Talent. That is how we advance our business. Hospitality does not do a very good job of developing our talent – those with leadership skills, discipline expertise, energy and promise. We do not invest in training; we prefer to poach from the competition. We do not assign mentors or prepare enlightened career paths. Now, with the economic recovery percolating, the Talent we have is probably considering other options and opportunities. The grass always looks greener. Watch the movement!
When I worked with Rockwell International over 25 years ago, they and other leading corporations had a mighty Management Development Program, where talent was measured, evaluated and moved to further develop potential and contribution. They had a category called High Potential – those Hi-Po’s were the company’s future, and massive effort was expended to fulfill those developmental Plans. Others with not as lofty a description had annual assessments and plans, as well. The Low and No-Po’s were expendable. Manpower Planning and the supporting development programs were strategic in nature. It was not uncommon for a corporation to annually “rightsize” the lowest 10% of personnel out the door.
The Economist had a recent article, addressing how companies “tussle for talent”. They referenced Bill Conaty and Ram Charan, authors of “The Talent Masters”, who had presented portraits of well known talent factories, like GE and P&G. They noted that the world’s best companies struggle relentlessly to find and keep the vital few. They offer them fat pay packets, extra training, powerful mentors and more challenging assignments. If anything, businesses are becoming more obsessed with ability. GE divides its employees into three groups based on their promise. Hindustan Unilever compiles a list of people who show innate leadership qualities (and even refers to them throughout their careers as “listers”). Talent masters all seem to agree on the importance of two things: measurement and differentiation. The best companies routinely subject their employees to “reviews” and “assessments” of one sort or another. But when it comes to high-flyers they make more effort to build up a three-dimensional picture of their personalities and to provide lots of feedback.
The authors continued with further examples. Hindustan Unilever’s managers build detailed dossiers on their listers. Novartis, a drug firm, asks high-flyers to produce “leader plans” and share them with their mentors and contemporaries. They single out high-flyers for special training. GE spends $1 billion a year on training, much of it on its elite management college. Novartis sends high-flyers to regular off-site training sessions. Training courses are clearly powerful motivators. But they also help to form bonds between the future leaders of far-flung organizations.
Even more important than off-site courses is on-the-job training. Many companies speak of “stretch” assignments or “baptisms by fire”. P&G refers to “accelerator experiences” and “crucible roles”. The most coveted are foreign postings: these can help young managers understand what it is like to run an entire company, or force specialists to deal with a wide range of problems.
Successful companies also integrate talent development with their broader strategy. This ensures that companies are more than the sum of their parts. Adrian Dillon, a former chief financial officer of Agilent, a firm that makes high-tech measuring devices, says he would rather build a “repertory company” than a “collection of world experts”. P&G likes its managers to be both innovative and worldly: they cannot rise to the top without running operations in a country and managing a product globally. Agilent and Novartis like to turn specialists into general managers.
Hospitality companies tend to claim lack of “deep pockets”. That excuse is nonsense. The argument is how to plan for and develop our future. We usually just accept the historical redistribution rather than invest in our own talent. What a shame!
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