Saturday, 31 January 2015

Leadership in Managing Talent

by Sylvia Ann Hewlett
Founder, Center for Talent innovation & Hewlett Consulting Partners
First appeared in Pulse.
James Martin, Flickr
We’re all connected. That’s the message leaders need to keep in mind in order to tap the rich well of diverse talent and target, encourage, advance, and retain high-potential people within their organization.

Leaders have long recognized that an inherently diverse workforce – one that’s inclusive of women, people of color, and gay individuals, as well as people of different ages, education and socio-economic background – confers a competitive edge in selling products and services to diverse end users. Demographic trends are rapidly transforming that realization into a requirement. The most recent U.S. census quantified the demographic shift: Hispanic and Asian population growth is soaring, far outstripping the growth rate of the white population.

Recent research from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) shows that an inherently diverse workforce that “matches the market” can be a potent source of innovation, as diverse individuals are better attuned to the unmet needs of consumers or clients like themselves. But identifying, leveraging and developing diverse talent demands different leadership skills and behaviors.

CTI research spotlights five ways in which leaders can tap this rich resource:

[1] Leverage Diversity.
CTI research reveals a startlingly robust correlation between workforce diversity, innovation and bottom line growth. Our data shows that companies whose leaders manifest both inherent and acquired diversity – in other words, whose background and experience has conferred on them an appreciation for difference, whether that difference is rooted in gender, age, culture, socioeconomic background, nationality, or sexual orientation – are measurably more innovative: Employees at these firms are 60 percent more likely than their counterparts at non-diverse organizations to see their ideas prototyped or developed, and 75 percent more likely to see their innovation actually deployed or implemented.

•Action: What drives the diversity dividend? Inclusive leadership. Leaders who behave inclusively foster a speak-up culture, one in which inherently diverse members feel welcome, feel free to express their views and opinions, and are confident that their ideas are heard, respected, and recognized. Work to encourage these behaviors among leaders at all levels.

[2] Nurture Sponsor Networks.
How can companies develop diverse leaders who “match the market” and help women, people of color, and gays break free of the marzipan layer and move to the top? Through sponsorship – a strategic workplace partnership between those with power and those with potential.

Unlike mentors, who act as sympathetic sounding boards, sponsors are people in positions of power who work on their protégé’s behalf to clear obstacles, foster connections, assign higher-profile work to ease the move up the ranks, and provide air cover and support in case of stumbles. Sponsors have a significant impact on the career traction of their female and multicultural protégés: 68% of women with sponsors say they are satisfied with their rate of advancement, compared with 57% of those without sponsors; 53% of sponsored African-Americans and 55% of Asians are satisfied with their career progress, compared with, respectively, 35% and 30%. Those numbers add up to employees who are more committed, more engaged, and more likely to attract similar talent.

•Action: Formal sponsorship programs are a good way to start nurturing sponsor networks. But to be tapped – either formally or informally – sponsorship must be earned: by delivering outstanding performance, die-hard loyalty, and a distinct personal brand (something the sponsor prizes but may intrinsically lack, such as gender smarts, cultural fluency, or the unique perspective resulting from being a woman, gay or a person of color on a team that’s mostly white males). I explain this in more depth in my book, Forget A Mentor, Get A Sponsor.

[3] Leverage the Potential of Protégés.
Sponsors and mentors may be obvious career accelerators but don’t ignore the power of protégés. Building a loyal cadre of effective performers can extend your reach, realize your vision, build your legacy, and burnish your reputation. In today’s complex organizational matrix, no one person can maintain both breadth and depth of knowledge across fields and functions. But you can put together a loyal and dedicated posse whose expertise is a quick IM away.

•Action: One surefire way to build a strong bench of supporters and maximize protégé power: Be an inclusive leader.

[4] Crack the Code of Executive Presence. Performance, hard work, and sponsors get top talent recognized and promoted, but “leadership potential” isn’t enough to lever men and women into the executive suite. Leadership roles are given to those who also look and act the part, who manifest “executive presence” (EP). According to CTI research, EP constitutes 26% of what senior leaders say it takes to get the next promotion. EP rests on three pillars: gravitas (the core characteristic, according to 67% of the 268 senior executives surveyed), communication skills (according to 28%), and appearance (the filter through which communication skills and gravitas become more apparent). Yet because senior leaders are overwhelmingly Caucasian and male – among Fortune 500 CEOs, only 6 are black, 8 are Asian, 8 are Latino, and 22 are female – women and multicultural professionals find themselves at an immediate disadvantage in trying to look, sound, and act like a leader. And they’re not getting the guidance they need to learn.

•Action: CTI research found that EP feedback is either absent, overly vague or contradictory: More than three-quarters (79%) of people of color surveyed say that when they get feedback, they are unclear how to act on it, with Asians (84%) and Hispanics (80%) particularly confused about how to course-correct. As a way to endow their protégés with even more power, leaders can resolve to give more — and clearer — feedback to help their reports understand, acquire, and eventually ace EP.

[5] Fulfill Women’s Value Proposition.
Although societal norms have shifted as more women assume positions of power, the prevalent narrative is still one of sacrifice: the toll career ambitions take on one’s personal life. Consequently, too many talented women step off the fast track because they see an executive role delivering a hefty salary but little else that they value. In fact, CTI’s latest research reveals that power is what allows women to thrive. The key is linking the opportunities that a powerful position provides with women’s five-point value proposition: the ability to flourish, to excel, to reach for meaning and purpose, to be empowered and to empower others, and to earn well.

•Action: To ensure that talented women stay on track for leadership roles, companies must work to change women’s perceptions of what powerful positions entail. They must provide role models who give voice to the substantial joys and rewards of leadership, thus inspiring more qualified women to stay connected through the difficult mid-career years. They must sustain women’s ambition, both by meeting their needs as they progress toward leadership and by ensuring that leadership actually delivers on women’s value proposition. When women perceive that an executive role will satisfy, rather than subvert, their value proposition, they reclaim and sustain their ambition for leadership – and companies retain some of their most valuable talent.

Leader who inculcate behaviors and disseminate practices that endorse, encourage and empower women, people of color, LGBTs, and employees of different ages and backgrounds are far more likely both to retain a broader spectrum of top talent as well as reap the rewards of an ongoing diversity dividend.

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