‘The Talent Wave’ – are traditional approaches to succession planning and talent management no longer reliable?

Endaba Group

“If succession planning and talent management work how come the wrong people so often get to the top?” This is the question leadership expert David Clutterbuck poses in his book ‘The Talent Wave’. After five years of research he concluded that the whole basis of corporate succession and talent is no longer fit for purpose. Nor is the terminology; he argues that a talent ‘pool’ suggests shallowness and stagnation, and ‘pipeline’ something narrow and constricting, and instead opts for the “pure energy” of the wave metaphor.

So what’s wrong with the status quo? He blames a managerial weakness for trying to measure “everything that moves”, HR’s “need to prove it adds value”, and above all the mistaken assumption that employee-employer relationships are simple and linear.

The idea of separating out individual and collective performance (i.e. the nine-box grid) certainly has its flaws, as does the rigid, linear evaluations beloved of many a HR department. The criteria for measuring leadership competencies is similarly out-dated – criticised by one female senior executive for being “based on the characteristics of successful male leaders of 10-15 years ago […] a significant barrier to the advancement of women”.

In reality, organisations are dynamic, complex, adaptive systems. Competencies are situational and ever evolving. Clutterbuck therefore calls for HR professionals to ‘set their talent free’, shifting from a policing to a shepherding role. Remember, complex, adaptive systems work by being self-organising, co-evolutionary and varied. His advice includes:

We’re all for challenging the traditional, authoritarian approach to management. A leader cannot ‘always be right’ – no one is! From our experience, we’ve found that modern leadership qualities including ease, flexibility, creativity and the ability to ‘join-the-dots’ are now more relevant when leading to deliver success.

Perhaps we will start to see these qualities appear on employees’ annual appraisals in the next year. Here’s hoping….