Talent – The Long View

Why the reasons for a company’s success are the cause of its death

There is a fascinating juxtaposition of articles in March's Harvard Business Review which, when taken together, give some great insight. First the salient points:

Page 28 – ‘Fear of being different stifles talent’

People adapt to the dominant culture. This is called ‘covering’. 61% of workers surveyed said they had faced overt or implicit pressure to ‘cover’ in some way. Change accent, change dress - as a management consultant I even do it professionally! What is the client culture and how do I fit in is one of the first things I look to understand.

A quote from the article that worried me: “Even though I am of Chinese descent, I would never correct people if they make jokes or comments about Asian stereotypes”

This is getting in the way of growing diversity in the upper echelons of management. Instead of diversity broadening the boardroom, the boardroom is taming and assimilating diversity.

Page 79 – Career Trajectory.

The top tier of management in Fortune 100 companies (C-suite) have an average of 20 years with their current employer. All the way down to VPs we are talking an average of 16 years with the same employer.

So the people running the largest companies today were hired for their abilities to do a job before there was a world wide web.


All steeped in the culture they joined, and assimilating anything new into themselves like some sort of corporate Borg (‘The Borg’ went around doing lots of assimilating, for those who have never seen Star Trek. If Dr Who is your lens, think Cybermen).

Which all works fine – until it doesn’t work. In the last 20 years the composition of the Fortune 500 has changed by 39 firms every year. That’s 780 changes to the 500.

So how do you recruit and manage talent when that talent is hiding its diversity and being culturally and behaviourally assimilated? When you are looking in the rear view mirror for what succeeds when your target is 20 years into the unknown ahead of you?

It is a complex subject, and there are lots of factors. To quote Ellen Langer of Mindfulness fame “Performance is only a reflection of one’s ability under certain circumstances”.

  • How do you help your teams, leaders and boards to think?

  • Both individually and together?

  • How do you engage your present leadership in a reflexive look at the culture they have created and what it is doing to the development of the future of the company?

  • And how do you find, track and develop the talent you are hiring now for the role they will have in 20 years time?

Our approach is all about understanding what people base their decisions on, and ensuring you get the right mix and diversity of that.

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