Readers of this blog will already be familiar with the concept of the Leadership Cliff: the fact that more leaders are retiring and there are simply not enough potential replacements. Our approach has been to look at the sources of new leaders and how to engage and retain them. Hence our research on and interventions with women leaders [link: WWL shop/coaching women to lead] As the younger generation matures, these so-called Gen-Yers are approaching early leadership positions. Many incumbent managers find them tricky to handle – on the one hand these ‘digital natives’ should fit right in with the requirements of the modern workplace; on the other hand employers find it difficult to deal with their apparent lack of loyalty. We see a differentiation opportunity for companies that will handle their emerging Gen-Yers well. HR Director Magazine recently asked White Water to write a detailed approach on how to get there. Contact us [link: mail to us] if have difficulty getting a copy. Meanwhile here are some thoughts: “This relationship has run its course”. This is often how Gen Y employees describe their decision to leave a job. Once they have learned everything they considered important, they are quite happy to move on. If you combine the X Factor culture of today, it is not surprising that young leaders are continuously looking for their 15 minutes of fame. Most companies are ill-equipped to deal with this behaviour: they don’t handle alumni well, they don’t understand the strengths of the new generation, and they often place bets on individuals rather than cohorts. In praise of the flexible team From Meredith Belbin to Alf Ramsey, we know that the best team is not necessarily made up of the best players. Yet we persist in perpetuating a star system for our leaders. We won’t go into the social psychology of stardom: for every Apple led by a narcissistic leader, there is an Exxon run by a strong, if anonymous, team: less glamorous but just as profitable, and easier to assemble. Our argument is that the time of the cohort has arrived: flexible and highly effective teams of the same generation. In all areas from sales to creative problem solving, teams work best. Cohorts are well suited to the networked economy, they are constantly learning and are a good match to the global optimism of emerging Gen Y leaders. This represents a challenge: incumbents are now late Baby Boomers – shameless individualists, followed closely by cynical Gen Xers. Many don’t get the concept of a full life cycle of employee relations: from recruit to high performer to alumnus/ambassador to perhaps employee again – either directly or though an outsourced relationship. Talent Management v. Star Management The classic tool for Talent Management is the ‘GE Matrix’: a tool to map of performance versus potential and cull 10% of laggards each year. This reinforces the star system and is ill suited to the cohort principle. We prefer to use a version of the matrix where we look at individuals’ suitability to their current role and whether or not they are ready to move up. Each quadrant will call for very different interventions, but each time building on the strengths of the individual, in order to extract maximum engagement and performance. We define Talent Management as a blend of activities that will lead to the creation and retention of a predictable and cost-effective pool of high performing leaders. In other words, it’s OK if people move on, particularly if they remain brand ambassadors and we can manage their life cycle predictably. We look at a group of high potentials, not stars. Everybody gets a customised programme, yet not all will stay: we are maximising the probability of group retention via individual attention. Don’t reward past performance – shape potential instead Our observation is that senior management tends to ask HR to develop talent interventions along a class divide: the senior ranks get an executive coach and mingle at Harvard, while lesser mortals troop off to an obscure institution in the suburbs. Their logic is that of reward (for past performance) and cost management (too many of them to spend serious money). We see the divide as different: established leaders need to be measured for existing performance against desired behaviours; emerging leaders can be shaped into a preferred future pattern. Therefore the nature of interventions for senior leaders should focus on tweaking, remedying and sometimes replacing. Emerging cohorts in contrast should experience leadership development programmes (often supplemented by coaching), opportunities for experimentation and failure, exposure to more senior ranks of business and generally make good use of their superb networking skills. Shine a light If we accept the principle of Talent Management as cohort creation, how should business leaders support the new focus on a day-to-day basis? – We see the biggest difference as one of constant search for genuine development opportunities. Line managers must become a lot more professional at understanding the strengths of their team members and ensure that most get their 15 minutes of fame for things they are really good at. In other words, instead of having the spotlight on a small number of star performers, their role is to move the spotlight around.