Academy Awards for Our Biggest Talent Failures

It’s award season!  The Golden Globes, the SAGS, and in February the mother of them all – the Academy Awards. Surprise winners, whispers of ‘what IS she wearing’ and Daniel Day Lewis has another award for his role as Abraham Lincoln. (Well deserved, I might add.)

Yet, not all awards are positive recognition. At least not today.

I have created my own awards list of the most common talent failures based on my experiences, observations and conversations with many leaders.

My list: Talent Strategies, Competency Programs, and Succession Plans. We talk a lot about these big three, but reality often falls short of expectations.

Let’s take a closer look at each of them and how to be sure these aren’t your biggest disappointments in 2013.

Talent Strategy – “Do We Really Need to Do This??”

The talent strategy identifies how to attract, develop and retain the talent you need to realize your business strategy.  HR & talent leaders often go from the business strategy straight to the tactical resource or recruiting plan while missing this essential – and strategic – step.

Ask key questions like: What talent do we need in the future? How will we develop it? How much talent do we have in this area today? Is it possible to develop the talent internally or must it be purchased? How much time do we have? All of these vital questions, and more, will create your road map for the development and retention of key talent.

Over 75% of strategies fail because of poor implementation. Yet, this bridge to implementation is often forgotten in the rush to finalize the recruiting plan numbers for the northeast region. This time saver now will ensure you pay the price later.

Competency Programs – “Read these 3 Binders for a Quick Overview”

Competency programs can be very helpful by defining needed capabilities and knowledge, but I find it’s rarely the big benefit that everyone hoped for in the beginning. This has been a big sink hole for organizations looking for their holy grail on talent. And, much to the benefit of many consultants who have added to the complexity.

Even with such an investment, I rarely hear an HR or Talent leader say ‘our competency program has been fantastic and really helped us develop our talent.’ The phrases I hear most are “over-engineered”, “too generic”, and “it’s not being used that much”.

Three simple truths on a competency program:

  1. It has to be simple or no one will engage and use it.
  2. It has to fit your unique business or it brings no strategic advantage.  (This is not a one size fits all where you can use the same competencies as the business down the street.)
  3. You have to make decisions from it or it is an extra-curricular activity.

It comes down to not only simplicity of design that fits your business, but the ‘make or break’ is in how you implement and use it – how does it work.

Succession Plans – “Where Did I Put that Anyway??”

Succession plans are very important in planning for and preparing your future leaders. In the past, the best designed succession plans were created and then often put on a shelf until next year, rather than defining how to move leaders through assignments and careers throughout the year.

Now, the market and business moves so much faster. Many succession plans are out of date within a few months. A living succession plan must evolve and adapt with changing priorities and market conditions throughout the year.

A good succession plan will be a natural part of the talent planning process: decisions about new openings, development investments and job rotations. It only works when it is integrated with ongoing business and talent decisions.

And, succession plans are buoyed by a useful tool – but that isn’t enough. It’s about the conversations that agree the plan and those 4 months later when an opening occurs that triggers a real-life decision. These discussions among business leaders make this not an HR program, but a vital part of realizing business outcomes.

The common theme:

You can see the common themes are:

  • keep it simple
  • it must fit your business
  • commit to implementation

What happens after the talent strategy is developed, the competency program is designed and the succession plan is wrapped up with the bow is the key. The payoff for these investments comes in the “how” and the daily, ongoing decisions – the down and dirty implementation and operations.

This isn’t the glamorous part, the exciting new model on the whiteboard or probably what your consultants are talking about. But, if they aren’t – they should be.

If you lack the commitment, rigor, stamina and dedication to really embed these strategies & programs into your daily talent decisions, you are better off waiting until you are.

Patti Johnson is the CEO and founder of PeopleResults at She can be followed on twitter @pattibjohnson or her company @people_results.