Cooks In The Corporate Kitchen

Cooks In The Corporate Kitchen

     Peering into the oven, I was still unclear if it was time to pull to cupcakes from the oven.  Looking back at me, I imagined, were a dozen millennial cupcakes wondering if their time was up.  Wait too long and they’ll be dry and burnt.  Pulled too early and they’ll be an unfinished doughy mess. 


     As a novice baker, there seemed to be three equally valid guidelines.  The ingredient box said wait 15 minutes with a nonstick pan.  My daughter told me to ignore the box instructions and push a toothpick in a cupcake.  If the toothpick comes out clean, the cupcakes are ready for frosting.  My wife coached me to just look for that golden brown glow that tells a wise baker it’s time.


     While contemplating my next baking move, I reflected on the similarity of conflicting bake times and quality assignment management:  when is someone ready for his or her next role?


    Poor talent management moves employees based solely on the whims of the business.  Much like the cupcake, pulled too early to fill another pressing business need and the employee is still doughy and undeveloped from a short tenured role.  Held in place too long to provide business stability may result in staleness, burn out or at least missed opportunities to grow in a differential role.  String a series of these jobs together and the cumulative result is a loyal employee who helped out a lot but isn’t really strong enough for the next level.  


So it’s helpful to have clear intent and guidelines when setting the timer on a developmental assignment.  These approaches I heard to optimal cupcake readiness seemed to apply equally well to job:


The Nonstick Assignment

 There are the short duration, rotational jobs so often found early in a career.  Early testing in a variety of circumstances and exposure to different parts of the organization are the main benefits of these roles.  The keys to making these assignments productive include selecting the right depth of responsibilities:  just enough to be engaging with some challenge yet bounded so that with rapid turnover of incumbents minimizes damage to the business and key relationships.  It’s best to surround the pass-through talent with stable, experienced professionals who enjoy coaching the next generation.


 The Toothpick Role

 These are the assignments which test an employees competence and talent.  Usually longer in duration that the non-stick assignment, these roles serve up meaningful opportunities to develop skills and demonstrate a required level of ability.  Some career mapping and competency architecture are usually involved in the planning of these jobs.  The critical aspect of managing these moves well is two-fold:  first, be clear upfront with the employee what specific skills they need to learn and master.  Second, ensure adequate experiences where these new competencies can be acquired, assimilated and demonstrated to the satisfaction of career decision makers. Not holding the employee in the role long enough so they ‘come out clean’ with validated skills and knowledge is a waste of promising talent.


The Golden Brown Job

  There are special circumstances which go beyond nonstick and toothpick assignment timing. I recall hearing a debate between two leaders concerning readiness of a well-regarded high potential to backfill a retiring senior executive.  Yes, said the retiring exec that the replacement had demonstrated the basic job requirements but no, he isn’t ready quite yet.  He hadn’t seen enough of the unexpected elements of the job, those unplanned for crisis and tough-call decisions which provide a different level of competence, executive judgment and humility.  The performance was there but the high potential needed to move from demonstrated competence to wisdom.  It was a question of seasoning.


As talent management leaders, we operate as cooks in the corporate kitchen, pulling ingredients and recipes together to produce masterful creations for high performance and growth.  Remember one skill of a great chef and a great talent leader is timing:  knowing how long is just right.  Speaking of timing, I think I smell some cupcakes burning when I’ve been daydreaming of talent management.

 © Kevin D. Wilde