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Published 27 September 2012 15:23, Updated 28 September 2012 09:36
Many bosses don’t shine in the job and coaching expert Professor David Clutterbuck says it’s because corporate psychopaths and sociopaths often tick all the boxes as high potential employees.
There’s that uncomfortable moment in a conference, when you realise you are sitting among 1000 people, who have been told that what they are doing is bunkum.
All the things they have been taught to measure, all the theories they soaked up in their university textbooks, all the programs they have talked their leaders into – well – none of them work.
At the Hrizon 2012 human resources conference in Melbourne this week Professor David Clutterbuck, a UK authority on mentoring and coaching, delivered a presentation on “If succession planning and talent management really work, how come the wrong people so often get to the top?” He says that there is little evidence that corporations know how to measure or manage performance.
Clutterbuck’s contention is that there is little or no evidence that many of the things we do in leadership development actually work.
Many of the long standing theories were actually based on oversimplifications of what makes people good at their jobs.
“Over the last 40 years, we have been on a journey of discovery, and things are more complex than we thought,” he said.
“We’ve reached a crossroads in succession and talent development. [We have discovered] in order to make things truly simple, you have to understand how complex they really are.”
“Can we measure performance? No we can’t. There is no evidence we can measure performance at all.”
Among the things that don’t work are talent identification, high potential programs, succession planning, clear job descriptions, and looking at performance as a predictor of future success.
The hard evidence that he is onto something is what we see before us: the unacceptable numbers of inappropriate people who make it to the top of organisations.
“The wrong people do sometimes get to the top of organisations – and more frequently than we feel comfortable about.
“Organisational psychopaths get to the top of organisations and ruin everything while they are doing it.”
There are five main areas where companies are deluding themselves when it comes to performance management.
Line managers are notoriously bad at identifying talent, says Clutterbuck.
“If you ask them what talent looks like, they will say: ‘Someone like me’,” he said.
In fact, he says, line managers are so bad at identifying talent that organisations would be better off promoting the ones they rejected.
“The predictions of your boss are negatively correlated with what happens”. More effective are the the assessments of peers and direct reports.
Clutterbuck says self-nomination by people – putting their hands up for jobs they think they might be able to do – is also more effective.
“That way, you will get different people [diversity]. If you get clones, you get people who don’t take risks.”
Clutterbuck says corporate psychopaths and sociopaths often tick all the boxes as high potential employees.
“The organisations we have created are particularly suitable for sociopaths.”
“I question how much we have the ability to understand what talent is. The qualities that make people talented are often the last things we aim to measure.”
The process of picking top performers often causes those valued people to leave, says Clutterbuck.
“It makes them more mobile.” People who have received the designation suddenly have higher expectations, start casting around for better opportunities and become more attractive to competitors who want to poach staff.
“The more you identify talent, the more likely you will see it go”.
We already know that, because talent is so hard to identify, the people on those programs are probably not the most talented - but all those who missed out will be disaffected.
Anyway, Clutterbuck says he has seen research that says 75 per cent of internal promotions, and 80 per cent of promoting people from outside the organisation, fail.
If this was true, it would certainly be cause to ask why we keep doing the same ineffective things over and over.
“When you put people into a role, it is more likely than not that they will fail.”
Clutterbuck says many companies are fooling themselves they have succession planning under control. He recalls one client who told him they had four people lined up to step into each critical role.
He asked a few questions and that number was whittled down easily to less than one available person (who would accept the job if offered) for each role.
“We could not find any evidence that leadership pipelines actually made any positive difference. We can’t even define leadership,” he said.
Roles change so quickly now, that any job description would be redundant after six months, he said.
“How many can say their job is exactly the same as it was six months ago?
“If you want to be dynamic, you don’t need something like that.”
“High performance in one role is not directly correlated with performance in another. It may be one of the things you might look at, but there is no direct correlation”.
Research shows that success is “contextual”, he said. People are successful because of the networks and support structures they have in an organisation. Once they move, they have to replicate all those things.
If you want to look for what works, Clutterbuck says teams of diverse people with really good “forms of dialogue” tend to outperform the rest.
This means looking for different types of people and making sure they have plenty of opportunity and encouragement to talk to each other.