Talent is key for organizations to thrive and create value. As discussed in previous blog posts, companies with very effective talent management enjoy higher total returns to shareholders than less effective competitors do. With this in mind, the key question for organizations to tackle is, “How do we effectively manage and develop talent in order to have a strong pipeline of future leaders?”
It all starts with strengthening the leadership model by defining and clearly communicating the behaviors expected from leaders apart from the actual targets they have to reach, and then implementing these expected behaviors through all elements of the talent ecosystem (recruiting, performance management, talent management, employee engagement, etc.).
Consistently implementing these expected behaviors in all elements of the ecosystem is exactly where we have seen organizations fail. Many have a good recruitment engine, robust assessment centers or have optimized the way of conducting performance discussions, but these elements often work in silos or are not based on these exact defined behavioral expectations.
How to establish or reinforce a ‘golden thread’
To define, establish and maintain a ‘golden thread,’ the behavioral expectations have to be defined, clearly (and repeatedly) communicated throughout the organization, and consistently instilled and upheld in all elements of the talent ecosystem.
Defining and instilling the behavioral expectations can happen in three consecutive steps:
- Create behavioral themes: Create the 6-8 behavioral themes, which should support the organization’s strategy and apply to all employees across the organization.
- Derive concrete behaviors: Define 3-5 concrete behaviors for each theme. These should be actions that can be easily observed by peers, team members and direct managers.
- Define behavioral expectations: For each behavior, one should be able to articulate what ‘great’ looks like, as well as meeting expectations and falling short. Consequently, all elements of the talent ecosystem should be based on these same expectations for each job level.
At a leading conglomerate in the Middle East that is driving a holistic performance and health transformation, a ‘leadership model’ was defined to establish such ‘golden thread’ from the start, underpinning their long-term strategic direction. Once the behavioral expectations were defined for all roles, they were embedded into the recruiting approach through interview guides that asked for explicit examples where candidates have demonstrated such behaviors in the past, in the performance management framework (a 360-degree feedback framework was developed on the basis of the leadership behaviors and rolled out to the organization), in talent management discussions, and used to communicate and engage with all employees through various channels (top talent CEO lunches, video testimonials from leaders talking about how they commit to role model the behaviors, stories shared on an employee portal). The organization is successfully upskilling its current workforce at scale across leadership, digital and analytics skills, as well as customer experience through three ‘schools’ and in line with their leadership model.
Another client-tailored leadership framework was created, which triggered the development of personalized learning journeys, as well as an updated and expanded curriculum and recruiting, assessment and performance criteria.
To be successful in the long run, a senior position in the organization (ideally at N-1 level) should become the custodian of the ‘golden thread’ and be responsible for ensuring it is constantly and consistently embedded in all people-related strategies and approaches. More than that, the ‘golden thread’ is a dynamic element of the talent ecosystem of any organization and should be kept live through the ongoing identification of learning needs, linked to the shifts in skills and capabilities (e.g., ‘future of work’), and by establishing a healthy feedback loop with the Human Capital function and employees at large.
Organizations that do this right are much more likely to have a thriving pipeline of future leaders, where all elements of the talent ecosystem perfectly interlink and mutually reinforce each other, and where each individual in the organization has a clear understanding of what is expected of them in order to do well in their current role and advance to roles with greater responsibility.