I wrote a few months back about the problems with most programmes for identifying high-potential employees (Hungry HiPos). In that post, I discussed the problems associated with the external analysis involved in identifying HiPos. There is, however, a much more fundamental problem, affecting not only HiPo programmes but Talent and HR generally. It is this:

the last person we involve in the process of identifying individual potential or talent or capacity, is usually the individual themselves.

In other words, why don’t we start by asking individual employees what they want? When instead we nominate them to be on a HiPo programme, train for management or leadership, or whatever, they are already invested - by default or even in absentia - in succeeding at the thing we have proposed. Better to let the idea come from them in the first place.

And that isn’t as silly as it sounds, and not least because some very significant global businesses are already working to get individual employees taking this kind of responsibility for their career development.

If you are worried that the wrong people will put themselves forward, you may not have understood office politics. It may actually be easier, assuming you are that way inclined, to manipulate people and situations so that they will think well of you and put your name forward for a particular role; rather than to set out “in the cold light of day”, as it were, why you think you should be considered for development. (Having to be “up front” about ambition, is in itself a significant reality check). This concern may also betray a limited understanding of how people would like to develop their careers: frankly most people don’t want the top job; they want something meaningful and that matches their personal locus of engagement. 

And that is where the real problem arises. Most people can’t tell you where their interests, passions and locus of engagement lie - let alone where that could take them. In fact, I can’t help feeling that most of the ‘political plays’ I have observed in the workplace, involved an individual doing their best to get into a situation they would later, and deeply, regret. It isn’t only Shakespeare’s Richard III who schemes to get the top job, but ends up wanting to trade his kingdom for an escape pod.

Most people can’t tell you where their interests, passions and locus of engagement lie - let alone where that could take them.

If the problem is that people don’t know what they want, then the simple answer is to make sure that they can find out. That means every employee needs to be equipped with accurate, objective data that predicts where they will get the greatest satisfaction and experience maximum engagement. This matters; objective data gives the individual something to work with, but also allows others to validate - or otherwise - the individual’s conclusions about what they should be aiming at.

We have been using Birkman Method data successfully in this respect for the past 16+ years. What we at Elaura have done now, is build a cloud platform which makes this “locus of engagement” data available to enterprise employees through a low-friction, self-service model. 

The point is that in the future, you and everyone else will be able to explain yourself, manage your own career development and engage with colleagues around a shared understanding of motivation and organisational behaviour and performance. 

But why wait: the future is now.

Originally posted on LinkedIn - Published July 19, 2016