Talent Management Gone Wrong: Why Can’t We Be Honest With People?

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Sep 9, 2014

Last May, I posted a story of a young man who had been identified by a Fortune 100 firm as a high potential and placed into a leadership development program to prepare for the possibility of promotion into the executive ranks.

The story was unfinished, as a month after his Director left the organization and the young man had been appointed as interim Director, the VP told him that they were considering outsourcing the position.

The young man was disappointed, but he was determined to show the organization that he could handle the position as interim, on the chance that they decided to keep it in-house.

I described this process as “talent management gone wrong.”

The rest of the story

The comments on the post were interesting. Some chastised the young man for thinking that he was a slam dunk for the position. I never said he thought that, but he did have every reason to think his chances were good. Others agreed that the system had failed.

The original story occurred in April and May of this year. It is now early September. In the time between, the organization did decide to post the job, although they never did take outsourcing off the table.

The young man posted for the job, and started the interview process. The process, including multiple panel interviews, took three months.

After the interviews were concluded, he was told that they were going to reopen the position to add additional candidates to the process. They also decided to split the Director position into two positions – one responsible for engineering, and the other responsible for operations.

He went on a planned vacation. On return, he learned that one of his peers had been promoted to Director of Engineering. That was Tuesday. It is Friday.

On Tuesday he asked his VP if he could talk with him to understand the decision, and what options there were for him. The VP told him that he would try to find time before he left for out of town. As of midday Friday, there was no conversation.

What might be going on here?

As a human resource professional, there are several hypotheses I could make.

Perhaps the Director who left was not a high potential, so the young man hitched his horses to the wrong wagon?

  • Perhaps his work as Interim Director was not what they expected of the new Director?
  • Perhaps the Director who was promoted was the right person for the job?
  • Perhaps they just didn’t believe that the young man was ready?

This is a venerated Fortune 100 organization that has received awards as “top 100 companies to work for” and “world’s most admired companies.” Their website promises trust and reliability, and holding to the highest ethical standards.”

In my May post, I put much of the blame into the system – that it had failed this young man – and I suggested a few concepts that could help ensure something like this didn’t happen in the future.

Getting leaders to truly lead

I’m beyond suggestions right now. The only conclusion I can draw is that the VP is a coward who is too afraid, for whatever reason, to have an open and honest conversation with the young man.

How can an organization as revered as this allow a leader to be so cowardly? I guess trust and reliability, and ethical standards are simply “words on the wall.”

That’s a shame. I don’t even have any suggestions. I sense that they would fall on deaf ears.

Hang on … let’s throw out this concept: Teach leaders to lead and hold them accountable for leading. What do you think?

We wonder why employees aren’t engaged? Would it make sense to communicate honestly with them?

This originally appeared on the ….@ the intersection of learning & performance blog.

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