• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

Promoting the nonobvious candidate

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Conventional talent-management systems emphasize the need to give high performers appropriate experiences to help them ascend to more senior levels of management. But in addition to grooming obvious high performers who are accomplished in a particular domain, talent-management systems should also deliberately look at nonobvious candidates: high performers in other domains who do not automatically fit the bill. This may be because they don’t have the expertise or experience typically viewed as relevant for the job. But they do have, say, strong leadership skills or a different set of experiences that may be useful in a wider context.

Roles and contexts increasingly call for improvisation as opposed to experience, or resourcefulness as opposed to resources. So bringing in someone who will have a tendency to look at things differently makes great sense. At GE, for instance, the legal counsel of a business was made a business leader with a substantive commercial focus. His negotiation skills and ability to prioritize and drive much-needed change allowed the business to recover strongly from a tough patch.

Success in identifying such nonobvious candidates requires human resources to focus on strong leadership competencies such as mobilizing change, decisiveness, building teams, vision and communicating in a compelling fashion.

To be sure, taking bets on nonobvious talent is an art and comes with some risks. It is not sufficient to consider the nonobvious candidate without first making sure others on the team possess the necessary expertise to provide balance. In addition, it’s important to pair the candidate with a manager who is a strong mentor and coach capable of providing air cover as well as guidance. Finally, putting the candidate in a bridge role that will give him some extra preparation can help him more readily transition to his longer-term assignment.

When companies bemoan the talent shortage, they often do so because they have not thought about talent in a broader, more holistic way. We need leaders who can face different contexts and situations and handle different roles. By creating a variety of opportunities for leaders to grow, companies will be better able to prepare their talent for the challenges of a fast-moving world.

(Raghu Krishnamoorthy is GE’s vice president of executive development and chief learning officer.)