The often ignored realities of talent management (#5): Succession planning is *actually* important (aka – lessons from the Conservatives)

Like a lot of people I suspect, I’m finding myself tweeting and blogging more about political topics than I ever suspected I would. My tweet this morning:

was less about Boris or the Conservative Party or even the ridiculous idea of ‘family values’ and more about how, in less than a decade, we have seen the media totally shift from a values based approach when it comes to the suitability of a politician to be UK Prime Minister.

Concepts such as those tied up in the attacks on Miliband (values, personality, etc) will be all too familiar to those who work in organisations – especially for those who work directly in organisational design, talent and learning roles.

The argument I’d like to make here is that since 2016 we have seen, through the office of Prime Minister but particularity from the Conservative and Unionist Party (as the pipeline for PMs), a total failure of organisational design. Now, in many ways, Labour has of course been suffering the same problems, with failed bids to change the leader. Therefore, this can be seen as an example of how dysfunctional organisations (in this case political parties) can be without clear talent management.

Those who are anti-Cameron, anti-Johnson, anti-May, anti-Corbyn, etc. would of course like to shine the light on leadership and say (from a classical business studies perspective) that none of these people have sufficiently engaged their organisations, they did (or have) not bring people along through change management, etc. There have been some very good articles written on what this means for leadership in Britain, for example see this 2016 article from the New Yorker that almost entirely still applies. However, rather than leadership, I’d say the ultimate issue here is succession planning. These organisations have been allowed to lurch between extremes (such as between the left v right of parties or between different personality types). At the same time both Labour and the Conservatives have grown in terms of membership, albeit after massive drops in the 90s and 00s (as a % of voting population anyway). In effect we’ve seen the classic industry issue, a dilution of values and behaviours as organisations have changed, grown and splintered.

Look back at the 2016 leadership ‘campaign’ and it is bizarre that Boris Johnson seems to have got support from basically quitting and refusing to work with PM May. In other words, he’s now the best candidate because they’ve gone down the route of isolating any ‘remain’ elements in the party and positioning himself as internal opposition. His behaviour in an organisational context would be seen as toxic. Yet he is now supported by the same MPs who in 2016 “wouldn’t back Johnson without Gove alongside him” and who “suddenly…weren’t answering their phones or had turned them off” when Gove ‘switched’. Now Boris is seen as the ‘best of a bad bunch’ by many, if only because he is entertaining. Indeed Michael Gove really needs reminding that in 2016 he kept saying that he didn’t want to be PM, so why does he keep going for it?.

In the quarrels between Blair and Brown, the abandonment of high office by Cameron and Osborne and now the ‘internal opposition’ of Boris taking over from May we’ve seen these organisations fail with transitions. Whatever happens in the next few weeks there is a desperate need for parties to groom potential leaders better but also to cast the net beyond the ‘Westminster bubble’ so increasingly distrusted by voters. While Cameron had a long ‘apprenticeship’, serving under leaders such as Michael Howard, you suspect the two main political parties need to be much smarter if they are to survive.

So, the next time you think ‘succession planning’ is boring, too hard or just impossible (because, for example, the market changes too often or people move in and out too much to manage) just think how much of a mess your organisation could be in with no talent pipeline and no retention of organisational knowledge. Then invest in talent and knowledge management and rejoice!

Training Magazine Webinar: Secret New PowerPoint Stuff in Office 365

The constant updating of applications is great but it does make it very difficult to keep up-to-date with the latest options.

This webinar made me aware of some really powerful options for visualisations and presentations, noteworthy bits below:

‘Learning Reducer’ style concepts in the news

A couple of L&D pros have recently touched on some of the concepts I’ve tried to articulate in my ‘Reducer’ mindset. Links and recommendations for listening/reading below:

  • Krystyna Gadd on How Not to Waste Your Money on Training (Training Journal Podcast)
    • http://podplayer.net/?id=69264956
    • An interview on the TJ Podcast talking about Krystyna’s new book (which sounds like a more articulate version of some of my blog posts and ideas!)
  • BRUTALLY EFFICIENT: EXPLORING THE LEARNER SOCIAL CONTRACT WITH LORI NILES-HOFMANN (Totara Learning)
    • Full disclosure, I used to work with Lori so I’m always keen to read her latest thinking and the brutal efficiency focus does not disappoint. The piece is a really strong argument with parallels to the ‘reducer’ concept and some of the ideas in the podcast above.
    • I’d strongly recommend anyone who can go to the event to hear more from Lori does so.

Where I’d disagree a little with how Totara (on the second link) have analysed the issues would be that they continue to use ‘learner’ and consider things through an employer/employee contract position. I think we must try and shift this more to a realistic position where learning is owned by everyone, just facilitated by L&D teams – with organisations recognising learning needs as human (not learner/employee) needs. Yes, L&D teams should be upskilling their people, as in the Totara article. However, I would say L&D teams should be making opportunities available to all their audience(s) and then those individuals have a responsibility themselves to take those opportunities. We need to end the ‘arm twist to get you to do this’ culture of mandatory training whilst also encouraging people to contribute via social learning, coaching or other initiatives – even if they have no interest in career progression.

Do we just have to accept there is no going back ‘to the good old days’?

On many metrics the UK has flat-lined since the 2008 financial crisis, with arguably worse to come.

This week London and other cities have seen major protests from environmentalists.  So, do we have to accept that with climate change and other socio-economic crisis there is simply no return to the optimism of the millennium?

As an 80s child I perhaps feel this stronger than other age groups – having grown up in the mostly optimistic 90s with Cool Britannia, the end of the cold war, “things can only get better” and general optimism (even encyclopedia’s were optimistic bits of fun).  Yes, we had Captain Planet, Ferngully and other media warning us of the dangers of the future but overall I suspect there was far more cultural positivity than for those growing up now.  Current school kids have been globally connected from birth yet are seeing trade wars, cold (and hot) wars, migration crises and other threats to subdue their futures.

The Iraq War increasingly feels like the political turning point that was reinforced by the ‘credit crunch’.

If the future is indeed going to be bleaker then I suspect we need to relearn to ‘make do and mend’ – in this context I’ve recently been reading a lot about Jughad design.  I’m pretty sure this concept was new to me – although it has been used in the west for at least 20 years and there are a variety of books and articles on its application away from the Indian subcontinent.

At the same time we have to remember we have come along way and their are reasons for optimism – for that I would recommend the book Abundance that I have recently finished reading.

The support staff role (again): considering the library role (again)

At a minimum, learners and teachers should collaborate with librarians to design the places, collections and services of the library.

Planning with the entire community helps to make the library a welcoming, active space for learning, research, and reflection…

It is important that librarians do not find themselves undervalued or isolated from the school community, which can happen if the system is not designed to play an active role in energizing the curriculum. Librarians should be included in planning, teaching and learning to the greatest effect, rather than being “the last people to know” what is going on in the school.

Ideal libraries: A guide for schools (International Baccalaureate)

Consider the six roles the IB has identified as archetypes of modern librarian role. Then compare L&D’s re-visioning for 70/20/10 and other changes. Here we have traditional support roles desperate for ‘a place at the top table’ as I’ve discussed before.

Added later: After working in the library area again for the first time in a while it really strikes me how much of the library discourse in on rules, regulations, security, etc. This is in part why I looked to move away from libraries originally, that the focus is too often not on the actual outcomes – in academic libraries that learning and research actually happens! In some ways this is comparable to L&D – with both having to wear more hats than they would have traditionally:

I’ve learned a lot for my current role from an excellent couple of networking groups (one a Facebook group the other a more formal site using their own version of Moodle). Neither of these sites are provided by my organisation or an L&D team, these are prime examples of informal Personal Learning Networks contributing to performance. They are point of need Q&A channels beyond what any bot could provide – as they offer advice and ideas from outside of your organisation – a combination of “how do others do this” and “help please!” Often when we think about the support services we provide we think we can do this via support resources, often we simply have no access to the people our people really need – peers outside the organisation.