Recruit for authenticity and train for skill

Gareth Jones is co-author of the acclaimed bestseller “Why should anyone be led by you?” He is an inspirational lecturer and consultant on leadership and creativity and will be a keynote speaker at the Vlerick HR Day in June. In anticipation of this upcoming event, we asked him about his views on talent management from a leadership perspective.

In your opinion, what does successful talent management entail?

Gareth Jones: “I’ve always been sceptical about just focusing on the so-called talent pool. Our experience in identifying high potentials is rather mixed, i.e. we often get it wrong. It seems to me that the best organisations are interested in developing all of their people. Having said that, some people have a bigger impact than others do. And effective talent management then involves ensuring that those people get into roles where they can add most value as quickly as possible and in a way that enables them eventually to fill the most senior posts in the organisation. So, success is having the right people in the right jobs right now, while planning for the future.”

Talking about senior posts, some say, “Leaders should all be talent managers”. Would you agree?

“Indeed, my empirical observation is that effective organisational leaders are very concerned with the issue of talent, in at least two ways. First of all, they make sure that they have talented people around them. If you’re head of R&D at Novartis, you’re not going to be the best research scientist in the company, I hope. Your task is to ensure that you have people reporting to you who are better research scientists than you are. Secondly, leaders have a huge impact on employer branding. Effective leaders try to make their organisations a beacon of talent, a place where the most talented want to work.”

So, when hiring someone, how can you know whether he or she will be a good leader?

“Our book ‘Why should anyone be led by you?’ is really about two things: authenticity and skill. Now, these two variables move at different speeds. A two-day course could dramatically improve your communication skills, but if you lose your authenticity, finding yourself again is a very slow and uncertain process. Therefore, when you’re recruiting and you’re thinking about leadership, ask yourself this question: Is this person authentic? Skills gaps in leadership can usually be filled by practice and training. But if they’ve lost themselves, then they almost certainly won’t become effective leaders because they’ll be perceived as inauthentic by the people that they aspire to lead. My advice is to recruit for authenticity and train for skill.”

What can companies do to attract leaders?

“As I’ve argued before, you need to present your organisation as a place where people can both express and develop their authentic self. If you run an organisation where you want people to be creative or innovative, the following maxim holds true: creativity increases with diversity and declines with sameness. Really smart organisations have fully embraced diversity. And I don’t just mean diversity in the sense of gender, age or ethnicity, but diversity of perspective. Having people who see the world in different ways fosters creativity.”

How should companies manage their talent pipeline?

“There’s no short answer, but I’d say that if you wish to connect your talent pool with the top of your organisation, there are two conditions that have to be met. First, you need effective role models at the top. Second, you need to recruit talented people. And then, assuming the task of talent development is to connect the talent pool with the role models, there’s a whole armoury of HR interventions to speed up the rate at which people develop. For example, when I was at the BBC we had a women’s leadership development initiative, an intensive mentoring system for talented young women in the organisation, which was actually very successful. But it’s no good having a pipeline if you don’t have role models or if you don’t have talent in the first place.”

Should CEOs plan for their succession?

“Actually, my colleague, Rob Goffee, and I are writing about this at the moment because we believe it’s generally not done very well. As far as continental Europe is concerned, we believe it’s an obligation of the supervisory board to have a CEO succession plan. In the UK, the situation is slightly different, as the supervisory board is rather uncommon. Here, it’s the chairman who is expected to initiate the discussion about succession planning, which is a rather delicate one. As a matter of fact, we have identified the relationship between the chairman and the CEO as probably the most critical in an effective board.”  

And how should companies select this new CEO? Should they attract an external candidate or should they opt for internal promotion?

I’m afraid there’s no straightforward answer to that. It depends on where the company is in its life cycle. Does it have a tired old management team that would benefit from someone from outside coming in? Or is the organisation still growing, with a lot of room left for people to develop? Obviously, you know more about internal candidates because they’ve been working with you for some time. I sometimes think internal candidates are rather overlooked... But the deciding factor is where the organisation is in its life cycle.”

Shouldn’t all executives plan for their succession?

“Of course. Suppose I went to see the finance director of say, Danone, and asked which two people could take over from him if he fell under a bus that afternoon, then it would be good if he could say, ‘Well, here’s a safe pair of hands to help you through the next six months and if you really want to take a chance here’s another name’. Because these things happen. People have heart attacks, burn out or get other stress-related illnesses… Looking at the health of an organisation, for most of the senior posts you’d need to have one or two people in place.”

So you’re not of the opinion that good leaders or managers should make themselves expendable?

“It’s utopian to think that if a C-level player leaves, nothing would change. If Lionel Messi left Barcelona tomorrow, it would still be a good football team, but he would be missed.”

9th Vlerick HR day - The place to be for HR Professionals!

This annual conference is tailored to the needs of HR professionals. Via interactive workshops and keynote presentations with top speakers from the academic world and business, you are kept informed of the latest trends in HR. This is also a unique opportunity to expand your HR network.

This year you will not only be presented a width variety of choice on different HR topics, but you will also have the flexibility to design your own conference programme! Do you have a preference for a pragmatic view from the business world? Or are you inspired by the newest insights from theory and research? Or do you prefer to get started and move for action? You choose the programme that best fits your needs!

Who is Gareth Jones?

Current positions:

  • Fellow of the Centre for Management Development at London Business School
  • Visiting professor at INSEAD (France, Singapore) and IE Business School (Madrid)
  • Co-founder of Creative Management Associates (with Rob Goffee)

Previous positions:

  • Director of human resources and internal communications at the BBC
  • Senior vice president for global human resources at Polygram

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