In the war on talent why do we keep shooting ourselves in the foot?

Two recurring conversations amongst clients and in the press are the need to recruit good talent, and how difficult it is to find the people with the right level of talent and experience to take on the complex challenging work required for continued success.

On a seemingly related front, there is a continued reluctance to trust mid level management with the decision-making authority aligned with their purported accountabilities.  We tell managers that they are accountable for managing large important portfolios but we don’t give them the decision authorities with the full weight of discretion, meaning they really don’t have the full job.

Some recent examples from some of our clients:

  •  “I am accountable to deliver a $100 million revenue plan but must get approval for decisions over
    $20,000.…even though their business plan has been reviewed and approved.”
  • “I am held accountable for my OPEX budget but can’t hire the replacement staff that have been approved in the  budget.”

These tactics—often used by senior management to slow spending—send the message that managers just can’t be trusted to make simple decisions. Senior leaders often hold onto these decisions because they either fear the consequences of poor decision making, or they simply like to make these decisions and keep them for themselves. Unfortunately, this behavior keeps senior leaders in the weeds, and prevents them from focusing on the work and the decisions they should be making. This approach forces all major decision making to the top of the house, where the succession gun is loaded—and aimed directly at the foot.

When it is time to find replacement for capable internal candidates, the organization has to hire from outside because “we don’t have anyone who is ready”. This “ready, aim, fire” approach to underutilizing talent is a motivation killer and a growth killer. And in addition, it is unsustainable.

As senior management laments that “the new talent coming into our businesses doesn’t want to wait to get ahead”, or “are not willing to stick around, and put in their time to develop”, they need to look in the mirror and realize that in part they are looking at the enemy.