Monthly Archives: November 2011

The one with people in boxes

[Author’s note: this post is quite long – get snacks]

Some time ago I was introduced to a non-exec director of the business I worked for. He had been a senior player with one of the global consumer brand businesses and the purpose of the meeting was to discuss their approach to talent to see if there was anything we (the business I worked for) could learn from it and utilise to drive performance of our own organisation.

During the conversation he introduced me to the concept of the 9-box talent model. It’s a model that plots performance against potential and maps the plots on those axes into 9 boxes. I am struggling to find who originally developed it but it’s based on work completed by GE & McKinsey. Where you were placed in the model would dictate how your career path was framed, what opportunities were open to you and how much investment and support you got. It looks something like this…

I am a fan of models. Not the literal interpretation of them but the way in that they help me see things differently, model information and to get clarity on a situation. I left the meet quite excited about what could be achieved with the 9-box model. This excitement lasted about 48 hours until I understood the quagmire that I would have to wade through to get data to populate the model. I will explain…


Most businesses have performance management systems. Of those systems, most have some form of rating. Given the rating is often tied to reward it is subject to scrutiny and verification, well at least they were in our business. So this should be simple? Wrong!

If the score someone achieves is likely to colour their career for some time to come you have to challenge the number being put in the box. Which means asking what is being measured? I’d stake a decent wager the objectives on which the rating being based is so called ‘hard measures’ and those will be in the form of metrics of some sort. I don’t want to go into the challenges of developing metrics but my views align with a friend of mine Neil Morrison and he shares his views in this post.

But seriously, of the two (performance and potential) performance is the easier to measure so let’s just say we plot our performance measures against the 3 boxes along the bottom and move on to potential


One of the dictionary definitions of potential is “a latent excellence or ability that may or may not be developed” but in people terms how do you measure potential?

The simple answer is you ask ‘them what make the decisions’ and that is often, I believe, what happens. The subjective realities form a view of individual potential somewhat akin to an internal stock market.

If you want a more objective measure you are in to some form of measurement and having asked several well trusted colleagues and peers over recent years the methods that come up time and time again are these 2:

1. Learning Agility

Learning Agility is defined as “ability to adapt to one’s experiences, make sense of them and make the most of them”. It is based on the work of Sternberg at al (1995) and they found it to be a better predictor of organisational success than cognitive ability. The development of a tool to measure Learning Agility was pioneered by Michael Lombardo & Robert Eichiner who went on to form Lominger (now part of Korn Ferry Whitehead Mann).

If you read Lominger’s publications on Learning Agility it talks of four types: mental, people, change and results and I am probably oversimplifying here but basically I think  their assertion is that learning agility correlates with potential. So measure learning agility and Bob’s your Uncle…


YSC (Young, Samuel, Chambers) are a consulting business who, in their own words “help…define, identify and develop your leadership capability”. They are global organisation and work with some very impressive companies.

They have developed a tool they call JDI (Judgement, Drive, Influence) based on Peter Saville’s WAVE.

They define judgement as problem finding, analytical rigour, framing issues, problem resolution. They define drive as ambition, self assurance and initiative. They define influence as self awareness, environmental radar and the range of influence.

So fill in the questionnaire, wait 5 minutes and a view on your potential will appear.

Again, that seems simple, doesn’t it?

Well I have two problems with both these measures. Firstly, I have never managed to convince a board that the exercise is required let alone the investment. In simple terms I’ve never done it and whilst they both appear elegant solutions I can’t really say.

The second problem is on more of an emotional level. If you look back on your career (waits 10 minutes whilst you reflect on your career) and think about the people that have REALLY influenced your progession, what they awoke in you is probably very difficult to measure. You know when people say to a child “you can be anything you want to be”, neither of these two solutions appears to account for the ability human beings seem to have for latent greatness. That’s what really bothers me, the idea that we will pass people over based on a set of scores when what we could be doing as managers and leaders is helping them understand and realise they have greatness within them that can’t be scored.

So why bother?

So why have I written this (extremely long) post? Well this stuff has been bouncing around in my head of late and a few conversations I’ve had recently have brought it front of mind but also to share where I’ve got to in my explorations to see if anyone else has great stuff to share.

The reality of all of this is that 9-box is a step forward from succession and development planning based on performance alone and an organisation doing this well would likely be way ahead of the curve in finding greatness within their businesses but the ‘divine discontent’ module in my head still wants to find latent greatness…


Sternberg, R.J., Wagner, R.K., Williams, W.M. & Horvath, J.A. (1995) Testing Common Sense. American Psychologist, 50(11), 912-927


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The one with a book review

It’s not often I get invited to review something so when Peter Gold asked me to review his book I leapt at the chance for 2 reasons. Firstly, because why not share a point of view and secondly, because Peter is want to express his own opinion so why not express right back!!

The book is called “Who moved my HR software?” and features the same central character as Peter’s previous publication “Who moved my talent?”. It features our protaganist Henry yet again fighting the demons of intertia and resistance to try and move an organisation forward.

I think Peter’s writing style owes much to Patrick Lencioni in that he attempts to take corporate issues that are over complicated and shrouded in smoke and mirrors and simplify them to allow professionals to focus on the nub of the problem.

The book is engaging, easy to read and short enough to digest in a single sitting. It takes the overly complicated lingo surrounding inhouse systems vs software as a service, coupled with inhouse hosting or the cloud and puts them in terms even I could understand.

I must confess there were a few occassions when I felt a little patronised and once or twice where ‘the Queen’s shilling’ of the book being sponsored made my teeth grind a little but it’s well worth a read for those in HR or those who are struggling with the concepts of SaaS or Cloud computing generally.

You can get a free copy (and being a book about technology it’s available in PDF, Kindle, iPad & audio versions) here

I should also point out that I did not take the queen’s shilling for writing this but will however demand a pint paid for by Gold’s shilling next time I see him!!

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The one with the good fight

Opposites attract, right?

Well as far as magnets go, yes, but when it comes to organisations it doesn’t always seem to hold. I’ve just finished reading an interesting post from Alison Chisnell, which is well worth a read on why organisations hire for compatibility rather than capability and it’s the following line that provoked this post:

“In my view, organisations and senior management teams don’t have to be harmonious or devoid of conflict and issues to be effective”

I couldn’t agree with Alison more. In fact I personally think the best organisations are rife with conflict but the right kind of conflict.

Some time ago I wrote a post about the gender pay gap and women in senior roles. If you care to read it, it’s linked here but one of the articles cited there said this:

“Organisations benefit from “feminine leadership” with the challenge facing organisations the need for competitiveness, aggression and task orientation (what could be considered male traits) are seen as less valuable than good communication, coaching, being intuitive, flexible and more people orientated in general (stereotypically female characteristics).” (Powell et al, 2002)

It seems to me that some conflict in the work place is about land grabbing, jostling for position, ego, politics and the type of win/lose behaviour that leaves the business fighting itself rather than focussing its energies on resolving issues and improving its position versus the competition.

Positive constructive conflict is good. It takes two (or more) points of view and challenges them to scrutiny to find the best route forward for the business but the focus is on best for the business not best for the individual. Some of the people I have respected most in my career are those who are secure enough in themselves to come out the other side and say “I was wrong, your way is better”.

I once worked with a very strong minded Head of Operations and we would fight like cat and dog in the meeting but once we’d got to agreement we’d walk out of the room, one would buy the other a coffee and get on with our day. It wasn’t personal, it was business. We were MEANT to have different points of view, we saw the world very differently and it was in the conflict between those two views that we got to some great outcomes for the business.

Whether it’s having more feminine characteristics or indeed females in the organisation, improving individual self awareness, giving people confidence to admit they can be wrong or the business being focussed on not indulging in political behaviour I’m not sure. It seems to me the more organisations can fight the good fight and move on to improving the better they will be for it.

A coach once said to me, “you don’t have to be disagreeable to disagree”. He got his bill paid without question but I’m still working on it….


Powell, G.N., Butterfield, D.A., Parent, J.D., (2002) “Gender and Managerial Stereotypes: Have the Times Changed?” Journal of Management, 28(2)


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The one where it’s in the family

I am currently job hunting. I have made no secret of it and although I have chosen not to discuss the blow-by-blow activities of my job hunt here there is something that I would like to share and get some views on.

I understand and am quite comfortable with the idea that some jobs in some industries are very specific. I understand that in order to be a surgeon, a bricklayer, a commodities broker, a lawyer or a book editor that I will need very specific skills that are also very specific to that role and industry. However, I work in learning and development.

Whilst my roles have included elements of industry specific development it’s been my stakeholders that have given me that specific knowledge and my expertise has been in how to transfer that and in the delivery of the ensuring programme. Likewise developing managers and leaders always has some context but the general skills and abilities one would require to deliver that work are very transportable (in my opinion and that of others) and again I can ask the correct questions of the correct people to understand and embed the context into the work.

Therefore I am surprised when on a regular basis I am told that I am not worthy of consideration for a role (my words not theirs) because I don’t have for example ‘financial services’ background. Having reflected on this at length (there’s plenty of reflection time at the moment) there’s a few reason that come to mind but this is just my starter for 10:

  1. The world is being an insecure teenager at the moment so managing it’s insecurities by making industry background a prerequisite
  2. ‘No one gets fired for buying IBM’ – is it individuals playing safe on hiring ‘people like us’ to make sure they are not exposed in the organisation?
  3. Some industries, even in transportable roles such as mine, are just very different, very complex and need specialists?
  4. The individual manager doesn’t want to have to invest the time getting an individual up to speed on context?

That list is by no means exhaustive and I would love to know your thoughts on them and any other reasons you can think of…

One final thought, given the events of the past few years is it just me that thinks that some industries could do with actively seeking talent from outside their own sphere in order to gain objectivity and challenge from people who weren’t inside their respective bubble when it burst? No? Just me????

I was going to try and work in the analogy of people who intermarry and therefore reduce the diversity of the gene pool with a ha ha reference to the British Royal Family but it didn’t seem to fit anywhere but think about it for a second 😉



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The one where I fear for the natives

I love books, always have done (as long as I can remember) and hopefully always will do. What’s more publishers and bookcase makers should love me as I like to buy my own and generally like to keep them. That said in the past few weeks I have had a revelation. The fact that I have too many isn’t the revelation, the revelation was actually that I have 3 types of books:

  1. Books I have read and will never read again
  2. Books I have read and would consider reading again
  3. Books I have kept because they contain information I wanted access to

With a new objective to reduce the number of books I have in my home 1 and 2 are easy – give category 1 to a charity shop and find more efficient ways to store category 2. In reviewing the entries in category 3 I had a sub-revelation that actually most of these are now redundant as the information they contain is out to date versus that available online. Which got me to thinking….

When I was kid calculators were becoming cheap and widely available, so we all nagged our Mums into getting us one and a generation of people were amused by typing 55378008 into a small machine. In thinking back I remember arguments about why would you need to learn mental arithmetic when you could work it out on a calculator but now with hindsight it’s abundantly clear that a) mental arithmetic is far more valuable than just “doing Maths” and that b) my Dad is better than most card games than me due to his superior mental arithmetic.

Likewise when I was a kid if you wanted to access knowledge you needed either something or someone who gave you access whether that be parents (or other such grownups), a friend with the Encyclopaedia Britannica or for that tough to reach stuff a trip to the local reference library. Therefore, when you got some knowledge you tried (or at least I did) to retain it, whether that be in your head or in a book for future use.

In reflecting on my revelations with books the thoughts that I spiralled into involved the digital natives (or generation Z whichever you prefer) and their evaluation of and access to information and from that knowledge. Given my generation’s attitudes to mental arithmetic given access to calculators, will the natives given access to Google/wiki etc dismiss the need to learn and retain knowledge relying on the fact they have easy access to it?

This leaves me with 2 very pressing concerns:

  1. What happens when there’s no signal?
  2. How will they ever know the satisfaction of winning a pub quiz without cheating?


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The one where the contrast is lost

Barack Obama travels in style – whether it be Airforce One, Marine One or ‘The Beast’; the President of the United States is well catered for when it comes to transportation. However, if I had a question about transport infrastructure, I wouldn’t ask the person who manages it for the White House. I wouldn’t have the same requirement, resources or infrastructure to make what I’m sure would be excellent advice relevant to me or the organisation I was working for. That may seem a strange thing to open a post about people with but I promise I’ll return to it.

Yesterday I attended a session at #cipd11 which was all about HR & Social Media. To be honest I wasn’t going to write a post about it, the main reason being that Doug Shaw wrote two great posts (here & here) which didn’t seem to need adding to….but things moved on and here we are.

The session had 2 speakers – Neil Morrison, Group HRD at Random House and Matthew Hanwell, HR Director, Community & Social Media for Nokia. Neil’s half of the session concerned how Random House have approached their employees usage of social media and how they use it as part of engaging their teams but also for engaging with authors and readers. It was an interesting session and the thing that struck me was it was very portable – to do what Random House have done you only need buy in not capex.

Then came Matthew whose session was likewise very interesting and concerned how social media is now part of the way Nokia operates. How transparent communication and collaboration has developed their organisation and shared some great stuff about what they do and how they do it. However (and there had to be a however) what Matthew and Nokia have done requires significant investment both in terms of technology and resource. It requires a reengineering of internal communication and is only likely to feasible and valuable in an organisation that like Nokia is big and global.

I enjoyed the session and came away with plenty to think about and have already shared some of the content with people I know who were not in attendance.

Where it got interesting was in the write up published in People Management Daily (a version of People Management produced at the conference). If you were to read this article you would not know that Neil was there. There was absolutely no mention of him or his content. The article focussed purely on Matthew’s content.

Given the number of big global companies and the rest I was surprised at the exclusion of ‘the first half’ because for my thinking it would be as relevant if not more so to 95% of HR Practitioners who may be trying to move their organisations towards embracing social media. Even for the big global players, trying to start the journey what Neil discussed in terms of behaviour would be incredibly relevant.

Is this indicative of HR’s obsession with “shiny” when actually what delivers real organisational value for most of us is good stuff done well? To return to the original analogy what we ended up reading about was a fascinating insight into Barack Obama’s transport infrastructure when what we could have read about was the contrast between that and people who deliver results with a Toyota Avensis and a Premium Economy seat on Virgin….


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The one where the label’s different

The last time I was at an exhibition similar to this (#CIPD11) was about 2 years ago. At the time my badge had a nice weighty corporate job title which started with ‘Head of’ and left those reading it with the (correct) impression that I  lead a function within a significant organisation and more importantly to them had budget and some discretion.

As I have said previously I am here as a guest of the CIPD. I am here because one of the CIPD digital team (thank you Mrs Thomson) likes reading my blog and thought I would be an interesting addition to ‘noise’ coming out of the conference. So as far as the exhibitors and my badge are concerned I am a blogger working for a company called blogger. It looks like this:

As interesting as this may be to some people (and to all 4 of you I am grateful) to those who seek a signature of the line which is dotted I am a lost cause…..for the moment. Well to be honest, they get the ‘lost cause’ bit but aren’t neccessarily on to the ‘for the moment’ bit.

With a fair wind and some luck at some point soon I hope to land another job which gives me a nice weightly job title and some budget to spend (I do like spending organisational cash). There have been some enlightened folks about the place today who have asked enough questions to understand that ‘blogger blogger’ may be my badge, it hides a person who could be of interest to their business in the short to medium term.

However, there have been a fair few who seeing the ‘blogger blogger’ badge have in true pre-Samaritan fashion ‘crossed to other side’ to avoid what is in their eyes a conversation that holds no value.

Whilst I understand why they’ve done this (and confess I’ve probably done similar in my early years of flogging job ads) with now some platinum highlights and a few trips around the block to my credit I would counsel those averting their eyes on the following:

  • It’s about the long game
  • Appearances can be deceptive
  • There are several ‘blogger blogger’s here and they all have much larger readership than me – dismiss them at your peril


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