Helping line managers to motivate workers

Q I am responsible for talent management in a major investment bank. One of our line managers is finding it difficult to manage the people in her team who have not been selected for our organisation’s ‘talent pool’. How can I help my colleague engage and motivate both those inside and outside the pool?

A It’s important to recognise that this is a common challenge in organisational life. In a situation where there are perceived to be winners, it’s only natural for people to make the assumption there must also be losers. A fear of this situation causes many organisations not to disclose the existence of their high-potential talent pools – sometimes even to the high-potential individuals themselves – and that’s a missed opportunity.

Key to managing both groups successfully is to ensure all employees clearly understand that the purpose of the talent pool is to build a leadership pipeline, rather than reward individual performance. It is imperative that the selection process is communicated clearly. Staff must know that selection is rigorous, transparent and based on fair assessment.

Both groups need to know that being selected for the pool is a result of individuals meeting their company’s specific criteria for leadership, and not a reflection of their ability to do their current job. Of course, excellent performance over an extended period is a prerequisite for being considered for the programme, but other reasons could include showing a desire to lead, bringing out the best in people, coping with increasing levels of complexity, and a passion for results.

If the criteria for nomination is widely communicated and fairly applied, those not selected are less likely to resent those who have been. However, their confidence might take a knock. After the assessment, candidates should be given detailed feedback and an up-to-date development plan that shows the company’s continued support for their career. They must be reassured that not being selected is not a sign of failure.

Managing those inside the pool can create a different set of challenges. People may have unrealistic expectations about promotion and reward. A clear performance management system is as necessary with this group as with the former.

Finally, make sure staff understand that the pool is fluid people will join and leave it as business and individual needs change. It can only contain a limited number of individuals and some people will never make it there, no matter how much they want to. Conversely, the additional commitment required by these selected few will certainly mean that being in the pool is not desirable to all.

Adrian Starkey, head of executive coaching, DDI

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