The Three Ls of Talent Readiness

By Tim Donahue

Perfecting the Talent Readiness formula for “Right People, Right Place, Right Time” involves many complexities, from shifting global demographics to the role of rapidly-evolving technology. But the business case boils down to the Three Ls – Leadership, Leverage and Legacy.


The ever-shifting competitive landscape means that with leadership, mastery is a long-term goal. A colleague of mine once said: “As a leader, you will often be called upon to demonstrate leadership when you feel least ready to provide it.” Inevitably, all eyes and ears will turn to you, the leader, for the answer. As President Harry Truman put it, “The buck stops here.”

There is a particularly urgent link between leadership and safeguarding an organization’s future. This can mean everything from helping capable managers transition to leadership roles to shaping succession plans.

Of particular importance is Generation X, the smallest of the three predominant age groups in the U.S. workforce. The bulk of that segment – mid-30s to early 40s – is the traditional feeder pool for the leadership pipeline. Yet that same segment is the only age group that will shrink in the coming decade. The leadership pipeline may very well become a trickle.

 This demographic phenomenon is one key reason why leaders need to model effective leadership as well as extend a helping hand to show this next generation the way.


Leadership means many things. When it comes to talent readiness, it means finding ways to increase the capabilities and impact of those who occupy spots in the org chart. If you doubt the strategic importance of leaders leveraging the abilities of those who work for them, consider the following:

  •  The Adecco Group North America’s latest Workplace Insights Survey released in September 2009 showed that slightly more than three-quarters of employees surveyed were not satisfied with their career growth opportunities at their companies.
  •  Recent research by Bersin Associates revealed that nearly 40% of line managers do not feel they have the training and skills to effectively manage employee performance. Yet when companies have highly effective talent management strategies, their average revenue per employees is 26% higher, Bersin’s research shows.

In short, what leaders need to do is what their people want them to do: Help them grow.

When leaders make talent development a key strategic priority – when they personally invest in developing the talent around them – they build organizational capabilities and leverage the full potential of their human capital.

This raises an important question: Do your leaders have what they need to help others grow?


Leaders who commit to self-development as well as the growth of their people make an investment that yields a long-lasting dividend: a legacy.

Developing tomorrow’s talent is a job that must begin today. There are no quick fixes or silver bullets – no substitutes for the hard work and commitment necessary for passing knowledge and expertise from one generation of leaders to the next.

If this recession does prompt many Baby Boomers to delay their retirements, there may be a silver lining: Additional time to engage younger employees, transfer knowledge and groom successors.

To appreciate what’s at stake, consider the following:

  • In an era rife with downsizing, it is sobering to consider recent research findings that 30% of companies retain knowledge poorly or not at all when workers depart
  •  A June 2009 study by the Sloan Center on Aging and Work showed that since the recession, employee engagement decreased among Generation X and Y employees – yet hardly changed at all for employees in their 50s and 60s
  •  In her 2008 book “Retire Retirement,” Tamara Erickson says the idealism of the Baby Boomer generation will motivate many Boomers to make a positive difference in the later chapters of their careers – which can include leaving a legacy in one’s organization

Perhaps Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen said it best in her farewell column, “Stepping Aside,” published earlier this year. “John F. Kennedy (said) that the torch had been passed to a new generation,” Quindlen wrote. “But torches don’t really get passed very much because people love to hold on to them.”

Are your leaders holding onto their torches, or preparing to pass them? Is your next generation ready to pick up the torches?

Following the three Ls of Talent Readiness will help you do right by your leaders, your employees and ultimately your organization.


Employee Engagement

Employee Disengagement During Economic Crisis

As the end of the Global Recession looms, and despite less than desired unemployment numbers, it is now necessary to address an insidious problem…..Employee Engagement is at all time low!


If you choose to focus on the data it is compelling, before the recession globally those who categorized themselves as “Highly Committed” to their companies was 14% and domestically 21%.


A reasonable assumption is that this degree of highly committed has gone down.  In proof of this assertion I would offer the recent HBS study that indicated that despite the recession approximately 20% of those categorized as high potentials left their companies.


For those of us not driven by data we can rely on the war stories of our friends, colleagues, and in some cases ourselves to recognize that for the most part the commercial sector did not take the long term view on employee morale during this downturn.


Stories such as memos to departing employees “don’t be ashamed to be seen going through your neighbor’s garbage if there is something there you want”. Or “today is your last day, we are sending you a document that has to signed and returned right away or you forfeit all rights and entitlements” in other words sign or starve, abound.


Unfortunately, the above stories only touch the surface of the dunderheaded practices employed by a number of companies.


So where does this leave human capital and executive managers?







  • Engagement is abysmal whether you come from a data or anecdotal point of view
  • The productivity of “Survivors” is higher because they have assumed the responsibilities of the displaced
  • The impending demographic crunch of retirees and labor shortages although slowed down has not disappeared
  • There is a whole new generational cohort of worker coming of age who will demand respect and career clarity
  • Our methods of tracking engagement are suspect as who would complain overtly at a time such as we have experienced
  • There is a high level of cynicism and distrust of senior managers and human resource professionals


The question now becomes to prosecute a business strategy how do we re-engage the disenfranchised?


We could start by saying a collective “We Are Sorry”: but candidly that is insufficient based upon the damage caused.


There is a folklore vignette of President Roosevelt being wheeled into his first Cabinet meeting during  the REALLY BIG DOWNTURN and saying “now what”?  When his Cabinet collectively shrugged he supposedly said “go back to your Departments, be bold and creative, if something doesn’t work try something else”.


We are in similar circumstances as our challenge is not only to once again prosper, but as importantly to re-engage our employees.


If we abdicate on this challenge or possibly even worse fail to be innovative, I would stipulate that enterprise success is likely an illusion.

The Emerging HR Demands from the C-Suite

Among the questions Discussion Partner consultants are receiving from C-Suite clients is “what can I reasonably expect from HR?”  When we probe the current state of affairs the C-Suite answer is “not much”.


Discussion Partner Collaborative have been turning the tables somewhat and asking “what do you need”?  The below are the Top 10 responses:


  1. 1.      Cost Efficiency- The baseline expectation is to manage the HR function, inclusive of the costs of Employee Benefits, in a proactive manner
  2. 2.      Progressive Processes-Pointing to the elegance and comprehensiveness of the HR processes will earn a blank stare.  What our clients are telling us is they assume the processes are designed to be effective.  The 2 substantive questions we hear are 1) “do they work”, and 2) are they externally validated or “are we legends in our own mind”
  3. 3.      Increasing Employee Engagement-The pre-crisis studies indicated that the % of highly committed globally was 14%, in the US it was 20%.  Given the turbulence in the markets it is reasonable to assume that the number has gone down.  This is a consultant way of stating the obvious.  One of our CEO clients put it more succinctly “I don’t need HR surveys to tell me Engagement sucks……I want to know what we can do about it”?
  4. 4.      Leveraging Social Networks-Very few CEO’s spend their time surfing Facebook or Linkedin: but they know they exist and are “powerful”.  They want to know what can be done to leverage these tools to promote the enterprise.
  5. 5.      Demographic Shifts-A nameless client recently fired their CHRO because they  had “no plan to deal with impending retirements, and clue as to how we could fill the vacancies”.   The C-Suite is very aware as to how the Demographic shift is affecting their markets.   Yet if the most recent SHRM survey which indicated that approximately 70% of those surveyed were not aware and/or worried about this phenomenon.  It is somewhat like watching a car accident happen in slow motion.  The C-Suite does not believe HR is prepared to address this eventuality.
  6. 6.      Innovative Pay Practices-The crisis should focus on the need for a re-think of pay practices.  The old ways just will not work.   For example it will be hard to motivate a Generation Y incumbent with an Incentive Stock Option Plan.   They do not plan their careers with a 5 year “vesting” horizon
  7. 7.      Rack and Stack-We in HR have elegant terms such as Succession Planning, Continuity Planning, etc. to describe how performance and potential are tracked.  For those in the C-Suite it is more fundamental, they want to know, “do we know who our best and worse people are and what are we doing to address both extremes from a program point of view”? Moreover they want to know how the B Players are being dealt with in such a manner as to increase engagement
  8. 8.      Competencies-This is a trying conversation to have with the C-Suite regardless of what words we use, it appears any discussion of the topic is a cure for insomnia.  The feedback we have received is that there is a need to reduce all of the plotting, surveys, tests and the like to the bare essence of a solution, “what are we doing to improve the employees performance while improving their commitment to the enterprise”?  DPC would actively encourage a job security posture of what as HR professionals your going to do vs. confuse the issue with the facts by articulating the determinant issues
  9. 9.      Retention-The recent HBS research that indicated that approximately 20% of those designated “high potentials” have transitioned during the crisis should give HR a message that the Retention posture which had been deteriorating before the crisis will only be further complicated by the anticipated decline in Engagement and shifting Demographics

10.  Measurement-Dr. John Boudreau’s recent book, Beyond HR, pointed out that a strategically useful “dashboard” remains elusive for the function.   C-Suite clients would concur.   With all that is going on, be advised HR that the creation of a meaningful way of keeping score is now a necessity


It is a great time to be in HR!  It is now obvious that the function is essential to promote enterprise viability. Yet we should be mindful of Einstein’s definition of Insanity “Continuing to do the same things in anticipation of a different result”.

Leadership Effectiveness

Leadership Effectiveness

2 of the 7 Critical Questions Discussion Partner advisors are being asked during the economic crisis are “do I have the right people to effectively navigate the crisis”, and “after the crisis has abated do I have the right people”?


Unfortunately in our client work the answer to both of the questions is NO!


The economic crisis has brought out the best and less than attractive in many managers and organizations! 


The common denominators DPC has seen that we feel are inhibitors now and in the future are as follows:

  1. There is no objective mechanism in place that realisticly assesses and compares the proficiencies of managers.   DPC takes the position that “Peter is a good dude”, may be lacking the necessary rigor to provide reassurance that you truly have the best.
  2. When the crisis started virtually all developmental initiatives were postponed.  The short and medium predicament this posture promotes is self evident.   How can you be assured of the best talent when you are abrogating the need to invest in skills enhancement?
  3. We have dropped back to the “new best friend” model of assertively hiring during a time when the perception is  there are “better people now in the market we need to get them quick”.   This leap of faith in our experience is misplaced and also has the unintended consequence of alienating your current leadership.
  4. The crisis has been at the expense of the “good citizen”.  Every organization has them.  These are the folks who really drive the enterprise and do not receive the accolades or perks of the high potentials.   Be advised that as the crisis ends, in tandem with the shifting demographics, this alienation will be problematic for engagement purposes.




  1. Transcending the now to the soon the reason the answer is a congruent NO is that the benign neglect for development,  differentiated recognition and reward that existed before the crisis, and during  exacerbated, has not prompted the degree of planning we perceive as necessary to mitigate the situation as the crisis ends.


As we begin to see the crisis diminish, now would be a reasonable time to begin thinking of innovative practices that have been forsaken, or barely received lip service in the recent past. 


The crisis postponed but did not eliminate the impending challenges of talent shortfalls nor managing a differentiated demographic workforce.