The Challenge of the Non-Existent Employee

by Tom Casey, Managing Principal Discussion Partner Collaborative

The terrific news on the domestic US unemployment rate does surface a huge dilemma for every economic sector, how will we fill the labor needs to pursue opportunities?

We need to accept as a given, the people we are looking to hire were never born! The recent DOL report suggests without reservation that the competition for skilled and un-skilled labor will increase in the months ahead.

In our Leadership Effectiveness work Discussion Partner Collaborative has concluded that any attempt to avoid the need to a. build a bench within the enterprise and/or b. manifesting reluctance to self assess incumbent deficiencies, is self defeating, and a sense of urgency exists to do both.

The Ongoing Priority of Building The Bench

It’s hard to believe that 2018 is more than halfway over! Given the geo-political dynamics before us, we can expect that, for better or for worse, the rest of the year will be just as turbulent as the first half, with a compelling aspect being the securing of sufficient numbers of employees to exploit opportunities.

It’s been a roller coaster in the labor market and unfortunately there’s not much the average though engaged executive can do but exert influence where one can.

Perhaps it’s the feeling of lacking control that has made Succession Planning—the continuity and transitional aspects of this effort in particular— such a hot topic these days. After all, it’s human nature to want to contain the uncertainties in life while maximizing the opportunities—as contradictory as that may seem!

Urgency” would be a fair characterization of the feeling our clients have expressed towards the holistic Succession Planning process recently, and in response to that, today we’re sharing a slightly revised version of a blog we posted in January 2018. We have made updates to reflect the latest data from DPC Research and client experience. The data continues to support our original hypothesis that, your organization’s future will benefit from a deep-dive review of its Succession and Continuity planning processes!

Notwithstanding pre-existing protocols, we are suggesting this review encompass the most generous interpretation of processes concomitant with experimental and disruptive solution sets.

Our recommendation is driven by results of an on-going study DPC conducts with now over 2500 Global C-Suite participants.  The survey is on the topic of anticipated enterprise challenges. As of Memorial Day 93% of those surveyed indicated “the ability to attract, motivate, and retain top talent” as their #1 concern.

DPC envisions the announcement today by the Department of Labor on the Unemployment rate will only intensify thus concern.

Discussion Partner’s have been conducting this ongoing Pulse survey since our founding in 2007. The intensity of the above concern while always “on the list” since 2016 has been #1.

Augmenting prioritization the anecdotal justifications were compelling inclusive of envisioned shifting demographics, new worker expectations, disruption of organization models, competitive pressures, globalization, and ineffective human capital practices.

The May 2018 DOL report can be reduced to an unavoidable conclusion, the competition for critical mass and appropriately skilled workers will only get worse.

DPC’s recommendation is further reinforced by a review of the recent literature on this topic.

  1. The strategic imperative for Talent depth to be an asset vs. liability referenced in consolidated research on Leadership Succession/Continuity most recently 2017 and 2018 series of articles in HBR, WSJ, Financial Times, McKinsey Insights and Sloan Management Review
  2. The Point of View that has emerged from our Advisory work particularly in 2017 and continuing in 2018 represents an opportunity to use a “Disruptive Organization Model” for Talent processes overall and Leadership matters in particular

As further justification for this Recommendation the following foundation is provided.

  • Dr. Noel Tichy in his recent book Succession asserts that without proactive planning on how to fill, and inventory of talent well in advance of leadership, and/or key role “vacancies”, the chance of success is below 50% for replacement personnel
  • Ram Charan in his book The Attackers Advantage and HBR articles offers the following (paraphrased) –Leaders (Directors, Owners, CEO’s) who excel at selection are willing to expand the lens in how they look at the capabilities of reporting levels beyond performance track record to the 2 to 3 interwoven predictive behaviors that will be necessary for success

In the context of the recent HBR assertion “Succession Planning takes years not months” DPC would recommend the following steps:

  1. Senior level stakeholder interviews focused on “beyond task proficiency” what are the essential differentiating qualities that will be needed for success
  2. Comparative Inventory of Leaders (broad based) and high potentials in relationship to these attributes
  3. Embed into developmental and hiring strategies the lessons learned from this exercise
  4. Creation of a Critical Constituency Depth Chart whereby the following is highlighted
    a. Identification of 1 ready now replacement
    b. Identification of 2 possible replacements
    c. Identification of external Search capabilities to be deployed in emergencies and/or
    lack of “ready now” sense of urgency
    d. Assignment of non-senior leaders a “personal growth and development task”
    similar to the GE “popcorn stand” to provide additional evaluative foundation

The New England Patriots have a mantra of “do your job” multiple Superbowls indicates the validity of this philosophy. However, DPC would argue in the commercial sector this would be limiting for the medium to long term for any existing organization. Our impetus is that the above suggestions represent process steps that should be presently underway and if not, a sense of urgency should exist. DPC would substitute the words “do the job you should have been doing all along!”

Additionally, we would embed the following questions:

  1. What skills sets will we need beyond domain proficiency to have a sustainable growth oriented
    II.  How does our current population of Leaders and Future Leaders compare to these desired attributes?
    III.  How can we develop and/or hire sufficient numbers of people to address deficiencies in the above?
    IV.  What is the true nature of our Leadership bench in respect to Readiness?
    V.  What is our contingency plan to be deployed if necessary?

What About the Leaders as a Constituency?

Einstein’s definition of insanity is “continuing to repeatedly do the same things anticipating a different result”.

DPC thought it would be useful to share an exercise we conducted to answer the question do we remain “edgy.” Given the average age of our Partnership is 64, and our grandchildren now offer technical support, this seemed like a sensible idea.

The objective of our exercise was to insure as Advisors we were not getting intellectually lazy and out of touch with the Essential elements of both enterprise sustainability and the differentiating profile of the “new worker”.  Our catalyst was awareness that we were giving almost verbatim answers to these questions and felt the need to reality check ourselves on the wisdom of our advice.

To that end, we conducted an internal pulsed survey, which was later tested with key relationships on three questions:

  1. Are we doing the right things to remain edgy and how do we know?
  2. Are we assuming correctly our insights are relevant and actionable?
  3. Are we focused on those Leadership challenges that if not addressed by clients will act as Strategic Restraints?

Validating that we are at least attempting to focus on the right topics, at the right time, and embedding intellectual curiosity and rigor into our protocols, DPC as is our practice refined our similar points of view into Discussion Points on elements of “Core” as defined as the platform for growth or potential for meltdown on two topics:

  1. Differentiated Enterprise Success Factors
  2. Differentiated Behaviors for New Worker Success

Differentiated Enterprise Success Factors

In respect to Enterprise Success factors, we have an emerging level of comfort there are three Core Components as follows:

Enterprise Core Success Drivers

The three Core success drivers DPC have identified are what tongue in cheek refers to as “Triple A” positioning.

  1. Anticipation-being able to identify trends real time in advance of competitors that if pursued enhance the potential for enterprise success – for example an organized process for R&D investment vs. gravitation towards the loudest advocate for their idea
  2. Agility  the ability to pursue multiple tracks in tandem proficiently, embedding flexibility, ongoing incorporation of lessons learned, and deployment of a Null Hypothesis contingency if corrections are required – for example when to exit a business line
  3. Alignment – consolidation of initiatives purpose built for customers that promote their interests in a sustainable measurable manner vs. a “one off” success decision that ultimately is short lived or possibly even worse, results in disenfranchisement of enterprise wide success-for example a product that may enjoy success as a “fad” but whose success horizon is truncated

For Baseball aficionados the reference to Triple A is not accidental, as is the case in the Sport, the modus operandi of “trial and error” is encouraged.

Differentiated Behaviors for New Worker Success
Core Elements Incumbent Profile
There is no enterprise on the Planet that is not being challenged by the dynamics of the “new worker”. During our deliberations we asked ourselves the following questions:

  1. Do Boomers and Generation X have attitudes or behaviors that Millennial don’t possess or care to secure?
  2. Are the differences between and among the cohorts the result of leadership deficiencies vs. gaps in attitude or proficiency?
  3. Is it advisable to manage incumbents differently by cohort vs. self-awareness that career progression and aspirations are fluid?
  4. Should managers manifest sensitivity to, vs. modification of various leadership style dynamics?

After much deliberation and arguing, sometimes cordially, DPC has identified 3 key factors we perceive as the Contributory Differentiators regardless of workforce demographic (Boomer, GenX, or Millennial).

The three Key factors are as follows:

  1. Self Sufficiency-the incumbents ability to function independently, with low managerial maintenance, concomitant with willingness to take acceptable risks while always being prepared to defend decisions
  2. Accountability Obsessive-takes assignment of tasks, and acceptance of same, as personal promises, never deferring to “the other guys fault” or “dog ate my homework” defense for inadequacy
  3. Achievement Oriented-career focused and driven to succeed through collaborative means, eradicating from their personal identity, “for me to win someone has to lose” while recognizing the definition of success in of itself is different by person vs. universal by age

Transitioning Organizations Bifurcation Concept

A call out to the above is that in organizations transitioning, independent of impetus there are always incumbents whom for the moment are essential: but proficiency and/or attitudinal model. The key is to keep these “legacies” productive until such time as they are displaced. Be advised that how this process is handled is of critical importance as it sends messages throughout the universe these days and to avoid apologies, it is best the incumbent is aware, feels supported and most importantly treated with dignity.

Discussion Partner’s finished this exercise with an awareness that it should be embedded into our ongoing methodology review or we will revert from Triple A to Sandlot players very quickly.

Summary Suggestion

DPC recommends that at the enterprise level a similar exercise is be conducted to promote your own “edginess.” Our rationale is that the pace of change is accelerating and there is a downside to the June 1st DOL report in that if a company ever find’s itself in the position of asking “what do we do now”, it is already too late.

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