The part of my job I seriously LOVE – writing Talentfinder cases from scratch

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I guess it’s the part of me that longs to be a writer, tapping on a typewriter, holed up in a log cabin somewhere with snow outside, a wood fire inside and just my deep thoughts to keep me company. (The reality is a bit different – I spent most of a recent train trip trying to ignore broken air conditioning and screaming kids while writing parts of my last case!)

So what is a Talentfinder case?

At Floreat, one of the key ways we help people is through individual potential profiling using a scenario-based technique called Talentfinder. Essentially we give someone a written scenario and ask for responses about what that person sees in the scenario, and then in a role play, we ask about what action they would take to address certain challenges that are presented. This is all done in a one-on-one conversation. We have lots of scenarios covering many different industry sectors and challenges a person could expect working in an organisation – Floreat has been doing this for over 20 years so there is a substantial library we can draw on. And we are constantly looking for new ways to support and challenge our clients and so are always in need of more scenarios.

A typical scenario might involve a candidate as a general manager of a car manufacturer. At first the scenario could involve having to deal with faulty parts from a supplier. As things get more complex, you may have to deal with problems in a whole product line and then even further along, you might be asked to re-design the whole direction of the business. A mini-scenario we’ve published about a venture capital business in the mining sector is here.

I love writing Talentfinder cases for a couple of different reasons:

  • It helps me connect with the people who actually go through a Talentfinder profile – writing a scenario is not just about coming up with a realistic-sounding story. We are looking for indications of how someone thinks and acts – and to do this, we need to provide opportunities to shine, while not leading people to certain answers. So the writing process is definitely one of…if this was me being profiled, how might I react? Am I prescribing anything or am I opening up creative opportunities? Is there too much of my thinking in this? Does it give someone who thinks completely differently, a genuine opportunity to do well?
  • It constantly reminds me that there is no one way. We are all different and think differently about the same set of facts. But there are some things that work better than others and what is really important – besides thinking well about things – is making decisions, and taking responsibility for the outcome of your decision.

But most of all, I’ve discovered that writing cases is a bit like leadership itself. You need to give others enough direction to succeed, but not too much so there is no room to think. You also need a dignified way to allow stepping back and re-grouping if the work gets too tough. There will always be lots of ‘right’ ways – and plenty of dead ends. The trick in developing good leaders is to understand the fundamentals of good thinking and productive action and how to spot them.

If you’re a leader, we recommend that you look for that ability, support it and facilitate it. Come to think of it, there are plenty of ‘right’ ways to do that too!

The Top 5 Mistakes of Graduate Programs

Sunflower seedOk this is more of a negative, ‘what you’re doing wrong’ kind of post. So apologies about that, but I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about poor experiences on graduate programs that I felt a need to share what I’ve learnt. Future leadership roles are intended to be filled by the graduate group, and so the purpose of this article is to provide advice on retaining those future leaders and not turning them away.

A word of caution – I’m not implying grads must have it “handed to them on a plate” or be given extra-special treatment. I’m talking about good retention and development strategies that will see the organisation succeed through competent future leaders.

  1. Overstuffing with development

Feedback from graduates in many programs about how they think the program is going is often done very well (both public and private sectors in my experience). Asked frequently to rate how the program is going and what can be done better, there is often a tendency to focus on the performance of service providers rather than reflection on actual individual development to perform a role at an organisation competently. The result is that graduate program managers consume a lot of energy on providing a veritable menu of development choices. Graduates themselves tend to get lost and lose focus in such an environment. The best approach is to get very clear on purpose. Then use external providers or other advice to provide a fresh perspective as a means to help achieve that purpose. But leave most of the actual learning to take place at work. And that doesn’t mean just getting the odd executive to show up at a development program. It means co-designing a graduate development program that makes the best use of experiences at work – as a graduate, development is the work and the work is development.

  1. Poor design of the program itself    

A graduate program is a system unto itself and requires a capable person to design it. Too often, the design of a program is work done at a specialist level of the organisation and not integrated with other organisational systems. System design is manager work, the system itself must be sitting at a level that can be integrated and take account of other organisational systems like on-boarding, promotions, benefits and succession.

But far and away – the most important thing to get right in any graduate program is a shared understanding of the purpose. What is the graduate program actually for? If you haven’t critically considered this for a while in your organisation, it’s nearly always worthwhile to review the purpose and see how the graduate program outcomes measure up.

  1. ‘Reading the news’ rotations

This is a common one. We all know about the stress associated with having too much to do. But what about when there’s not enough to do? It’s an absolute killer of joy – as well as your graduates’ engagement in their work and the organisation. I’ve often heard the retort – well graduates should be more ‘pro-active’. Maybe. But a well-designed role with real work and on-going feedback by a manager always short-circuits this. The manager now has a graduate as a member of their team – developing a productive culture that supports that graduate to achieve their best is the manager’s work.

  1. No feedback

As I talked about, most graduate programs are generally great at getting feedback on the performance of the program itself. But what about the performance of a graduate? Some do this very well but where you see this falling down is in setting expectations. Those in charge of a team find this the toughest skill to do well and consistently, and it’s no surprise that feedback for grads in a rotation gets put on the back-burner. The trick is to establish a habit of feedback very early on that has elements of what’s done well and what could be better. Ideally, it becomes a positive experience that both the graduate and manager look forward to.

  1. Too much authority

This is rarer but can happen where a grad is put in a rotation where the team is under a lot of pressure. Maybe someone leaves suddenly or the workload just ramps up unexpectedly. And the graduate is told – over some protesting – just make some calls and get it done. The development of graduates is actually a fairly delicate process – graduates are making judgements all the time about whether they are cut out for this job. Doubt as they say is an essential part of faith. It would be a tragedy if that doubt became overwhelming and inhibiting to a grad’s development if they were suddenly dealing directly with the CEO and made a crucial mistake. It’s also poor leadership to allow that to happen.

For those in charge of graduate programs or those who’ve been on them, what other mistakes would you add to this list?

Australian Institute of Management presentation: How to Unlock the Leadership Potential of Future Leaders

We’re excited to be presenting at the Australian Institute of Management Open House on Monday 3 November! Please find the link to the event here.

Join Sam Robinson from Floreat Consulting Australia for a session on uncovering and developing leadership potential. Discover the importance of assessing the potential of younger employees and the value this creates for both organisations and individuals.