You Have Two Minutes

You Have Two Minutes

     There are many exciting things about talent management and sometimes that excitement can get us into trouble.


      I remember my exhilaration years ago in going eyeball-to-eyeball with my CEO about a new talent management initiative.  After a polite opening, it became clear that I had only two minutes to win him over. 


      Out went most of my ten page deck covering the theory of the project, the cutting edge innovation and the multilayer change effort required.  I had to quickly boil the message down to its essence.  I sensed the outcome was either going to be a head nod – meaning “I get it” – or squinting eyes and a series of increasingly skeptical questions. I did make it out alive that day, but will never forget that the two minute drill forced me to clearly communicate that the need was real and the solution was practical.


     As I reflect on why line leaders put a premium on practical over exciting, it seems to me that as the world grows in complexity and speed, those who reflect or amplify the complexity with their ideas will not have influence.  Our task is to add value with solutions that simplify to the essence, not pile on to the complexity.


Heading Into Trouble When …


     Unfortunately, our enthusiasm for our own bright ideas can blind us to the test of practicality.  So how do you know if you are headed for trouble?  I offer these four signs that you aren’t being practical (mostly from personal experience).


  • When you cannot explain the core of your proposal in four minutes or less. Or everything you are explaining is equally important and you can’t prioritize the critical elements. Or the execution phase lacks much thinking at all.


  • When the graphic flow-chart of your initiative includes more than three boxes and three arrows.  I refer to this as the ‘bad highway interchange’ chart.


  • When you build the solution around the award criteria for a professional society submission or making a magazine list.  I was in a staff meeting recently where an HR department was asking to add a new element to an already successful practice because a special interest magazine had changed their “best of” ranking criteria.


  • When it worked so well last time, you are bringing it back with “more, better” even through last time was just fine.  You feel your department won’t be as respected if you don’t bring something fresh and challenging out. 


The Clock Begins


     Seeing the CEO soon with your latest talent management move that will revolutionize the company?  Before you walk into her officer, let’s check the practicality of your idea, minute by minute.  The good news is the CEO is in a generous mood today and you’ll be given four minutes of undivided attention! 


  • FIRST MINUTE: IS IT REAL?  Can you begin with a real business-grounded problem or opportunity  that the CEO cares about?


  • SECOND MINUTE:  IS IT DIRECT?  Can you make a logical connection between the need and the solution you propose?   Does it apply “lean thinking” by taking the most direct path to resolving the issue?


  • THIRD MINUTE:  IS IT FAMILIAR?  Does your proposal balance familiar aspects with new thinking?  Does the listener hear common business language or need a translator for too much “HR speak?”


  • FOURTH MINUTE:  IS IT WELL PLANNED?  Without going into too much detail, can you show you’ve thought through the execution and sustaining essentials of your initiative?  How will you overcome the potential obstacles?


  • FIFTH MINUTE: SILENCE. Your four minutes are over.  You’ve kept it ‘executive crisp’ and are now waiting for a response. You can tell she is thinking it over.  Most likely, she is reflecting on your track record.  Has your prior work been successful and impactful?  If so, you will probably  hear a “yes.”  If not, better scale back your proposal to a pilot test as a way of building confidence.


     There is a growing list of talent management challenges, rich in complexity and urgency.  As leaders, our job is to strike the right balance in our solutions, avoiding oversimplifying  that under-delivers and over-complexity that overwhelms.  Taking the time upfront to get it right will payoff – especially the next time you are given the ‘two minute’ drill!

© Kevin D. Wilde