panic.  Explore for you personally and the business overall why you are moving away from performance ratings.

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You could even remind people how awkward these conversations have been in the past, so it is a good thing to remove a painful and potentially unhelpful process.  Have you and your team been more effective and produced better results in the lead up to and just after that rating conversation?  If not then surely this is a good reason for change.

This leads us on to the future focus.  If we understand why what we had before is not so good, then we ask, “What is better then?  What will we do from now on?”  You need to be ready for this question and have some good ideas.

Or if you want to be truly collaborative, you could ask your team: “We think there must be something better than this awkward ratings conversation, but we’re all involved in this process, so what do you think could work better?”  Being involved in shaping the future process increases engagement in both business and neurological terms – we both feel good about our employer and feel valued in ourselves, all having a positive impact on the way we feel and our productivity.

If you don’t have the option to be so collaborative, perhaps because your HR or Executive Leadership team have already agreed what will happen instead, then explain the new process.  Make sure you explore with the team why this new process is considered to be better and ideally still ask them to define part of it.

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Even a small amount of consultation and empowerment to make decisions keeps our brains happy, so this as an example could get you a more positive outcome than having no consultation at all: “We know we need to have more frequent performance check-in conversations and these need to happen every other month.  Which months would you prefer these occur in?  And when in the month would be best for you?”

Have the conversation more often

The increased frequency of conversations has been found to correlate with organisations seeing success from this transition, as found in the NLI’s research.  It stands to reason that the removal of a past-focused once or twice a year rating process, if replaced with nothing, could just mean that performance goes nowhere.

Getting rid of hours spent justifying a rating is best seen as an opportunity to have more frequent ‘check-ins’ – shorter, sharper conversations about an individual’s results and behaviours.  This means as managers we need to be putting time aside for these conversations, whether face-to-face or remotely over the phone / skype etc.  As I often say on workshops, this is not about finding more time for conversations, it’s about taking the time you already spend in conversations – and making that more effective.

General chit chats about how things are going, moaning about systems, politics and red tape, are not a good use of our time.  So instead make sure you have 1:1s booked in with the specific purpose of reviewing what is going well, what needs working on and how the individual will be working on that over the next few weeks.

Give more specific feedback and coaching

Of course all of that means you need to be confident and skills with feedback and coaching.  Here’s a starting point suggestion for a good conversation or performance check-in:

The purpose of this conversation is for us to both be clear on what’s going well, what needs improving and what each of us will do over the next few weeks to make those improvements.  That means we should be ending this meeting with agreed actions and timescales for review

  • How are things going for you?
  • What’s going well?

Add your specific feedback on what you have seen them do well – both in terms of results and the behaviours that got them there.

  • What needs further improvement?

Add your specific feedback on what you have seen them do not so well – both in terms of results and behaviours.

  • What could you do over the next few weeks to make more of what’s going well and improve on the other areas?
  • Where will you start?
  • What support would you like from me?
  • When we next meet to review progress on [date], what will you be telling me then – as an indicator of success?

Use statements and questions like these to keep the conversation focused and make sure it is the individual planning their future success, rather than justifying their past performance.

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This level of coaching or empowering someone to come up with their own feedback and solutions, is shown in our brains to make us feel good about ourselves and help us commit to the plans agreed.  Being told what to do and how to do it just doesn’t cut it, so sense-check you’re doing this well by reviewing who did most of the talking during your meeting: it should not be the manager!

Any change is going to feel uncomfortable, because we’re not used to it yet.  Even the best things we’ve ever done feel unnatural at first as we get used to them.  Clear communication about why we’re changing, what we’re changing to and how that’s better, following by more frequent check-ins with good feedback and coaching – all of this can help you instil a great performance culture – minus the ratings!

If you would like support working out how to implement a no-ratings approach, we can help with on-the-job quick reference guides, workshops and online learning tools – just give us a call for a chat about how we can help you.

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Dropping the Performance Ratings

ratingsWhy the world is falling out of love with the Annual Performance Review and its ratings.

Ahh.  The Annual Performance Review.  We’ve all had one and all left one feeling vaguely worse about ourselves and probably demotivated as a result.  It’s also quite likely you’ve been on the other side of the table too – having had similar feelings.  In many ways, Annual Performance Reviews make sense.

In business we crave the ability to quantify everything, from our sales targets to the number of toner cartridges we use.  Why shouldn’t our people be the same?  The ability to rank our employees in a given context and to assign performance-related perks (or not) has been the bread and butter of the average HR department for decades.  Where would General Electric and Jack Welch be without them?

So why are a growing number of high profile, global organisations including Amazon, Microsoft, Accenture and even General Electric themselves, moving away from the fixed rating, yearly performance review?

To begin with, the world doesn’t work to yearly cycles anymore, it may well do for senior managers, investors and your finance department – but for those of us on the frontline we have daily, weekly and monthly goals to achieve – things we quite often receive instant feedback on.  We inherently know (or at least we should do!) what our performance has been over any short time period, so why wrap it up once a year and look backwards?

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When Deloitte analysed their performance processes, they found employees and managers spent around two million hours a year on performance reviews (take the average hourly wage at Deloitte and times it by 2 Million – that’s a big number).  Do we know we’re getting good value out of this time?

Initially designed to help managers coach people to better performance, most appraisal meetings fall into a rut of ‘what you did well over the past 12 months and what you didn’t do well’.  In today’s corporate environment, assessing, addressing and rewarding performance once a year is simply too slow – both for the business and for the employee.

Which leads us to the second part of the answer: millennials.  David Rock and Beth Jones, writing for the Harvard Business Review about their research on this move to abolish ratings, comment that:

“Millennials in particular crave learning and career growth.  Of the 30 companies we studied, one preliminary finding that jumped out was that after a company removed ratings, managers talked to their teams significantly more often about performance – three or four times a year instead of only once.”

A growing number of your workforce will have grown up with the ability to give and receive feedback instantly, frequently and whilst mobile.

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The nature of that feedback has changed too – the problem with many appraisal meetings is that much of the time is spent talking about the ratings themselves, not the underlying performance.  Millennials are far more comfortable asking the question why.  They don’t simply want a star or a thumbs up on their rating form, they want to see constructive feedback.

If a manager is unable to give them this guidance and coaching – in real time remember – then the manager is no better than a troll on YouTube.

It’s also the case that the familiar incentives don’t always encourage the best employees anymore, so we’re required to offer more tailored feedback and customized work arrangements for our top performers.  Companies that are removing ratings are seeing the conversations with their employees move from justification of past performance to conversations about growth, development and by extension – engagement.

All of us as managers need to stop getting stuck in processes and reviewing what is in this day and age, the ancient history of work performance 12 months ago.  We need to instead focus on instant, specific feedback so that everyone knows when they’re on the right path – and how to make positive change when they’re not.

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But does it work?  The CEB and the NLI have been researching companies who have made the move already and there are mixed results. CEB claims that most experiences are negative after the removal of ratings, whereas the NLI describes very positive outcomes. 

In the conversations we are having with clients taking the option to say goodbye to the rating system, there is a constant theme of concern over the organisation’s readiness.  Are managers aware of what they will be doing instead of discussing ratings?  Are they ready for that?  If this means more frequent and specific feedback, do managers have the skills and confidence to do that well?

The NLI have found that the most successful transitions have been where the business has lead strong change management communication on why this is happening, what it means for everyone involved and how people will be supported through it.  These businesses have also focused on increasing the frequency of performance conversations and moving the discussion from looking at the past to looking at the future.

It’s not a big stretch to see how the neuroscience literature supports this – as any change brings uncertainty unless there is an increase in strong communication focused on the why question.

In our next article we explore how you can do this well too…

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Ability Tests

Ability tests measure a specific aptitude – an inherent talent.

If we are using ability tests to screen candidates for a role, we need to be really sure that we are screening for the right thing. Is a verbal reasoning test score really the measure of a great manager?

What are Ability Tests?

Tests are carefully and robustly designed to measure abilities objectively, and they must be completed under exam-like conditions to ensure the environment is as consistent as possible for all users.

Remember that ability tests only predict one small aspect of job performance – so you’ll need to have a clear idea of what else is critical to success in the role

What value do they add?

When the right test is used for the right reason, the validity can be greatly improved. This means that a correctly chosen ability test can measure how effective a person might be in a role better than any other single selection method. The key is in selecting the right test, and in recognising that the test only predicts one small aspect of overall performance.

For example, verbal reasoning test scores have been found to link strongly with job performance in management roles. This is hardly surprising given the demands on a manager’s communication skills. That said, verbal reasoning is only one part of overall management skill. Knowing a management candidate has strong verbal reasoning skill is a great start. What else do they have?

Ability tests add value to your selection process by telling you very quickly whether a candidate holds the inherent talents that are critical to success in the role. A common and valuable use of ability tests is in high volume recruitment, where it is great to use ability tests as a sifting tool.

What’s the downside?

Candidates tend to really dislike taking these tests, but then, those that are successful tend to consider that they have really ‘earned’ their place in the next stage of your process.

The major risk with these tests is that choosing the wrong test could mean that you are selecting against the wrong criteria.

How to gain maximum value

  • Complete a thorough job analysis before choosing test
  • Use tests as one part of your selection process, as they only measure one aspect of performance
  • Improve candidate perception by ensuring they know how the test relates to the requirements of the role and by giving them feedback
  • The BPS (British Psychological Society) ensures robustness in the design, publishing and use of ability tests – so make sure you use BPS approved tests, administered by BPS qualified users
  • Constantly review the process – are the tests providing you with strong candidates for the next stage of your process?
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Collective Creativity

Totem-Creativity 400x265Is creativity a collective effort?  How do we create creativity?

A recent article published in the British Psychological Society (BPS) Magazine ‘The Psychologist’, suggests creativity may be more about teamwork than individual genius.  Is that a viable idea, and if so, how can we make the most of it at work?

Finding an idea that makes a company grow rapidly, or saves the company millions – that’s gold dust.

Finding the sort of creative genius who comes up with ideas like that – perhaps that’s even more rare.  Or is this idea of a few, wonderful creative types coming up with all the great ideas, a bit misleading?  Research quoted by the BPS suggests that those moments of creative genius are outcomes of favourable circumstances and strong collaboration.  Most great innovations have one name marked against them, followed by a team of collaborators.

The 2012 movie about the creative genius of Alfred Hitchcock depicted the important role of his wife Alma Reville.  The teamwork between the pair was apparently critical in developing the movies that shocked and impressed audiences.  Steve Jobs is the one name put to the rise and rise of Apple – yet his team of innovators is expansive.

And when we think of personal examples of creativity and innovation – big or small – we usually find one idea sparked, with plenty of support to build it into a reality.

Whilst there’s no doubt that certain people are indeed creative wonders, this research does point to a brighter opportunity for businesses.  Rather than waiting or hoping for a creative genius to come along, companies can encourage collaboration and sharing in order to grow their creative output.

Of course that’s not necessarily a simple thing to do, as the research with actors in improvisation highlights that you need each person to be focused on working as part of the team – not out for their own success.  That can be a real challenge in what is often seen to be a high pressure situation: The creative brainstorm.  Egos, concerns over saying the wrong thing, wanting to look good, not wanting to fail – all of that noise will get in the way of strong creative collaboration.

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What can we do with this information?

Creating a safe space for people to leave their egos, fears and concerns at the door, would be really quite useful for encouraging creativity.  Easier said than done.

If we know that more creativity can come from groups who are focused on the team and effectively collaborating, than that is definitely a starting point.  We need to consider how our organisational culture promotes the individual ego, the drive for personal achievement and how we respond to failure.  If we ask a few people how things work around here – do they talk about teamwork, true collaboration and a focus on learning from failure?  Or do they talk about hardworking silos of people who do everything they can to succeed and hate to admit or explore (“dwell on”) failure.

Before jumping into the brilliant tools out there for getting the creativity flowing, it seems it’s critical for us to explore and challenge the culture in the business.  How we respond to someone’s crazy idea or failure could make or break creativity before it begins.

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Critical Role Analysis

critical-roleTrust us, it’s more exciting than it sounds!

Critical Role Analysis is a tool to find out what the most important roles in a business are, so businesses can plan for people leaving.

When it comes to succession planning and the development of top talent, we need to know which roles are so important to success, that they are essentially business risks that need to be managed.  What if the person in our most critical role went off sick tomorrow for six months?

Traditionally all development has pointed to the top – we prepare top talent to become the future CEO, but as organisations flatten out and specialist roles are given as much emphasis as managers, we need to flex that approach.  Arguably, an organisation can survive without a CEO, but can it survive without the people who uphold its technical infrastructure, customer services and other critical operations?  Who buys the biscuits?

Knowing what these roles are, means you can effectively succession plan for them and develop your talent or high-flyers to move into those roles when required.  This is classic risk management – by planning for a critical role, you will save your business time and money, by avoiding the need for reactively hiring an expensive, inexperienced new starter.

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One simple way to do this is using a critical role grid (draw yourself and X and Y axis and you’re all done…) and then plot the greatest risks based on two measures:

Impact – on the success of the business – essentially, the value of a role’s contribution

Expertise – level of specialist skill or experience required to do the job well, which affects recruitment

Where it gets a little more complicated is in establishing the context and criteria for each role.  The CEO of a large multinational is arguably far easier to replace than a Founder.  Steve Jobs for example, has left a legacy that will stretch far beyond a generations worth of Apple executives.

On the flip side, the caretaker with 50 years of experience and possible the lowest salary in the building – is quite often the key to a business successfully operating on a day to day basis.  That context needs to be built into your assessment criteria.

Strategy Alignment

In many ways Critical Role Analysis is a business planning process, and the companies that have the most success are those that hand responsibility for the analysis to line managers and senior management teams.

It’s these management teams that are responsible for strategy execution and are subsequently best placed to view each role in the context of the wider business ambitions.  We would really encourage anyone who is critically evaluating roles within their business to seek buy in and engagement from those effected by the role they’re assessing.

We often see the needs of the business as an ambition some point off in the distance, or from today’s ‘need it now’ context.  There is a grey area in between called the unexpected.

Starting the analysis conversation early will certainly prepare you for the future, but it may also prepare you for what tomorrow unexpectedly brings.

Superman Logo courtesy of DC Comics.   Getting in touch with Totem about Critical Role Analysis, or indeed any of our Recruitment services couldn’t be easier.  Simply click me or have fun with the links below!

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Choose Accelerated Learning

Starting-Blocks21 400x265Accelerated Learning and how we’ve applied it.

If you’re reading this because you’re a HR or L&D professional – you’ve probably heard the term “accelerated learning.”  It’s one that is not new but I think is rarely fully understood.

This week I have had the privilege of really letting loose with it and seeing that the outcome was outstanding.

So in case you’ve not come across Accelerated Learning, let me do the intro bit.  At its core, this is about delivering practical behavioural change and performance improvements through better learning practices.

It is not good enough to find a training course interesting or reflect on some models and tools you have remembered.  Effective learning means we are changing the way we do things and seeing better results.

To accelerate this, we need to engage mind and body.  When have you ever gone on a training course or event and thought, “ooh I really look forward to sitting on my backside and listening to someone drone on for hours….”

Exactly.

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Getting up, feeling energised, getting involved in debate, moving around – these things contribute to our learning.  I won’t bore you with the science here to back this up but there’s tonnes of it – just google Accelerated Learning.

So this week, rather than inject the odd little bit of this into a workshop – I went full steam ahead with a complete buffet of AL tools and techniques.  We had fun, we opened our minds, we learned new things and man did we walk away fired up.

I can’t wait to take what I learned from other delegates in the room and the experiences we shared into next week’s management development workshops.   It’s going to be an Accelerated Learning November!

What has been your experience?  What are your favourite activities and tools?

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