Management Insult 4: Talent Management Programmes

For a while now, I’ve been building a series of definitions of ‘management-speak’ terms that insult human intelligence. One day I might even find a publisher and release them as a dictionary, but for now, I thought I’d share a few of them from time to time. I make no apologies for these being slightly tongue in cheek. My argument is that for a leader to be effective they need to be grounded in the real world and not delude themselves through their use of obfuscating language.

Talent Management Programmes

An incredibly patronising way of trying to stop good people from leaving the company when we seem to lack the basic management skills to inspire and engage them.

An invention of HR directors, as a part of their ‘retention strategy’, whereby a programme of various vaguely linked tasks, assignments, courses and associated coaching, is constructed that will take the participants at least twelve months to complete. Often offered particularly in organisations where the majority of aspiring senior managers do not have many formal business qualifications and can be persuaded that the ‘future leaders’, ‘accelerated leaders’, ‘high flyers’, or similarly named programme is easily the equivalent of a Masters Degree. Some employers even go so far as to say that they are ‘in negotiation’ with a business school to ‘accredit’ the programme. Many describe the successful completion of the programme as a ‘graduation’, further reinforcing this delusion.

Some programmes have selection criteria such as completion of psychometric instruments – though there is rarely any evidence that the interpretation of these has any correlation with management progression within the organisation.

In practice, by hooking someone into the programme, it is a further consideration for them should they be tempted to leave. Individuals will often persuade themselves that having the ‘qualification’ is worthwhile and will delay leaving until they have finished it. Few other employers are actually impressed as they have their own programmes and know just what a con it is.

Of course, the carrot can be extended for some time by manipulative managers… The typical process for selling a scheme to an employee begins at their annual performance review and goes something like this:

At annual formal meeting with manager (M0): “I’ve decided to put you forward for consideration for the company ‘future leaders’ programme’.”

Six months later (M6): “I’m delighted to say that, after a little negotiation with HR (as you were just outside the normal criteria), we are able to offer you a place on next year’s ‘future leaders’ programme.”

Six more months (M12): “I realise that a rate of inflation pay increase may not be quite what you expected, but once you have successfully completed the ‘future leaders’ programme, you will be up for accelerated promotion opportunities.”

Six more months (M18): “I’m getting quite favourable reports of your progress on the ‘future leaders’ programme’, and will be looking for suitable opportunities to use your new skills over the next few months.”

A further six months (M24): “It’s a shame your final assignment didn’t quite yield the results we all expected. But, once the others have been given a crack of the whip in a new position, I’m sure that a great opportunity will come up for you to create the right impression to the powers that be.”

Best wishes

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