Most of the talent management literature I’m familiar with focuses on building internal talent pipelines so that organizations have a ready pool of high-potential people to promote when the time comes. In theory, there are many advantages to filling positions with people who have proven themselves locally, understand the culture, and are “known quantities.”
I suggest that there’s a dilemma here, because no matter how attractive that talent strategy appears to be, sometimes the last person you need in an important position is one who is fully embedded in “who we are” and “what got us here.” As Marshall Goldsmith and many others have pointed out, on an individual level all our experience and learning to date may not be sufficient to make us successful in a rapidly changing environment.
I suggest that only companies as large and diverse as P&G can afford their workforce the variety of experiences required to bring new thinking to new challenges using people who’ve been there awhile. Most organizations just can’t develop–even with a strong talent development program–what it takes to come up with new thinking as demands change. There are times and places when you need to import that talent you need.
What makes this a true dilemma is that importing talent is not easy either–especially in strong cultures that naturally tend to reject unfamiliar DNA. Like most dilemmas, this one persists because there’s not always one best answer. Sometimes, your own people, well developed, are your best bet. Other times you need to go to the market–and even then it’s a challenge for leadership to accommodate the new perspectives they sorely need.
An earlier post referred to the economist Albert Hirschman, as described in Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker review of his recent biography (“Doubt: A Best Practice in Managing Change?” August 8). According to Gladwell, Hirschman’s most famous work posed two options for “dealing with badly performing organizations and institutions.” (If you’ve never encountered one of these, this blog may not be for you.)
The two options are “Exit” and “Voice.” I hope it doesn’t diminish the impact of this dilemma to point out that these basically amount to the familiar “fight or flight”–in reverse order. “Exit” means taking off and putting the dysfunction behind you. “Voice” means staying and working for something better right where you are.
I wonder whether in recent times the progressively shorter tenure most people have in their organizations–I’m told that this is down to four or five years on average, compared to the double-digits that were the norm several decades ago–may be a result of a bias toward “Exit.” I often hear that this shorter tenure is associated with younger generations, and that certainly aligns with what we hear and what we see about attention spans and TMI as a way of being.
Hirschman, however, believed strongly in “Voice.” Not only because this stance conformed with his personal values but because he thought that only if enough people choose this option do our organizations and institutions improve.
Are too many people too quick to vote with their feet? And does this necessarily mean a decline in the quality of our institutions?
What’s the long term impact if leaders implicitly or explicitly welcome “Exit” strategies instead of nurturing those who Stay Put and Speak Up? Aren’t these the fully engaged employees we all say we want more of?