HR Credibility

Over the last few years there has been a great deal of talk about the strategic role of HR and in many organisations this is a working reality. However there are still too many where the gap between the HR function and line management seems to be widening rather than narrowing! Rightly or wrongly, many HR professionals continue to be perceived as lacking the business understanding that enables them to play an active part in the strategic debate.

This is confirmed by the number of strategies that I review which fail to take full account of the people implications of implementation. When challenged I often hear "Oh we have passed that on to HR - they are working on it". But by the time they have "worked on it" the strategy has been communicated inside and outside the organisation and HR are playing catch up!

Disconnected Competence Frameworks

Sadly the existence of complicated, generalised lists continues to blight proper debate about managerial Performance. Remarkably few organisations are able to define with any clarity the key aspects of top management performance that have materially contributed to the organisation's existing position and what aspects of that performance must change to deliver future performance.

Those readers that are familiar with our research work will recognise how central "Performance" is to The Wadenhoe Model® for strategic leadership development. (If you would like more information please contact: sue@wadenhoeconsultancy.com). Without complete clarity about the Performance that we require of our leaders, how can we identify the next generation and answer the all-important question: "Potential for What?"

Changing Work Expectations

We know that unlike previous generations, we can no longer rely on people staying loyally with an organisation for the whole of their working life, while we consider them for positions that may or may not emerge (and often don't tell them they are being considered for!). People with potential are looking for growth and development as part of the psychological contract that keeps them engaged and motivated with their organisation.

Post Recession Impact

Current economic recovery is positive news for most organisations. Yet, the tough times we went through meant that many development budgets were reduced or even 100% cut. I despair at this knee jerk reaction. All the books I have read about economic cycles point to the fact that every downturn is followed by an upturn. And with every upturn there is a shortage of well qualified and equipped managers and leaders in organisations who can take advantage of the opportunities. Surely lessons must have been learned this time!

Enough of the problems - I am sure that you could add a further 10 reasons why!

So, What Are The Solutions?

As usual, the Wadenhoe response is blunt and commonsense - we see the solution in three parts:
  • Defining Performance within the strategic context.
  • Line Management Talent Spotting, supported by Development Centres.
  • Development of potential - not training!
Defining Performance Within The Strategic Context

The word Performance must be central to every organisation's vocabulary. It is fundamental that they are able to define clearly the deliverables that are required of an individual position, now and in the future. Yet, many line managers are abdicating their responsibilities to HR to define the managerial and leadership behaviours. In turn, the HR function is often placing undue dependence on generalised lists of competencies for guidance.

I am not really damning competence frameworks, but they all require rigorous thought that in turn provides accuracy and value from the framework. Having gained clarity about the managerial and leadership deliverables in terms of actions, behaviours and achievements, the next stage in the process is to translate these into the key personal characteristics that any person performing effectively in the role will require. At Wadenhoe we call this Rolescoping® and it ensures that we thoroughly understand, not just the headline behaviours but the quality and intensity with which they must be delivered.

Line Management Talent Spotting - Supported By Development Centres

Line Managers should be the "eyes and ears" of an organisation, with a key engagement and coaching role as Talent Developers. In particular, they need to understand how the headline behaviours change across job levels and how this can be used to provide creative and stretching opportunities for identifying potential.

Development Centres, although not an end in themselves, can provide that additional clarity and objectivity required to accurately confirm an individual's promotion potential. Whilst they share some of the characteristics of practical "selection" exercises and interviews, they need to be much more structured and closely defined than either. Their accuracy relies on looking for specific behaviours in a set situation, and clearly categorising the level of capability that is achieved.

Development Of Potential - Not Just Training

Yes you are right, what I have described is labour intensive and therefore relatively expensive. However, the good news is that the process of development becomes highly focused and involves much more in-house development as opposed to very expensive and often ineffective external training.

Clients we are working with have benefited from our Wadenhoe Research Papers: "Learning for the Top" and Auditing Natural Learning" and have been able to use opportunities on task forces; shadow boards; secondments and interim positions to develop specific characteristics within an individual.


Unless and until an organisation is able to translate its strategic intentions into the demands that this will place on its people it does not have a completed strategy. It has a set of dreams that will deserve the derision of the people in the organisation, who in my experience have a very good perception of leadership capability!

And any organisation that has defined its strategic ambitions in terms of the implications for people but has not clearly defined the ability of managers and leaders to deliver what is required for strategic success has no future.

We sincerely hope that we have not shirked our responsibilities in mentioning that there are cost implications in both the identification and development of potential. However, if the word "investment" is used instead of "cost" then let's conclude by taking a look at some of the benefits:
  • Saving on the cost of outside recruitment
  • Morale benefits from positions being filled internally
  • Ability to retain ambitious people in the organisation
  • Enhanced reputation in the marketplace enabling us to recruit better people
  • Focused internal development rather than external "sheep dip" training
  • Increased certainty of top management performance
  • Ability to realise market opportunities through having resources available
For the last 25 years we have been making our living by working with organisations to help them strategically identify and develop people with potential.

So, if you would like to discuss any of the ideas set out in this newsletter or find out more about the solutions we have developed, do email me on: ray@wadenhoeconsultancy.com.

The Wadenhoe Consultancy Ltd

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