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The Curse of the High Performer

June 2, 2014
“Devika worked hard every year. Received a meets expectation rating twice and an exceeds expectation once. Won an award twice for demonstrating efficiency. But there’s something missing. She looks around and realizes that there are some who are valued more than her. She sees them get the pick of jobs, assignments and other developmental inputs. She sees them being mentored, coached and sponsored. She sees them receive all this attention and she begins to wonder what this means for her.
She wonders why it’s not her. She wonders if someone will talk to her and she wishes someone would explain to her exactly what it would take for her to be a member of “that Club”. But no one does. She decides to strive harder, puts her head down against the wind and moves forward with a stronger resolve, committed to making it the next year. And when she doesn’t she is none the wiser.”
Organizations the world over have woken up to the importance of talent. Companies big or small, old or new are putting processes in place to identify, engage and develop talented employees. However, the definition of talent now needs to be reconsidered.
Organizations largely define talent, as individuals who have future leadership potential. This is appropriate. But it creates a conundrum viz. What do we do with the High Performer? That steady, dependable individual who meets expectations year on year and consistently delivers results.
If we were to look at percentages most organizations would rank order individuals into 20%, 50%, 15% and bottom 15%.
Which means that 50% of the population are High Performers. And all of them experience an attention deficit similar to Devika. What is the potential impact of such a selection bias?
  • Disengagement? Certainly.
  • Attrition? Quite often.
  • Loss of organizational productivity? What do you think?
This means that attrition & disengagement are going to impact the largest and most important demographic of your organization, but there is no strategy to address this issue. 
I believe it is time organizations and the Leadership community put on their thinking hats and find solutions for HOW to address the development needs of these Steady-Eddies.
Some suggestions are:
1. Clearly differentiate between HiPos and High Performers in a manner that the individuals know what is being measured
2. Give a chance to the High Performers to attempt to develop their skills and move into the HiPo pool
3. Have developmental and career conversations with High Performers so they can see that they are valued and have a future in the organization. Also that the organization has a plan for them.
4. While HiPos would experience significant vertical growth, High Performers would benefit from broad-basing their skills and finding enrichment in widening their job skils.
It is time the High Performers are respected and actively engaged by the organization. The organizations that achieve this, will have a competitive advantage over the others.
What are some things your organization is doing in this space? What are some suggestions you have around how this can be addressed?
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Delegating Effectively

May 24, 2014

Delegate4Delegation continues to be a bugbear, not just for leaders themselves but equally so for organizations, since it has so much to do with developing the next line. While most leaders intellectually understand the need to delegate and the value it brings for themselves and the organization, it is emotions that hold them back from effective delegation.

So I thought I’d jot down the 2 core principles of delegation, in the hope that they might be of assistance to leaders who’d like to get better at delegation.


The 2 principles of Delegation:

1. Delegate what you fear to delegate or what you believe you can’t delegate. Delegating only what you are able to delegate means you are delegating what you believe your DRs can do. Which addresses present skills. It is only when you delegate what you are worried about delegating that you are developing people. This does not mean you should delegate things that you should be doing per se. The fist step is to identify things that you SHOULD NOT be doing, but you don’t delegate because of discomfort or anxiety.

2. When you delegate, know that the delegate will fail. If it’s the first time they’re doing something, they are likely to not do it as well as you. Be prepared to back them up. When they fail, don’t take it back or take control. When someone rides a bicycle for the first time, they will fall. When they fall, you encourage them, give some correctional/supporting inputs and put them back on the bicycle.
Delegate 1Follow that principle. Again and again and again. As long as the delegate is willing, has the gumption to continue and the learning agility to not repeat the same mistakes again and again. You need to continue supporting them.


Are there other core principles to delegation that you yourself use? Do share them as comments so we can all be wiser!

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The future of business – Emancipating the Customer

May 13, 2014

The future, more than ever before, is about emancipation. Businesses that will provide higher levels of emancipation to their customers will have an advantage over the others.


Telecom companies that enable customers to make plans/products of their choice or insurance firms that allow a customer to create their own insurance product from a variety of buffet-like options and businesses that empower dealers to select the merchandise mix, enabled by strong analytics are going to be the pioneers of this new advance. No longer the tyranny of the marketing or sales or product team. 

Customer services

Customer services (Photo credit: gordon2208)


The app will be the liberator. Websites will provide information, apps will enable customer relationships and interaction. Banking operations, utility payments, school fees, airline ticketing and many other services that have moved from offline to online will embrace the app ecosystem or perish.


Today’s customer is value-conscious of both, time and cost. Why would I invest additional time visiting a branch or store if I can manage to achieve my needs while traveling in a bus or cab? Thereby freeing up time for other pursuits. As customers become more discerning about work-life balance and free up dudgeon in order to have more time for following their passion, time-value will become a key brand differentiator.


Organizations that embrace this change will need the following:


  1. Leadership ethos. A leadership that is comfortable letting go and handing over control to the customer. Traditional mindsets of ownership, beliefs that we know the best plans to offer our customers, will have to be let go. This will require humility, an exploratory mindset and a the ability to crowd-source ideas from the sharpest users of the app Eco-system.


  1. Technology at the forefront. Organizations will have to stop seeing IT as a business support or business enabler and transition to leveraging technology as a driver of the business. In the new normal, the COO must be equal parts CTO and CIO. Ensuring the customer engages with a technology platform that is flexible, adaptable and agile will help disintermediate several layers between the customer and the actual organizational service-provider.


It is in transferring power to the customer, that services businesses will find greater empowerment and differentiation. The ones that do it best, not necessarily first, will win in the marketplace.

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Attitude is the key

January 28, 2014

I’ve always believed in hiring/selecting for attitude, since I believe people who have the right attitude will always find a way and will make a difference. I recently came across the story below that highlights this so well that I had to share it on my blog. Hope you enjoy reading it.


Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax)


The Duck and the Eagle

Harvey Mackay was waiting in line for a ride at the airport. When a car pulled up, the first thing Harvey noticed was that the taxi was polished to a bright shine. Smartly dressed in a white shirt, black tie, and freshly pressed black slacks, the cab driver jumped out and rounded the car to open the back passenger door for Harvey. He handed Harvey a laminated card and said:

“I’m Wally, your driver. While I’m loading your bags in the trunk I’d like you to read my mission statement.”

Taken aback, Harvey read the card. It said:

Wally’s Mission Statement : “To get my customers to their destination in the quickest, Safest and cheapest way possible in a friendly environment. This blew Harvey away. Especially when he noticed that the inside of the cab matched the outside. Spotlessly clean! “

As he slid behind the wheel, Wally said, “Would you like a cup of coffee? I have a thermos of regular and one of decaf.”

Harvey said jokingly, “No, I’d prefer a soft drink.”

Wally smiled and said, “No problem. I have a cooler up front with regular and Diet Coke, water and orange juice.” Almost stuttering, Harvey said, “I’ll take a Diet Coke.”

Handing him his drink, Wally said, “If you’d like something to read, I have The Wall Street Journal , Time, Sports Illustrated and USA Today.”

As they were pulling away, Wally handed Harvey another laminated card. “These are the stations I get and the music they play, if you’d like to listen to the radio.”

And as if that weren’t enough, Wally told Harvey that he had the air conditioning on and asked if the temperature was comfortable for him. Then he advised Harvey of the best route to his destination for that time of day. He also let him know that he’d be happy to chat and tell him about some of the sights or, if Harvey preferred, to leave him with his own thoughts.

English: A rubber duck. Français : Un canard e...

English: A rubber duck. Français : Un canard en plastique de couleur jaune. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Tell me, Wally,” amazed Harvey asked the driver, “have you always served customers like this?”

Wally smiled into the rear view mirror. “No, not always. In fact, it’s only been in the last two years. My first five years driving, I spent most of my time complaining like all the rest of the cabbies do. Then I heard the personal growth guru, Wayne Dyer, on the radio one day. He had just written a book called ‘You’ll See It When You Believe It.’ Dyer said that if you get up in the morning expecting to have a bad day, you’ll rarely disappoint yourself. He said, ‘Stop complaining! Differentiate yourself from your competition. Don’t be a duck. Be an eagle. Ducks quack and complain. Eagles soar above the crowd. The eagle will fly to some high spot and wait for the winds to come. When the storm hits, it sets its wings so that the wind will pick it up and lift it above the storm. While the storm rages below, the eagle is soaring above it. The eagle does not escape the storm. It simply uses the storm to lift it higher. It rises on the winds that bring the storm. ‘”

“That hit me right between the eyes,” said Wally. “Dyer was really talking about me. I was always quacking and complaining, so I decided to change my attitude and become an eagle. I looked around at the other cabs and their drivers. The cabs were dirty, the drivers were unfriendly, and the customers were unhappy. So I decided to make some changes. I put in a few at a time. When my customers responded well, I did more.”

“I take it that has paid off for you,” Harvey said.

“It sure has,” Wally replied. “My first year as an eagle, I doubled my income from the previous year. This year I’ll probably quadruple it. You were lucky to get me today. I don’t sit at cabstands anymore. My customers call me for appointments on my cell phone or leave a message on my answering machine. If I can’t pick them up myself, I get a reliable cabbie friend to do it and I take a piece of the action.”

Wally was phenomenal. He was running a limo service out of a Yellow Cab.

I’ve probably told that story to more than fifty cab drivers over the years, and only two took the idea and ran with it. Whenever I go to their cities, I give them a call. The rest of the drivers quacked like ducks and told me all the reasons they couldn’t do any of what I was suggesting.

A great attitude is a matter of choice. You could either quack like a Duck or soar like an Eagle.



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January 20, 2014

Earlier this month, I requested Nik to guest-blog for me and he kindly agreed to reproduce an HBR blogpost he had written. I found the points around consistency and connecting it with other relevant data, very relevant. Even in my career, I have seen these becoming the major contributors to lack of Talent Insight.

Talent IntelligenceNik Kinley & Shlomo Ben-Hur

Big data is all the rage in HR recently. But more immediately promising is the talk of small data — of more effectively managing the data we already have before we start thinking about analyzing more complex datasets.  And nowhere is this more pertinent than with talent assessment data. For here, sitting right under organisations’ noses, is a huge, easy, and yet almost always overlooked opportunity to fundamentally transform the impact of their talent management.

Every year, companies spend in excess of US$3 billion on talent assessment – on trying to identify the right person to hire, promote, or select for talent-development programs. Companies do this in all sorts of way, generating all manner of data about which candidates are the best or most suited to a particular position. And this is just fine.

The problem, however, is that most stop right there, only ever using their assessment results to inform decisions on individuals. Too many firms, then, are missing the opportunity to start using their aggregate assessment data for something more ambitious. Because when you build and use your talent intelligence effectively, development processes can be targeted, recruitment processes can be adjusted to bring in certain types of talent, and retention processes can be better aimed at specific talent populations. This may sound complex and difficult, but it need not be.

For an example of just how much you can achieve relatively simply, consider a large, global company we recently worked with. We were able to transform their selection processes by performing just three, simple analyses using no more than a simple spreadsheet:

  • We compared the average competency ratings of new hires with those of current employees. We found that the new hires had an uncannily similar pattern of strengths and weaknesses to the current employees. This kick-started a debate in the business about whether it was “just employing clones,” which in turn led to further changes in hiring practices.
  • We compared the qualities distinguishing high-potentials with those actually being promoted.   On the one hand, we found that those labelled high-potential were more outgoing, showed greater entrepreneurial spirit, and were generally rated by their managers as performing more highly. This was certainly reassuring to the business, as it was trying to adopt a faster-paced and more edgy approach. But when we looked at promotion processes, we found that the people being selected were those who performed well but were viewed as team players. As a result, new criteria for promotion were developed.
  • Finally, we looked at the average competency profiles of the various groups measured to identify capability gaps and fed the findings into the learning and development functions. As a result, specific development programs were created to address key competency weaknesses in particular groups of employees. The measurement data thus enabled better targeting of learning investment.

These were all simple steps, accomplished with simple data and without resorting to expensive systems.  More broadly, to put yourself into a position to turn your talent data into talent intelligence requires three commonsense steps:

Collect it. Collection should be centralized and include all your talent-measurement data– interview ratings, psychometric scores, competency ratings. It may be possible to use an HR IT system to do this, but a large spread-sheet will do, as well. The centrality of the database is key here, because without central collection, businesses cannot build up a picture of the talent across the organization. Talent data is a valuable resource and it should be managed as such.

Make it consistent.  By “consistent” we mean, make sure that as far as possible you’re collecting the same data for everyone’. For example, if you measure one person’s intelligence and another’s personality, bringing the two pieces of information together will not tell you much. But if you know the personalities of both people, then you can compare them. And if you collect these data consistently for enough people, you can compare individuals to the average profiles of a group, or you can compare the qualities of different groups. It is therefore critical that as far as possible you know the same information about different employees. Without this, meaningful talent analytics is simply not possible.

Connect it. Just collecting the data isn’t enough; you then need to do something with it. The critical step here is to connect it with other types of data. For example, knowing the average competency ratings of new hires can be useful. Yet if you can then connect this to individuals’ annual appraisal performance ratings after they have joined, you can see which competencies are most predictive of initial success. And if you can connect it to records of who is subsequently promoted then you can see which competencies are most valued in the business. It is only through connecting assessment data with other types of information such as these, that its full value can be realised.

Succession plans and talent pools and managing talent “on demand” may get all the headlines and be genuinely good and desirable.  But none of it stands a chance of making any real difference unless it is built upon good talent intelligence. And for that, a few simple steps can go a long, long way.


Nik Kinley is a London-based Director and Head of Talent Strategy for the global Talent Management consultancy YSC, whose prior roles include Global Head of Assessment & Coaching for the BP Group and Head of Learning for Barclays GRBF. He has specialized in the fields of measurement and behaviour change for over twenty years, and in this time has worked with CEOs, factory-floor workers, life-sentence prisoners, government officials and children.

Shlomo Ben-Hur is an organizational psychologist and Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour at the IMD business school in Switzerland. He has more than 20 years of corporate experience in senior executive positions including Vice President of Leadership Development and Learning for the BP Group, and Chief Learning Officer for DaimlerChrysler Services.

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The Future of HR and Talent Management – the next 5 years

January 12, 2014

Pushing HR

 The HR function is at an inflection point and I believe that in the next 5 years we will see significant transformation of the function. There are some key trends that will influence this transformation.

For the first time in history, talent scarcity is a global phenomenon. Across the developed and emerging markets there will be a shortage of skilled and appropriate talent. The VUCA world makes for a demanding environment for leadership and decision-making. Organizational survival has never depended so much on dynamism and rapid reaction times, all demanding human intervention and decision-making. Social media and the talent scarcity is enabling global mobility of talent. At the same time, the reconceptualization of HR function has created a need for new skills. Here are my thoughts.

Here’s how I believe HR will evolve to respond to these challenges:

1. Redefining talent: From the manager (or one level below) upwards, every employee becomes valuable. The percentage of employees an organization would need to ring-fence and ensure succession for, will increase. Even more important the value of the steady performer will increase manifold and will carry greater value than ever before. This will start with bell curves being redefined but, it will mark the beginning of the end of the bell curves. Aside from the bottom 10-15%, every employee will be considered vital for retention. This will create a GlobalTalentstrain on understaffed HR functions and old-world processes. By necessity, demanding a new way of managing employee development.

2. Diversity: The Talent gap is going to accelerate the movement for greater focus on diversity. The importance of women as 50% of the population and thereby, the workforce will be amplified. The focus on employing the differently abled, will gather momentum.  HR and leadership will have to get comfortable with this, as well as empower this movement. We will see organizations taking decisions on talent that delay the gratification of an immediate or accurate fit, in favour of “doing the right thing” but also ensuring sustainability. Diveristy will cease to be a flavour and will become a competitive differentiator.

3. Training gets redefined to capability development: The measure will move (and has already begun) from training days to acquisition of capability. The function will be held accountable for ensuring development of capability, which will necessitate a shift in deployment. The 70:20:10 principle will start being implemented in spirit. I believe that something I have long awaited i.e backward integration in the services industry will begin to become a reality with organizations beginning to play an active role in owning development of entry-level talent by taking ownership of the education space. I am hoping to see IT companies buying or setting up engineering colleges, defining curriculum and turning out employment ready graduates. Just the way steel and power companies are buying into coal-mines.
4. Talent acquisition becomes global: The scarcity will mean, organizations will have to cast a wider net for talent and take the search to the source. As a result, there will be a greater need to ensure consistency and standardization in hiring processes and criteria; especially to establish role & culture fit. This will drive process change. Reliance on global 3rd party assessment firms will increase. The value they bring will be: global benchmarks across roles, standardized assessment and selection methods, a consistent lens to assess diverse individuals. Assessment at hiring and promotion will become the norm.

The HR function will need to bolster their budgets to support this. The long-term savings in terms of lower attrition, greater efficiencies and more engaged employees will offset these costs. However this will not be evident in a majority of the organizations due to lack of adequate HR effectiveness measurement systems.

5. Global Talent Management: Organizations will move away from federal/regional/local talent management structures. Talent will become a global priority and will be managed centrally. Organizations will want to and NEED to have a collective view of the talent that is available to them globally and develop processes that will support and facilitate movement of talent across businesses, locations and regions. This will further increase the global mobility of talent. The world will be truly flat…and equal!

The new challenge will be to work with regulators and government to co-create employment laws and visa regulations that enable this. In the recent past we have seen more and more nations closing doors and making talent mobility more difficult.
6. Performance management: There is enough research that now proves the inefficacy of a pay for performance process beyond a certain threshold – here’s Daniel Pink’s MUST WATCH insightful take on the subject. Gen Y, with their different value systems and a more enlightened employees base will drive a change in performance Talent Manegementmanagement. The carrot and stick, the “If you make me rich, I’ll make you rich” paradigm will die a death across most contexts. Financial reward mechanisms will be questioned and modified. Organizations will develop processes that help elicit and integrate personal aspirations to organizational objectives. While performance conversations will continue to be relevant for coaching and development, purpose and meaning conversations will become increasingly important for employee engagement, retention and leveraging entrepreneurial spirit internally. The employment contract will shift from quid-pro-quo to mutuality and partnership. 
7. Talent Acquisition becomes Talent Resourcing: The fact that talent is spread globally or across locations. The fact that acquiring talent will become more difficult. The fact that cultural fit will become a greater challenge (read about Gen Y). Will mean that organizations will need to get better at identifying talent within. The outward looking Talent Acquisition function will metamorphose into a Talent Resourcing function. Look within before you search outside, will be the new mantra.
8. Analytics and accountability: HR is the last frontier. Every other function in an organization has evolved to a level where their contribution and RoI is directly measurable. HR is now, the last remaining function that is not measured with the same rigour. With the advances in big data and analytics, we will see this change. For the better. This will help organizations realize the value that HR adds. It will enable HR to get what they always clamour for “the seat at the table”. At the same time, it will expose the gaps in the function and will demand greater accountability for impact. This will demand HR leadership of a new order, which leads on to my last point.
9. HR Skills: The last decade has seen the rapid adoption of HR outsourcing and HR shared services. As a result a large proportion of the transactional and operational content of the function has been externalised. the HR business partner role has come into being. And with policies, operations and process being largely outsourced, HR professionals are being called upon to be consultative and business focused more than ever before. What can be standardized is outsourced. What is left behind is bespoke and specialized. This is rendering a lot of the earlier operational and policy oriented HR professionals irrelevant. The HR function will need to reorient around a new set of skills if they are to be relevant and effective in the new world.
10. The HR Head:One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and One Ring to bind themGiven all of the above, what is demanded of the HR head is a tectonic shift. The HR head One ringneeds to move from being a service provider to change driver. The skills and competencies that are required of an HR head will change, as a result. The largest challenge organizations will face, will be to find and appoint HR heads who have the ability to be supportive yet confrontational. This will require an ecosystem change in that B-schools will need to reset curriculum and pedagogy. Organizations will need to pay special attention to hiring and developing HR professionals. And this change will be driven by the triumvirate of CEOs+HR heads+B-schools. But more than anyone else, it is the visionary HR head of today, who needs to ensure the development and appointment of the HR Head of tomorrow. The King is dead, long live the King.
I’d love to hear what you think. I believe the future is unpredictable enough that it needs collective wisdom. Please leave your thoughts and insights as comments. I promise to respond. Future
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Coaching Demystified – What does it take to be a good coach?

September 11, 2013

Of all my posts on coaching, this is probably the most critical. With many people aspiring to become coaches and many training companies offering coaching programs, this is a critical question to address.

Will attending a coaching training make you a good coach? No. Can everyone who aspires to be a coach become one? No.

What then is the key requirement? What does it take to be a good coach? I can sum it up in two words: Life experience.

Attending a certification program and acquiring a certificate do NOT necessarily make you an effective coach.

In my opinion, the primary characteristics an individual needs to possess (which outrank any skill, by the way) are:

  • Humility
  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Sensitivity
  • Intuition
  • Asssertiveness
  • Ego strength
  • Self assurance
  • Comfort with being vulnerable

The skills required are:

Effective listeninglistening to the unsaid, picking up nuances and listening beyond what is portrayed are key.

Advanced Questioning skillsProbing deeply, asking questions that will inspire and provoke, also questions that will lead to greater clarity.

Ability to challenge, be tough and push-backcoaches don’t just question or listen, they also challenge, provoke and push-back. Coaches need to be soft and supporting but also tough and demanding. If you feel you can’t play the range, you should reconsider your desire to become a coach. This also demands the coach to be extremely sensitive to what is required in THAT moment.

Maintaining silencetoo many coaches think they need to be be active to be doing something in order to have an impact. Maintaining silence is a powerful tool and once the silence passes beyond discomfort it generally results in the coachee opening up with something that is deep and powerful. 

According to @oMissJallmond One of the most imp things in coach training is learning to ask the right questions, listen,develop rapport.

In coaching the question can be more life altering says @tanvi_gautam

@nohrgyan Puts it very well when she says A good coach is in touch with own emotions & intuition. Knowing when to ask a q, when to confront and when to hold silence

Hopefully, you’ve read the previous 3 posts on this series of blogs on coaching. If you haven’t, here they are:

Post 1:

Post 2:

Post 3:

The final blogpost in the series will talk about :

5. What are the various types of coaching? And how are they different?

Hope you are enjoying the series!

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