Over the last couple of months, I spent countless hours engrossed in discussions with some of our brightest stars at Harbinger. We talked about Harbinger’s future growth path, the direction in which the industry is heading, and the role that these individual leaders could play in this journey. Most importantly, we discussed how these things tie in with each of the individuals’ role, growth aspirations, and personal goals. It was basically a massive leadership talent review process.
You might say it was leadership planning on steroids.
Talent review and succession planning are hardly new concepts. There has been enough and more written on why firms of all sizes need to plan their leadership pipeline. Talent reviews allow an organization to identify top talent and help put plans in place to quickly fill critical roles in the company whenever they arise.
At Harbinger too, we take leadership planning quite seriously. As a business grows, leadership opportunities within the business multiply. The absence of competent leaders can quickly derail any growth aspirations. In a competitive talent market, outside talent isn’t always available when you need it. The best bet is to is to groom and coach your prospective leaders such that they can quickly step up to the opportunity. So, a regular talent review exercise on an annual or biannual basis makes absolute sense. Better still, it makes sense to do a talent review exercise to match with any organizational growth spurts.
A Leadership Talent Review with a Difference
In the past, Harbinger’s talent review exercise generally followed a traditional process that most organizations follow. HR would sit with senior executives and evaluate each team member’s growth potential and come up with classifications such as high potential or low potential. The observations would inform future decisions around training, promotion, and lateral moves.
This time around, however, we decided to look at our talent review process a bit differently. Three important ideas underpinned the leadership talent review at Harbinger: involve the employee, do your research, and keep it interactive.
Involve the employee.
We started by identifying a list of employees with whom we wanted to conduct the exercise. Then, we scheduled hour-long sessions with each one of them. The format was that each individual met with me, along with one or two other reviewers not necessarily from their division.
Do your research.
Before each meeting, I ensured that I did some research in terms of the person’s background in the organization – role, contribution, recent successes, challenges etc.
Keep it interactive.
The meeting was more like a discussion of the person’s current role, growth aspirations, and alignment with company objectives. This was followed by a debriefing session where we presented our thoughts to the person being assessed. The person also had an opportunity to ask questions.
While the whole exercise needed quite a bit of time commitment from me personally, it delivered enormous value. I would highly recommend such an exercise, especially for leadership talent in mid-sized organizations.
Value to Company Top Leadership
When an organization is in the middle of a growth cycle, especially in a dynamic industry, there sometimes isn’t enough clarity on the direction in which the ship is turning. This is especially true for small and mid-sized organizations, as compared to large organizations. In such a situation, the top leadership generally has a better handle on the future direction. They also have a better sense of the kinds of skills that are likely to be at a premium in the future. For example, while the company may have valued good managerial skills until then, the new growth path might demand more out-of-the-box thinkers or maybe, experts at customer engagement.
As a result, being part of an intensive talent review can reveal invaluable insights to top leaders. Speaking for myself, the talent review opened my eyes to some blind spots in our training and development process, and also revealed new opportunities for job shadowing and rotation. These would not have been obvious to me in the course of day-to-day work.
Value to Participants
In the traditional talent review process, there is absolutely no participation from the people who are being reviewed. The decisions are taken jointly by the HR team and senior executives. By doing so, we miss a golden opportunity to involve our prospective leaders in defining the direction of the company.
There were several individual goals or road maps that came out of our talent review process. A software developer keen on trying their hand at sales or the realization that someone needed more customer exposure, are some examples. Beyond that, however, the review served as an intervention in itself. Each member who was reviewed came away with an experience that they will hopefully find valuable in their professional life.
We also put together a dossier on each of the participants, in which the reviewers recorded an assessment of their persona. The next time we need to staff any position, these dossiers will serve as an excellent resource.
Identification and grooming of high potential individuals in an organization is key to successfully growing the organization sustainably. Our process this year involved a lot of hard work, but it certainly did pay off!