Picture it. Ocean City, 1988. Two recently graduated high school males drive down to the shore to meet up with half a dozen recently graduated high school females. Heaven. Our popularity knows no bounds. We arrive, celebrate with the young ladies for a while and then head to the boardwalk. One of the females asks us all to stop to have our palms read at a kitchy closet-sized boardwalk establishment. Um, ok. I am elected to go first - $3 for one palm, $5 for two. “$3, please,” I say (those of you who know my frugality…stop laughing out loud). My life will be long, married with two children and some nonsense about career and money that were very general in description.
My buddy affirms my willingness to set a tone, as the girls were ooh-ing and ah-ing over my stable future. I was a hot catch. And then one of the girls went next. The fortune teller began very broadly about her successes yet to be – you will graduate college, you will have a good job, etc. But then love came into the conversation and the teller asked if the letters “P” and “J” meant anything. And with that, tears began to fall. The girls huddled together and shared in the heartbreak. You see, this young lady’s last two boyfriends were Pete and Jason. Now, the fortune teller was clearly in the driver’s seat and directed how the rest of the night would go. Needless to say, it was not that lucky of a night for those two recently graduated males. They had to help console the raw emotion of 18-year old girls. Crap.
As I have had the privilege to work with many companies in trying to develop managerial and leadership skills, questions of predictability come up. Most organizations want to know that if they do “x” will “y” happen? Is it that simple? Basically, “John, can you tell me where we will be in 5 years and will we be successful?”
Think of the wonderful parents that you had/have (or maybe the wonderful parents that you’ve observed). Have all of their children been model workers or spouses, or human beings, for that matter? No. Is that necessarily reflective of the fact that the parents weren’t as great as all that?
The best coaches and leaders have had players, executives or followers that did not rise to the occasion of their instruction. It has meant that some of those coaches and leaders did not know their environment well or pay enough attention to the talent before them. As such, they made decisions that were not in keeping with understanding what they had to work with. For those leaders, they were replaced by others who seemed to have a better handle on such realities. But on the other hand, some of those leaders were replaced even though the plans were right on the money. Think about Andy Reid’s transition as head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles to the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. His plans were very similar, his assessment of talent thorough and the success was immediate in the new post.
So, how do you predict success, in this case, with talent? Firstly, it’s not a cookie-cutter plan. What worked in one environment might not work in another. There is a need to assess all variables. For the HR professional, we have used SWOT analyses for years. I know that we’ve re-branded this and tweaked it, but in its essence, this is what we should do to profile an organization and to do a deeper dive with talent.
Secondly, have a bit of patience. You can’t put a plan into place and then look two weeks later for a monster improvement. In my experience, those companies that can show an off-the-charts improvement had to be in a very dire situation to start with, as in “Kitchen Nightmares” with Gordon Ramsey. Let’s hope this is not the situation your company is in. Most talent-related new playbooks take a bit to get used to and to implement with conviction. Acclimating staff to the new rollout of procedure, planning and level of teamwork, for example, needs some time. There is not a quick fix for most companies. And to be honest, you want lasting, not short term.
And finally, do your homework before hiring. Know the skill set clearly. Understand competencies first. Measure talent by using assessments for coachability, personality, motivation factors, etc. There is great value in investing is such measures first. Don’t be frugal in this (Physician, heal thyself, eh?).
I know that most companies are hoping to pull a wild card in talent. This isn’t going to be done through luck, with tarot cards or palm reading. It’s going to be done with an educated assessment of the internal truths of the company, the external competitive markets and the ability of the talent at present. Those gaps can then be seen clearer and a plan put in place. I wish it were as simple as a look at my hand to know for sure what the future will bring, but alas, it’s not to be. Plus, I seem to have more lines on my hands the older I get. Not only would I have to ask “what do I do with that,” but also “how did this happen to my hands?!”