Marc Effron returns this week to the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. Marc is the President of the Talent Strategy Group and author of One Page Talent Management. Marc’s talent management consulting provides a highly practical, broadly informed perspective to clients like American Express, Advanced Micro Devices, Fidelity Investments, and many more. He has served as VP Global Talent Management for Avon Products, started and led the Global Leadership Consulting Practice at consultancy Hewitt Associates. Marc was also Senior Vice President, Leadership Development for Bank of America. Full Bio…
The Unimportance of Being Earnest
by Marc Effron
At a celebration to honor your career, you run into two of your previous managers. Both managers were invaluable to your success — each provided you with big assignments, challenging goals and tough feedback. You respected each of them and valued what they had done for your career.
Later that evening, one of the managers tells you he never actually believed in how he managed people. He only did it because HR told him to. You’re surprised by the comment, but should you care? Was he a worse manager because he did not genuinely believe in what he was doing?
The question of manager belief vs. manager compliance was raised in two recent conference presentations. My presentations typically focus on making talent management practices more effective, with a key step of holding managers accountable for executing those processes. After speaking at each event, I heard a variant of the question: “You focus on process design and accountability to get managers to comply. But shouldn’t good managers genuinely believe in these talent management practices, not just execute them because they have to?”
The question’s subtext was that a manager who was earnestly interested in doing the right thing was somehow superior to one who simply executed what he or she was asked to do.
That perspective troubles me for three reasons:
First, talent management practices work if, and only if, they’re implemented. Managers with the most earnest belief in great talent management add no value at all until they actually turn those beliefs into action. Most managers believe in setting goals, coaching, etc. – they just rarely find the time to actually do it. In contrast, the manager who only gives feedback or grows a successor under the threat of HR’s wrath has genuinely helped the employee and the company.
Second, we forget that managers’ judgments of talent processes are based on their experiences. Through our design of complex and laborious processes, we’ve convinced some managers that processes don’t add value. To get a manager to believe, we need to show them that giving feedback, following up on engagement activities or setting great goals can be simple, fast and powerful activities. Once they experience a positive process, it’s much easier for managers to truly believe that it’s the right thing to do.
Third, the sentiment that managers should genuinely believe in their talent practices is both wistful and wrong. All of the eye-rolling, cynical remarks and sighing about the managers in their care is not getting the work done. “They should believe!” “Passion is crucial,” they cry as they flay themselves. This mindset represents a humanistic, results-optional, HR approach that needs to be rapidly eliminated for the benefit of the profession.
The reality is that it doesn’t matter if managers truly believe in the talent processes, they are engaging in. We know these processes work if they’re implemented. Our goal as HR and talent management leaders should be singular – ensure successful implementation. If a manager genuinely believes in what they’re doing – fantastic! If they think it’s ridiculous but do it anyway – fantastic! Employees and the company are going to benefit either way.
Let’s drop our conviction that an earnest belief in growing talent is superior to cold-hearted execution. Idealism is wonderful but getting results is actually a lot more fun.