Don’t Shoot the Managers


PotentialRon Ashkenas recently posted an interesting blog on Harvard Business Review positing two common failures of high potential development programs: (1) employers are uncomfortable tapping some employees for development over others, and (2) managers are uncomfortable maintaining the complex coaching dialogue needed to develop these high potential employees. Ashkenas writes:

Taken together, the twin discomforts of differentiation and dialogue hinder high-potential programs, even when senior line and HR executives do a good job of centrally structuring assessments, rotations, and training. This may at least partly explain why so many company-identified high potentials don’t remain with their firms.

Ashkenas places much of the blame on squeamish managers:

… most managers hate to differentiate. They would prefer to treat everyone the same, avoiding the uncomfortable process of sorting people by levels of performance … engaging in … developmental dialogue is foreign to many managers and can cause just as much anxiety as the need to differentiate.

This is where I disagree, at least in part. Yes, managers are uncomfortable ranking their employees. However, this discomfort with differentiation likely exists because, in many cases, being selected for development has more to do with politics than potential. Good personality assessment provides a fair, accurate way to identify employees who have the potential to become strong leaders, which effectively absolves managers of accusations that they play favorites.

Similarly, managers are often uncomfortable mentoring their high potential employees because without the data-driven development framework provided by personality assessment, feedback can be unfocused, and performance critiques taken as a personal attack.

For more information on high potential development, check out our recent whitepaper, “From Potential to Performance,” in which we examine how these and other common talent management problems can be solved by making personality assessment the cornerstone of any high potential selection and development program.