Sharing Talent

Sharing Talent

I wasn’t in the room for my first performance appraisal, but later found out about a ‘development opportunity’ that years later is all too common today in growing talent.

     My first appraisal happened when Mrs. Kay, my kindergarten teacher, told my parents that I was a bright, energetic 5 year old who didn’t sleep at nap time and had some trouble sharing.  While I’ve overcome the inability to nap during the day, I still have to remind myself to share my best toys.




     If Mrs. Kay were appraising business leaders today, she would give low marks for sharing high potential leadership talent.  Of course, it’s a challenge to convince executives to move their most promising personnel to some other part of the enterprise.  Great talent produces great results.  Why would a leader give up a valued producer, especially someone with the promise of delivering even greater results in the future?

     The executive has invested in the high potential and deserves to reap the benefits.  Certainly any rational business leader would also be unwilling to give up his or her best in exchange for someone else’s so-called high potential.  It feels like a risky, unfair trade of giving up talent you know for an unknown.  Faced with this risk, it is common for a leader to dig in his or her heels and not share.  Worse yet, leaders sometimes hide their best talent, less corporate gets finds out about the rising star.




     Now, as any kindergarten teacher would know, there is much to be gained by sharing.  Any one business unit can offer job growth and stretch assignments.  But at some point, new job challenges in the division aren’t as strong or as optimal as those outside the familiar unit.  New business circumstances, new geography and new challenges broaden leadership capabilities.    Moreover, moving talent across the silos of the organization also generates benefits.  Fresh high potential leaders moving into a new group often raises the performance standards and promotes recalibrating expectations to higher levels.  Mixing the best talent will bring new thinking and best practice sharing with accelerated application because these folks are by nature change agents.

     It makes all the sense in the world to break free the best developing leaders to move across business units.  While it is hard work, I’ve observed a number of enablers to better talent sharing.



Start by declaring that above a certain level, the leadership group is ‘owned’ by the corporation and not the sole property of the individual business units.  Everyone has a notion of the top 100, 500 or 1000 leaders spread out through the enterprise.  Establish that the career development of this cadre will have a company point-of-view.  It may not be a popular message, but it makes sense when you consider how the HR systems of succession, compensation and development line up to treat leaders beyond a certain level as corporate assets first who are currently ‘on loan’ to a division.


Build in to any succession roll-up a robust process of identifying and tracking the best talent in the organization silos.  The CEO and senior team should know the up and coming talent, first through this annual HR system and also by personally taking time to meet and build relationships with each division’s high potentials.  This can facilitate the movement.  Let me explain:  sometimes cross divisional moves happen naturally and sometimes it takes more.  I’ve seen development-oriented CEOs personally intervene to break free emerging executives being held hostage in a greedy division.



One of the natural ways the corporation manages the top group of leaders is through its direct ownership of  their compensation.  Merit pay, stock options, incentive pay and other forms of rewards are often managed at the top for divisional leaders.  This practice can be useful in cross-division talent movement by reinforcing the belief that the corporation has a say in the treatment of these leaders and reviews can be useful assessment and tracking practices to know where the best talent is located in divisions.



 Training can play a role in identifying and enabling the cross-business movement of high potential talent as well.  Start by filling a corporate leadership development program with high potentials from all corners of the organization is a smart way to identify the best divisional talent.  The networking from this mixture alone can help open up possible cross-unit movement.  Add in direct and meaningful contact with the CEO and other corporate leaders to reinforce the visibility and relationship   Finish by sending the message in the program  that the leadership development path to the top will be build with cross-business, broadening executive moves.


 If you can establish that the corporation owns the top leadership group above a certain level in each division, then the logic would be consistent when establishing that the corporate office will be involved in filling these leadership jobs in division.  The role can vary, from helping assemble the slate of candidates to reviewing the finalists.  All the aforementioned enablers set the stage for this kind of role.  This is the critical time to nudge a division executive to consider a high potential from another unit or ‘recruit’ a talent from another division to go interview for the opening.


Leadership development research reminds us that challenging assignments are the accelerators of growth.  At some point in a leader’s journey, the challenges are to be found in crossing divisions.  It is hard work, but it has huge payoffs for the individual and organization.


Speaking of hard work, I think it’s time for my nap now.

© Kevin D. Wilde