Talent Management; Graduates your simple guide to assessment centres

25 05 2011

I  have been very busy in recent months assisting a client select young talent for its prestigious leadership programme.  Given that the programme provides a fantastic opportunity for accelerated development and global experience , they set their bar high and rightly so. Our intervention is helping them design and delivery a really robust assessment process. So why the guide? Well I am not going to divulge the secrets of the centre, that would be way too helpful.. but given that the client, a very forward thinking organisation in many ways who  provides each candidate telephone feedback regardless of their success or not, it never fails to surprise me how little applicants know about making a good account of themselves. I am sure there are many I talk to who are hearing for the first time what I consider to be the essentials of applying for a post, not secrets but simple guides to success… so here they are:

1 Do not arrive for an interview without researching the company – this is an insult to the employer and shows lack of interest, drive and motivation to join. Think research not just google.

Dress to impress – not necessarily a suit, but not jeans and trainers, smart is the watch word – unless you are applying to a fashion house or some creative agency who might be impressed by your ‘creative’ streak.  Blue chips on the whole are conservative about what you wear. Dirty shoes show a lack of care for yourself, why would they risk you with a customer?

3 Pay attention to how you look – stubble is cool in the bar, not in the interview ( shows a lack respect ), hair should be under control at least and pony tails look good on ponies and  younger women… maybe at Glastonbury but not in an interview.

4 Questions at interview – please think about what your strengths and weaknesses are  before you get there so you are not surprised or unable to respond. Most good assessment has CBI interviews, based on specific competencies – being artfully vague, giving general answers or being impressive with rehearsed best interview answers volume one will get you no where quickly. Being perfect is not what most companies are looking for or believe, be prepared to show you have self-awareness and can be open about your development needs.  If you are asked a fair question, be prepared to answer it, most good employers will use structured interviews, the days of ” sell me this pencil”  egotistical managers are dead. Recently when asking a candidate where else they had applied, they replied that they thought this was an unfair question. If you are unwilling to share  who else you are applying to with a potential employer ( if you are at an assessment centre they are already spending serious money on you) then why would they feel you are a good hire? There may be places for secrets but not in the interview that is trying to assess how serious you are as a candiate.

5 Analysis exercises – these are there to let you show how smart you are – don’t waste the opportunity by being too big on style and low on content, which in an analysis exercise is arguments based on facts or good ideas.  All fur coat and no knickers as we say in Yorkshire is not good, being all presentation and no content and its not using the opportunity well. Don’t avoid calculations and don’t avoid making a decision, the two biggest faults in many exercises.

6 Group exercises – the clue is in the title, they are designed to see you work in a group  – similar to how you will work in most of your career. So show what you can do. Not all roles are leadership, there are plenty of ways of impressing an employer without having to be in control. Basics, speak … no contribution  is no good, intermediate…. speak up and have some ideas,  better still take a real part and engage others while you solve whatever task you have been given. Yes it’s, competitive and difficult but it also gives you another excellent chance to shine with others.

7 Focus on the roles you want to do– so apply for the industry, the function and the specialist that interests you. Saying you are flexible and can do anything , will try anything, is a sure way to show you have not really considered you career seriously. Do so now, before you apply.

7 tips to make a good impression, to show your skills and experience and to make a good account of yourself. If an employer has taken the time , effort and money to create an assessment process to show you to your best ability don’t waste it – don’t regret your performance  on the flight back home.

You may think this is a conservative view…. for conservative read experienced, as most of your assessors will be. When you are being assessed by 20 something’s with stubble and ponytails then please ignore this advice, but reality is, if you want a leadership fast track career then you need to behave like a leadership potential talent from the minute you engage in the process and the people they trust to select will be experienced.
I would wish graduates good luck… but if they are good it’s not a matter of luck, its a matter of performance on the day and preperation before hand.


David Ulrich in Barcelona

30 11 2010

I recently attended a short session on Leadership with David Ulrich in Barcelona.  Here’s just a few notes on what I saw and heard from the guru of Hr and Leadership. I was hoping for a few new insights and was not disappointed but at the same time not  overly inspired by what he said. Don’t get me wrong, he said a lot of good, sensible, well presented and pertinent stuff, but nothing new is how I felt leaving the venue ( a spectacular if noisy cable car tower).

What was reconfirmed by listening to David ,and the invited guests comments and responses to his sometimes pointed questions, was that  leadership is all about meaning creation. For him, and for many of his guests, the need for leaders to inspire confidence by being able to help their teams, their staff and employees generally, to understand their roles and the situations they were in at work, was the primary contributor to affluent work places.  He also gave me a blinding insight into the obvious, but sometimes it’s needed for all of us, when he stated HR  only do four things ; talent, teams, build leadership and manage performance.  Given that doing these well are critical to a successful buisness I think the case for HR being a strategic player in the business was made with one flip chart…. maybe thats why he’s a guru; the ability to say something clearly and with insight that others sometime mis or make overly complex.

A good gig for all the right reasons, sun shine, insight and a fantastic view !

Its not about them it’s about us !

14 07 2010

A not so blinding insight came to me the other evening, helped to some degree by a Cohiba and a Talisker…( a good creative mix if ever there was one).  Many of the change initiatives that large organisations undertake they do so to change them… the people they have employed. The top management somehow plan and vision and strategise the future state they want to achieve and forget it’s all about us... a combined effort … not about getting them to do things differently. When we start to think about our organisation and our company and our strategy then there is not us and  them, just us.

What stops senior management using the people they have to change the business for the better?  In my experience its a number of things:

fear of losing control

not having a method to involve others efffectively

underestimation of the ability of their own people

Taking each in turn let look at what can be done.

Power is ultimately about getting people to do things. If you can give away the control to others but have them do things in the direction you wish, isn’t that just a different kind of power.  Some form of engagement process would do this, set the challenge and agenda for change but have people in the organisation who work there every day, do the planning and idea generation for what can be improved. The fear that top management have is that it might not work. Be brave, take the risk and see what your employees are capable of, given the chance.

Engagement is a great idea that fails to get many managers excited because they don’t really know how. It ok if you have a small team to get involved, but what happens if you are the board member with a team or division with 250 people – is engagement really easy at this level. Well try to think of it as a community activity and not a process for business. Is it possible to get over 250 people involved in something that they want to see happen in a community – open source software regularly does this with thousands, getting  a village fete up an running can involve scores of people, sports event hundreds of competitors, so yes it is. We use transformation workshops, large as you like, to get people engaged with structure – open space is another technique.  Engagement is something people give you , you need to give them a process to make it easy to get involved.

Finally, are they up to it – does your staff care?  Well ask them to find ways to make money and save costs and cut jobs and they might not be. Ask them to take some control and responsibility for their future and growth of the business and I think you will find they can be creative, focused, business like and innovative in finding ways to be different and better.

Remember its not about you – the senior team and them the employees, it’s all about US

The paradox of power – giving leadership away

24 11 2009

Today I have been thinking about how leaders get use power – both explicitly and also unwittingly – to get results they didn’t want.  Let me explain, one of the groups I have been working with is a pharma company talent pool. In exploring leadership with then they shared the company history and the fact that this is a family owned business where the family head is still the hands on leader of the firm. However, the Hr head says that the purpose of the workshops is to devolve leadership power into the lower levels of the organisation. So the will from the top is for others to do more leadership  and take initiative.  What also emerged in the discussion was that the family head longed to be challenged more by his team but that they rarely did so. This is not in any way  unique to this organisation, a similar issue exists in a couple  of my other clients organisations.

So how has this disconnect happened? The leadership talent are looking and shying away from the family head, who really wants to be challenged and give leadership away, but every time they discuss the idea of challenging, revert to their own  need to have strong leadership from the top. The real paradox is that real leadership comes from creating the empowering conditions that allows people to challenge, to feel comfortable in dissent, to take on responsibility and to step into the space that letting go creates.

Good intentions can get derailed by history and habits.  If this family head, a capable entrepreneurial leader, really wants to grow his leaders, he need to let them struggle with creating direction, in the absence of it from him. Jumping in too soon to solve the issues creates some level of dependency and challenging the saviour is not going to happen. Where strategies and directions have always come from the man on the mountain, there is little incentive to learn to climb – these leaders need to start to take actions themselves and discover that leadership comes with a responsibility to set agenda not just follow them and that at times that is uncomfortable.

Crisis? What Crisis? – leading in tough times

22 10 2008

Apologies to Supertramp for borrowing the title of their brilliant 1974 album, see how old I am ! You cannot escape the news and it’ s at least 40% about the economic, banking, credit, recession and mortgage crisis.  If you think it’s all over and start to plan you life, bang, another broadside hits. So leadership in Crisis, what about it?

So reality is we’ve all been living on credit, low interest rates and rising house prices for too long – the grim reaper of fate has decided it’s time to pay the toll.  There are few, if any, sectors that will not be affected by the downturn,  globally and nationally.  So what has this got to do with this blog and my thinking?  Well we are talking here about the role of leaders in change and change is responsive as well as preplanned.  Here is an unprecedented learning opportunity for leaders – as the trite saying goes. However in reality it’s a time when leaders need to show their courage, their confidence and their competence even more openly.  When the going gets tough the tough get going or better put by Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you

This really is the time for leaders to show some courage and take the initiative to share the why for their actions. Many business heads will be contemplating the need to restructure, reorganize and re size their operation. Take our advice and do this along with people and not in spite of them.  Your employees will be worried about their livelihoods,  their houses,  their family,  their pensions and their next pay cheque.  Do not add to their worries by not informing them frankly and first about any plans to change the organization. These are the people who have served you well through the boom, so be honest and deal with them as adults in the bust times.  As early as you know there are plans inform them – bad news, hope where there is some and just news about the organizations position.

Of course you will be held to some extent responsible, particularly is you display little in the way of pain yourself. However if the executives have taken a hit as well as the staff and you openly and honestly share with them the plans for the business though the tough times then you will gain their respect.  This is an investment in morale, engagement and loyalty that you cannot do any other time.  Employ adults, expect them to behave like adults and that means treating them as such, not being mis guided  and over protective or at worst dismissive of their contribution.

Crisis management is good man management – people matter more than the balance sheet

Evolution in business – or are we Oxen?

8 09 2008

Take a look at the evolution of thinking in business. Back in the 1920’s when management and business was becoming the subject of rigorous study the interface of man and machine was the focus. History has taught us that efficient management can reduce costs and has made operations in business lean and repeatable. We have Fredrick Winslow Taylor to thank for this in terms of ideas and Henry Ford, Arthur Sloan and McDonald’s to thank for the case studies in operational excellence. The essence of this approach to “scientific management “ is/was to take all the skill out of the operation and reduce the process to the simplest possible level of action. Result; people are treated like Oxen. At the time it was considered the epitome of business intelligence and lauded as progressive management. We now know better. The interface of man and man should be the real focus – leader and led.

The problem with repeatable processes, and anything that can be reduced to a documented process, is ultimately it’s also repeatable by someone else. Result: limited competitive advantage, short-term savings for short-term advantage – necessary but not sufficient. In business terms a good try but no

cigar for the winner.

We are now emerging into a new era where the demand on the organisation from talented knowledge workers is greater than at any other time in the history of mankind. Bright people, and let’s at least acknowledge that we are smart enough to hire bright people, ask better questions. They want to be engaged with their employer. There was a time when a job was a necessity. If you were good enough to employ people this was reason enough to gain their loyalty. Commitment was automatic. People were self-motivated. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on where you stand, this does not compute now for the majority of knowledge workers or the corporate competents, as some would label them. For this group of talented individuals they want or more accurately demand a better deal. The psychological contract, that unspoken deal we all make with our employer, is getting more complex and more demanding to fulfil. Engaging them, really differentiating the employee value proposition to a level of the individual, is the way to get talent committed to your cause. 1-2-1 leadership is the case for Engagement.

It’s a global phenomenon not just a product of the west or the affluent northern hemisphere. Intelligent people need to know why and how they deliver their input to the greater organization. Whether you are from India, Indiana or Indonesia, talented employees want more than a just a pay packet. They want to be led, inspired to give their best and not just what you pay for. Discretionary effort is a worldwide untapped energy resource – there is no energy shortage, we are just looking in the wrong places.

Compliance is not enough to keep the best and brightest in your organisation. You need a compelling employment value proposition. Talented people have freedom of choice and you need to ensure for the best players in the game, that they chose to be on your team. Oxen you could beat into compliance, or at least reward with a suitable carrot. Taylorism was built on that simple principle. Times change, people change, expectations change, and management is no longer enough. What these demanding times require is exceptional leadership. 3E Leadership captures the essence of what times now demand of us.

There are 3 E’s in ReEnergizing

15 07 2008

In our seminars and our book, ReEnergizing the Corporation, we talk about the need for and nature of surprise in business – discontinuity and disruption. You cannot ignore change. You can only produce or try to reduce it; and we think there is only one real choice. To make change happen you need to re-energize your corporation and our model of leading change, 3E, enables you to Envision, Engage and Execute change.

Change does not have to be seen as negative or problematic, it can and should be a positive process that enables employees to contribute to the success of the organization. So why is it so often seen as a problem to be overcome and not a process to embrace? In a nutshell it’s the way we communicate and lead change that requires a radical re think. Change should always be done with people not in spite of people. To really engage with your workforce requires you actually relax some control and yet paradoxically in doing so you gain more power. It’s not for the faint hearted it takes courage to release the reins of control of the organization.

Welcome to the 21st century. Welcome to the era of courageous leadership. It’s time has finally come and without exception the talented people who embrace boldness will flourish in a business environment that demands leaders of exceptional ability and determination. Gone are the days where compliance and control was king, welcome to the exciting era of engagement. When leading change is about navigating the surprises of the business landscape and becoming the surprise shocker of your industry, a new model of leading and delivering change is required. 3E Leadership brings together, people, projects and positive change in a way that makes change happen.

3E Leadership is not management; just as driving to work is not formula one racing. There is a difference in the level of talent required and the level of excitement and challenge it generates. Read on the brave, because in our belief only the courageous can lead change exceptionally well.

Whilst not everyone can be Lewis Hamilton, most people can become talented drivers in the race we know as business today. Let’s not forget, right now speed is critical in business and the decisions made by leaders affect the results of the race. In today’s business climate taking the right decision, taking the team with you and ultimately delivering the results expected of you, is what being a leader is all about. We capture this triad of expectations in 3E Leadership.