Talent management and leadership development under fire

HR's focus on process over outcomes was criticised at HR Tech World in Paris

HR leaders must reconsider their approaches to talent management and leadership development, according to speakers on the first day of HR Tech World in Paris.

Nick Holley, director of learning for the Corporate Research Forum (CRF), said talent management is not delivering for business. "When companies use a nine-box matrix they tend to be focused on the top right square – the high performance high potential area," he said. "However, that is really dangerous, as the bottom right square gets neglected – those people who are high performance but will not or do not want to become leaders. They are the ones that actually make things happen in your organisation."

Holley also criticised approaches that focus too much on process rather than outcome. "I worked with a bank that was very proud of its succession planning process," he said. "It had a 'one one two' system, so that if someone in senior management left they could be succeeded by one person today, one person in a year, and two people in five years. This applied to 96% of its leadership team.

"However, when looking at the data, the plan was only used in 8% of cases when a senior person left. The process was brilliant but nobody was thinking of the outcome."

Leadership development programmes came under fire in president of the IMD Jean-François Manzoni's speech. "Most people view themselves as hardworking," he explained. "And most people don't like holding contradictory thoughts. It's extremely easy for executives to overestimate their own efficiency and underestimate the need for change."

He said this could even go as far as outright denial of bad practices. "We have told executives they did something negative, and they would say they hadn't," he said. "We then show them a video of it and they say 'See? I didn't do it!' Then, when you explain how to change, they think that since you have spoken about it they have internalised it and will change."

Manzoni outlined the need for behaviours to become ingrained to be fully effective. "The first step is awareness," he said. "They must become aware of their incompetence. Then comes a conscious awareness, then finally an unconscious awareness, where the right thing to do becomes second nature."

Holley added that HR can often be too internally focused. "I would be rich if I had one pound for every time someone asked me to come and talk about 'the new things in HR'," he said. "However, HR should be looking at the newest things in their industry, and be more business focused."