How to make tough career decisions

“Should I quit my job? Which of my offers should I take? Which long-term options should I explore?

These decisions will affect how you spend years of your time, so the stakes are high. But they’re also an area where you shouldn’t expect your intuition to be a reliable guide. This means it’s worth taking a more systematic approach.

What might a good career decision process look like? A common approach is to make a pro and con list, but it’s possible to do a lot better. Pro and con lists make it easy to put too much weight on an unimportant factor. More importantly, they don’t encourage you to make use of the most powerful decision-making methods discovered in the literature.

In this article, we present a step-by-step process for making your next career decision, drawing on our impression of the most useful discoveries in decision-making research1 and our experience advising hundreds of people one-on-one.

Career decisions usually involve a huge amount of uncertainty. If you sometimes feel stressed or anxious, don’t worry – this is normal. We can’t make your next decision easy, but if you work through this process, we think you’ll be more likely to avoid common mistakes and take the best next step you can.

You can work through the article below, or use a simplified version in our tool.

First, make sure you have a clear idea of exactly what decision you want to make. Are you choosing where to apply, between two specific offers, which medium-term options to focus on, or something else? When do you need to decide by?

Also note that this process is geared towards choosing between a list of specific options. If you want to do big picture career planning, see our career plan page.

Write out your most important priorities

Once you’re clear about the next decision you need to make, write out your 4-7 most important priorities in making the decision. When making decisions, people usually focus on too narrow a set of goals. Writing out your list of factors will help you stay focused on what most matters.

We typically recommend that people focus on the factors in our framework, which we think capture most of the key elements in high-impact careers. They include the following:

  • Impact potential – how pressing is the problem addressed and how large a contribution might the typical person in this career make to the problem (in expectation)?
  • Personal fit – compared to the typical person in this career in the long-term, how productive do you expect to be?
  • Personal satisfaction – how would this path satisfy other important personal priorities that aren’t already covered?
  • Career capital — does this option significantly accelerate you in a long-term path, or otherwise open up better long-term options?
  • Option value — if you pursue this option, how good are your back-up plans?
  • Value of information — might this path be an outstanding long-term option that you’re uncertain about and can test out?

If working with a community, you might also consider:

  • Relative fit – how do your strengths compare to other community members focusing on these issues (which determines your comparative advantage)?
  • Community capital — does this increase the influence of the community and its ability to coordinate?

Read more description of these factors in the full articles.

This list of factors needs to be adapted depending on the decision you’re making. For instance, if you’re thinking about your long-term options, then focus on impact, personal fit and satisfaction. If you’re considering which job to take next year, then also consider value of information, career capital and option value.

Also try to make the factors more specific based on your situation. What type of career capital is most valuable? What signals best predict impact in the areas you’re focused on? What exactly are your priorities in personal satisfaction? On the latter, it’s important to try to be honest, even about your least noble motivations, or otherwise the path won’t be sustainable.

See a list of all the factors in our framework and a worksheet here.

There are also some other filters to consider:

  • Do a significant number of people think this option is likely to have a negative impact in a top area? If so, can you modify the option to avoid the risk? If not, eliminate it. Read more about accidental harm.
  • Does this option pose a significant risk of a long-term negative impact on your happiness or career capital? If so, modify it or eliminate it.

One of the most important mistakes when making career decisions is to consider too few options. Some research suggests that even just making sure you consider one extra option improves satisfaction with outcomes.

You can generate options for long-term career paths using our article on high-impact careers.

If you’re focusing on your next step, then also consider questions like:

  • Which jobs / courses / projects will best help you get into your top long-term options?
  • Which options will best help you test out your long-term options?
  • What ‘open doors’ are available right now?

Check out the jobs listed on our job board

Here are some other ways to come up with more options. Pick and choose whichever seem most useful to think about:

  • Career capital – What’s the most valuable career capital you have right now? What are your greatest strengths? How could these be applied to having an impact?
  • Ideal world – What would you do if money were no object? What is your dream job?
  • Ask your friends and connections – Do they know of any open positions or types of jobs that might suit you?
  • Priorities – For each of your key career goals, which options might be best? For instance, in which career do you have the best chance of excelling? Which career do you think is highest-impact? Which would most increase your career capital? Which would make you happiest?
  • Combinations – are there any ways your top options could be combined to get the best of all worlds?
  • Elimination – if you couldn’t do any of your top options, what would you do instead?

Now you’ve got your options on the table, put them in a rough order according to how well they satisfy the factors you wrote down at step two. Don’t worry too much about accuracy – we just want to get a rough idea at this stage to make it easier to do the next couple of steps. Now is also a good time to capture some outcomes in your career plan.

List your key uncertainties

Try to identify the information that is most likely to change your ranking.

The questions people most commonly ask us are often not actually decision relevant. Frequently, people focus on big picture questions that are too hard to settle, so thinking about them is unlikely to change their ranking. It’s also easy to get lost ruminating about the huge variety of issues that can be relevant. Try to focus on the questions that are most relevant.

Some useful questions to consider include:

  • How could you most easily rule out your top option?
  • If you had to decide your career tomorrow for the rest of your life, what would you do today?
  • What were you most uncertain about in making your ranking? Do any of those uncertainties seem easy to resolve?

Some of the most common questions are things like:

  • Would I enjoy this job?
  • Could I get this job?
  • What skills are required to get this job?
  • How pressing is this problem compared to other issues you could work on?
  • How much influence would you really have in this position?

Try to make the questions as specific as possible.

Not every decision in life deserves serious research, but career decisions do.

We often find people get stuck analysing their options, when it would be better to go and gather information or test out their options. For instance, we encountered an academic who wanted to take a year long sabbatical, but wasn’t sure where to go. They’d thought about the decision for a while, but hadn’t considered going to visit their top choice for a week, which would have likely made the decision a lot easier.

Here are some common ways to learn about your options (in ascending order of effort):

  • Often the most useful step now is to go and ask people about your key uncertainties. Once you’ve identified your key uncertainties as in the previous section, you should be able to ask pointed, specific questions that can reveal a lot about what’s best.
  • Is there something you could read?
  • Can you simply apply to the job (or course) and see how you do? In our experience, people should often make more applications.
  • Is there a cheap way to try out the work? (e.g. shadow someone, do an internship, a part-time project, online course). Trying things out is the most reliable way to work out what you enjoy and what you’re good at.
  • See our career reviews and list of priority paths for specific ways to learn about and test the paths we’ve reviewed.

Aim to do the cheaper tests before you do those that are more involved. We sometimes encounter people who decide to quit their job so they can work full time on their job search, sometimes without even having a specific plan in mind, but it usually seems better to us investigate in cheaper ways on the side first.

The higher the stakes of a decision, the more uncertain you are, and the cheaper it is to learn more, the more research it’s worth doing.

Keep investigating until you run out of time, or don’t expect to learn much without investing lots more time (technically, when the value of information is less than the cost of the test).

The aim is not confidence. You will likely always be uncertain about many aspects of your career. Instead, the aim is to find the best possible ranking using cheap tests and basic research. Once you’ve done that, the most efficient way to learn more is probably to pick an option and try it out.

Make your final assessment

When you’ve finished investigating, it’s time to make a decision. Here are some more decision-making tips to help make your ranking more accurate.

It can be useful to score your short-list of options on each of the factors listed in your second step from one to ten. There’s some evidence that making a structured decision like this can improve accuracy. It can be useful to add all your scores together and see what ranks highest. Don’t blindly use the score to determine your decision — it’s mainly a means of probing your thinking.

When it comes to assessing each factor, there are more tips on what to look for in our career framework article.

If you want to go into more detail in making your assessment, then also consider working out the following for each of your options:

  • The upside scenario – what happens in a plausible best case scenario? (To be more precise, the top 5% of outcomes.)
  • The downside scenario – what happens in a plausible worst case scenario? (Worst 5% of outcomes.)
  • The median – what’s most likely to happen?

This exercise helps to make sure you consider the full range of possibilities. Moreover, if you weight each scenario by their probability, you can make a rough estimate of the expected value of each option — this will probably be dominated by the value of the upside scenario.

If you’re trying to decide your next step for the next couple of years, then value of information should be a significant part of your decision. This can mean it’s best to simply focus on the paths with the best upside scenario rather than the best expected value (provided the downsides are similar).

After you’ve finished your assessments, take a break, and re-rank your options.

Once you’ve made a ranking, notice if your gut feels uneasy about something. You can’t simply go with your gut to make good career decisions, but you shouldn’t ignore your gut either. As we cover, your intuition is good at aspects of the decision where you’ve had lots of opportunity to practice with relatively quick feedback, such as whether the other people involved are trustworthy.

If your gut feels uneasy, try to pinpoint why you’re having that reaction, and whether it makes sense to go with your gut or not in this instance. The ideal of good decision-making is to combine intuitive and systematic methods, and use the best aspects of each.

It’s also a good idea to sleep on it. This may help you process the information. It also reduces the chance that you’ll be unduly influenced by your mood at that moment.

If you want to go further, here are some other techniques to help reduce bias in your thinking:

  • Ask yourself why you’re most likely to be wrong about your ranking.This is one of the most useful tips to reduce bias.
  • Pre-mortem and pre-party: Imagine that you take an option, but two years later you’ve failed and regret the decision — what went wrong? Then imagine that instead the option was way better than you expected — what happened? This helps to expand your views about what’s possible, which tend to be too narrow.
  • Change the frame. Imagine you’ve already made the decision, how do you feel? How do you expect to feel one year later? What about 10 years later? What would you advise a friend to do?
  • Ask other people. Having to justify your reasoning to someone else can quickly uncover holes. You can also ask people where they think you’re most likely to be wrong.

More advanced decision-making techniques

There is much more to say about how to make good decisions. For instance, often decisions come down to predictions, especially about your likely chances of success in area, and the expected impact of different interventions.

For instance, to make better predictions, you can make base-rate forecasts from many angles, combining them based on their predictive power. You should try to update on your evidence in a ‘bayesian’ way. You can break down the prediction into multiple components as a ‘fermi estimate’. And you can try to improve your calibration through training.

Here is some further reading we recommend on decision-making:

Here is some more advanced reading:

Make your best guess, and then prepare to adapt

At some point, you’ll need to make a decision. If you’re lucky, one of your options will be clearly better than the others. Otherwise, the decision will be tough.

Don’t be too hard on yourself: the aim is to make the best choice you can given the evidence available. If you’ve been through the process above then you have put yourself in a position to make a well-considered decision.

What’s more, there are some further steps you can take to reduce downsides.

First, create a backup plan if your top choice doesn’t work out.

  • Why is your top option most likely not to work out?
  • What will you do in this situation? List any promising nearby alternatives to plan A, and call them your ‘plan B’. For instance, if you’re already in a job and applying to a masters programme, one possibility is that you don’t get into the programmes you want. In that case, your Plan B might be to stay in your job another year.
  • We often cover nearby alternatives and ‘exit options’ in our career reviewsand profiles on priority paths.

You may face even more setbacks, so it’s also useful to figure out a ‘Plan Z’. Here are some questions to help you do that.

  • If you take your top option, what might the worst case scenario be? Many risks are not as bad as they first seem, but pay attention to anything that could permanently reduce your happiness or career capital.
  • How can you reduce the chances of the worst case happening? It’s difficult to give general advice, but there are often ways to mitigate the risks.
  • If the worst case scenario does happen, what will you do to cope? Call this your ‘Plan Z’. Some common options include: taking a temporary job to pay the bills (see some ideas here), moving back in with your parents, or living off savings. What makes most sense will again depend a lot on your situation.
  • Is your Plan Z tolerable? If not, then you should probably modify your plan A to build more career capital so that you’re in a better position to take risks (e.g. take a job that lets you save more money). If it is, great – hopefully this exercise will make it easier to commit to your Plan A.

A final point to bear in mind is that your next career step is probably only a commitment for 1-4 years — building a career is a step-by-step process, not a one-off decision — and if you plan ahead to that next revision point, you’ll be better able to focus on your top option in the meantime, as well as be more prepared when it arrives. Here are some extra steps to consider:

  1. Schedule in a time to review your career in six months or a year. We made a career review tool to make it easier.
  2. Set check-in points. Make a list of signs that would tell you you’re on the wrong path, and commit to reassessing if those occur. For example, publishing lots of papers in top journals is key to success in academic careers, so you could commit to reassessing the academic path if you don’t publish at least one paper in a top journal before the end of your PhD.

Once your plan is set, it’s time to focus on execution. How to execute is not the main focus of this article, but here are some further resources.

First, translate your plan into very concrete next steps. Write out what you’re going to do and when you’ll do it. Setting ‘implementation intentions’ makes it significantly more likely you’ll follow through.

To get more ideas on how to increase your chances of success in a path:

One of the most useful steps you can take is to team up with others who want to have an impact. There are many great communities out there, often focused around specific problems. Your first step should probably be to try to meet people in the communities most relevant to you.

We also helped to found the effective altruism community, which is a group of people who use evidence and reason to work out the best ways to have a positive impact. This community is not for everyone, but through it we’ve met some of the most impressive people we know. Find out more about how to get involved.

Notes and references

Some of the sources we drew upon include the following, as well as those listed above:

Ariely, Dan. Predictably irrational. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

Arkes, Hal R., and Catherine Blumer. “The psychology of sunk cost.” Organizational behavior and human decision processes 35.1 (1985): 124-140.

Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work. Random House, 2013.

Hubbard, Douglas W. “How to measure anything.” Finding the Value of “Intangibles” in Business (2007).

Keeney, Ralph L., and Ralph L. Keeney. Value-focused thinking: A path to creative decisionmaking. Harvard University Press, 2009.

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan, 2011.

Larrick, Richard P. “Broaden the decision frame to make effective decisions.” Handbook of principles of organizational behavior (2009): 461-480.

Tversky, Amos, and Daniel Kahneman. “Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases.” Science 185.4157 (1974): 1124-1131.

  1. If you assess your options in terms of what would happen in a plausible best case scenario, rather than just in terms of expected value, then value of information will already be somewhat captured. This is the ‘upper confidence interval’ algorithm discussed in our podcast with Brian Christian
  • Vitas Consult are grateful to Robert Wiblin of 80000 Hours for granting permission to publish this article here.

Passion – and Mid-Career Changes

In my role as a coach it is a special privilege to work with people, typically in mid-career, who have been highly successful in establishing and developing their professional standing in the private sector and who now are seeking ways to apply their skills in the development field. People in this situation typically find it very helpful to explore what it takes to make the transition: to evaluate and sometimes re-express their transferable skills before considering at what level they might change sectors; to become acquainted with the variety of routes in and the common strategies that are used to secure the development sector role they are seeking.

I have had a career spanning public and private sector education, financial services and organisational and leadership consultancy before becoming a coach in a global talent leadership role within the world’s largest child focused humanitarian development organisation. I find I can readily empathise with motivations for mid-career change.

I particularly appreciate the importance that passion plays in mid-career change. A growing conviction about the need to make a difference through their career is a common motivation for those seeking entry to the development sector in their thirties and later. Passion is, of course, not enough to make the change that some of my clients seek. Occasionally, to illustrate this point I might suggest that a client watch Larry Smith’s sobering TED talk entitled “Why You Will Fail To Have A Great Career”. Professor Smith teaches economics at University of Waterloo. He is a well-known storyteller and advocate for youth leadership and has also mentored many of his students on start-up business management and career development. The most notable start-up he advised in its infancy is Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry.

Discussion about this blunt and challenging TED talk tends to centre on what passion really means and costs but, as Carmine Gallo wrote in Forbes, what you will see here “in this TED Talk is essentially thirty years of Smith’s frustrations reaching a boiling point.” “Wasted talent is a waste I cannot stand,” and this talk is Smith’s response.

It’s challenging and – possibly – motivating too. At the heart of Smith’s talk and central to some of the work I do with mid-career changers is an assessment of the part passion plays in career decision making. If you are searching for your calling in life or what you most care about – here are five digested, and up to the minute, research findings worth thinking through:

  1. Types of passion A career path or a goal that fires you up is likely to lead to success and happiness. That much the research confirms. However, Robert Vallerandet al found, in 2003, that there is a real difference between a harmonious passion and an obsessive one. An out of control passion that upsets your mood and shapes your self-esteem can be referred to as an obsessive passion. Vallerand found that such obsessions, whilst energising, are also associated with burnout and anxiety. By contrast, if your passion feels in control, reflects qualities that you like about yourself, and complements other important activities in your life, then this is the harmonious version, and these are associated with positive outcomes such as vitality, better work performance, experiencing flow, and positive mood.
  2. An unanswered calling in life is worse than having no calling at all If you already have a burning ambition or purpose, do not leave it to languish. Recent research at the University of South Florida surveyed hundreds of people  found that work engagement, career commitment, life satisfaction, health and stress were all negatively impacted by having a calling that had not been responded to. The researchers concluded: “having a calling is only a benefit if it is met, but can be a detriment when it is not as compared to having no calling at all.”
  3. Invest enough effort and you may find that your work becomes your passion It’s all very well reading about the benefits of having a passion or calling in life, but if you haven’t got one, where can you find it? Duckworth says that it’s a mistake to think that in a moment of revelation one will land in your lap, or simply occur to you through quiet contemplation, what’s needed is to explore different activities and pursuits, and expose yourself to the different challenges and needs confronting society. This is where organisations like 80000 Hours can be helpful to the really talented individual. This Oxford, UK, based group conducts research on which careers have the largest positive social impact and provide career information based on that research. Many clients have found their website invaluable.
  1. Reverse the flow, perhaps It is also worth considering the advice of those who say that it is not always the case that energy and determination flow from finding your passion: sometimes it can be the other way around. Consider, for example, an eight-week repeated survey of German entrepreneurs published a few years ago. This found a clear pattern – their passion for their ventures increased after they had invested more effort into the ventures the week before. A follow-up study qualified this, suggesting the energising effect of investing effort only arises when the project is freely chosen and there is a sense of progress. “Entrepreneurs increase their passion when they make significant progress in their venture and when they invest effort out of their own free choice,” the researchers found.
  1. If you think passion comes from doing a job you enjoy, you’re likely to be disappointed
    Another issue to consider is where you think passion comes from. In a paper released as a preprint at PsyArXiv, Jon Jachimowicz and his team draw a distinction between people who believe that passion comes from doing what you enjoy, and those who see it as arising from doing what you believe in or value in life. The researchers found that people believing that passion comes from pleasurable work were less likely to feel like they had found their passion as compared with people who believe that passion comes from doing what you feel matters. This may be because there is a superficiality to working for sheer pleasure – which may not last in any case – whereas working towards what you care about is timeless and likely to stretch and sustain you indefinitely.

Introducing Vitas Consult Ltd

Growing English Capability


Across the globe, international humanitarian organisations and non governmental organisations are increasingly expecting managers and leaders to be able to write, speak and negotiate in modern business English. In this article we share some valuable resources that are being used to grow these increasingly important capabilities. This post also recommends some questions that managers who are coaching staff can use to encourage discussion.

Icebreakers & Introductory Level Learning

  • THE POWER OF TALK

https://youtu.be/zX7D1XincMA This very short video, from the BBC, shows how talk can be used to help people hold their leaders to account and influence the decisions that affect their lives. The language used is simple and straightforward and this video can be used as a discussion starter about the power of talk in development as well as a language learning tool.

Managerial coaching discussion questions, to support learning, arising from this material might include:

Did you find the speaker’s accent easy to understand?

How were words and visuals used to communicate?

What interested you about this video?

  • THE MOBILE PHONE AND REFUGEE’S EXPERIENCES

This six-minute film, designed to be watched vertically on a mobile ‘phone, helps the viewer to experience the confusion and fear facing refugees making a perilous journey by boat. It looks at how mobile ‘phones have become a vitally important part of the refugee’s toolbox. Managerial coaching discussion questions, to support learning, arising from this material might include:

What was the message of this short video?

How was the message communicated?

How were pictures and language combined to create impact?

What could you learn to use, at work, as a result of watching this?

  • CREATING CLARITY

https://essentialcomm.com/podcast/creating-clarity/ The big idea behind this very short podcast is this: speak simply. Do this by getting to the end of sentences quickly; using simple words; pausing between sentences; eliminating connecting words and ending sentences with downward inflections. Encourage others to do the same.

  • LISTENING TO ENGLISH SPEAKERS

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/listening Here you can find activities that will help you or your team members to practise their listening skills. Listening will help them to improve their understanding of the language and their pronunciation.

The free, self-study lessons are written and organised according to the levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR). There are recordings of different situations and interactive exercises that practise the listening skills needed to do well at work, to get ahead and to communicate in English outside of work. The speakers in these videos are of different nationalities and the recordings are designed to show how English is being used in the world today.

Vitas Recommendation: Ask staff planning to use British Council resources to take the free online English test to find out which level to choose. Then they can select their own level, from beginner (CEFR level A1) to advanced (CEFR level C1), and improve their listening skills at their own speed, whenever it’s convenient for them.

  • SPEAKING ENGLISH

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/speaking Here learners can find activities to practise speaking skills. They can watch and listen to videos that show how English is used in different types of conversations. As they listen and speak aloud, they will also improve their pronunciation.

See the Vitas Recommendation, above, about taking the test to work out which level to choose.

More Advanced and Longer Development Tools/Resources

  • EXPLORE THE 3 ROUTES TO GOOD COMMUNICATION

https://kayaconnect.org/course/info.php?id=412  This free, online, self-directed course – aimed at managers – will teach learners to communicate better. They will learn how to tune their non-verbal communication, communicate openly and understand the 5 levels of listening.

  • DEVELOPING AN INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION STRATEGY

https://kayaconnect.org/course/info.php?id=317 This free, online, self-directed course – also aimed at managers – will teach learners to use simple and concrete models to cultivate successful professional relationships. It also teaches the learner how to adapt their level of influence and to define precise objectives for communication. It will take between 30 minutes and one hour to complete.

  • LEARN ENGLISH SELECT

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/online-english-courses This page and the embedded video introduce the “Learn English Select” online courses from the British Council. These, highly commended courses, require a small subscription. The courses are designed to help individuals improve their ability to find and apply for the right jobs, develop their interview skills and learn how to perform in the workplace with confidence.

At each level, tutor videos and workplace scenarios guide participants through the materials, explain key language and grammar points and give the learner vocabulary that they can use in everyday business life.

Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership

Leadership books can be turgid, full of unsupported assertions, difficult to read and extremely dull. Too few really engage with the daily messiness of leading, the acute uncertainty many leaders experience or the fragile loyalty offered by  team members. It is a real pleasure, therefore, to recommend Dr Eve Poole’s creative and encouraging book “Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership” (published, March 2017, by Bloomsbury Business. ISBN: 9781472941237).

Poole’s conviction is that real leaders learn their craft the hard way: through “critical incidents” that test their mettle. This conviction is based upon 2003 research undertaken to develop the simulation-based Ashridge future leaders programme. Eve Poole, on the way to explaining what she means by “leadersmithing”, contends that the seventeen critical incidents are the apprentice-pieces of the leader’s craft. Having engagingly introduced and argued the case for each of these apprentice experiences, Poole then explains how capable leaders really learn before defining and exploring the contribution of the leader’s character.

The second part of this immensely readable, good humoured and literary book provides a whole year’s worth of support for any leader who is really serious about their own development. As a leadership coach who often supports organisation’s rising talent, part two of Poole’s book has rapidly become my reference source of choice. Truth to tell, part two is too rich to be fully savoured in one short year: this is a playbook for a lifetime’s apprenticeship.

Naturally, Dr Eve Poole recognises that some of her readers may be drawn to the first part of the book where the theory is beautifully and succinctly explored whilst others will gain most from the more practical part two. Whatever your preference, I would urge you to read both parts because, developing leader, experienced leader, leadership facilitator or coach, the pearls of wisdom to be found here are well worth savouring.

A Career With Impact?

Impactpool is a unique career platform aiming to provide the best possible support to people who want to pursue a career within mission-driven organisations. Impactpool (previously UNjobfinder) was founded in 2015 and is a social enterprise with headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden. Its founders were aware of the need for a qualified, customer oriented and user-friendly service covering the global employment sector of mission driven organisations.

Impactpool’s own mission is to support highly qualified and motivated individuals by helping them grow professionally and to develop successful careers within organisations that contribute to a sustainable world. In just three years Impactpool has become the world’s fastest growing career website with a focus on talents and organisations who are striving for and contributing to a sustainable world. The service gathers opportunities from hundreds of international organisations around the world including all UN organisations, international financial institutions, the European Union and the most influential intergovernmental and Non-Governmental Organisations.

For talent seeking to break into this niche global marketplace, Impactpool provides a “shop window” on approaching 2500 daily-updated entry, mid-career and executive level appointments across (currently, and growing) 156 organisations. A single portal provides unique job search functionality. This is complemented by a dedicated and independent career coaching service provided by coaches with successful career records in the industry; I am honoured to be a part of this network. The organisational coverage is impressive covering an ever-expanding range of international, governmental, medical, justice, faith based, peacekeeping, and humanitarian and development organisations with current vacancies across the globe.

Alongside this dynamic slate of opportunities those who sign up to Impactpool have access to invaluable career guides. “Start Making a Difference” is a must-read providing an introduction to a career in international development. Experienced recruiters and HR specialists explain how to start your career in the sector, including what you need to know about educational requirements, relevant skills and experience, the differing organisation types, career tracks, and remuneration. The Impactpool authors share concrete, honest advice on how to approach your career strategically—from choosing the right jobs to apply for to positioning yourself in the best possible way for growth and advancement.

For experienced talent, “The Senior Assessment Guide” is an invaluable “preparation kit” to use when facing a UN assessment centre.  The eBook describes the different UN pools, how you get into them, how you are assessed, and how you finally get selected. These pools primarily target senior internal staff at the UN, but the Guide also describes how external leaders have successfully gained access to pools in the past.

Complementing this targeted Guide, Impactpool also publish general interview guides and question banks for those applying for international organisation careers, humanitarian and development sector roles. Regular summary articles highlight the beginning and flag up the closure of recruitment campaigns. Click for further information.

(The writer is an Impactpool Fellow).

Learning with Kaya

Kaya is the online learning platform of the Humanitarian Leadership Academy.

50,000 people from nearly 200 countries across the world are using Kaya to learn about humanitarian issues and action. On Kaya you will find online elearning and in-person workshops that will help you learn what you need to take you where you want to go, whether you are a professional humanitarian looking for career development, or a community member supporting the response to a crisis in your own country.

Kaya’s courses are grouped into learning pathways – combinations of online and in-person learning opportunities – that mean at the beginning of your learning journey you do not need to know exactly what you want to learn.

Within Kaya you will find:

  • Online elearning content
  • Videos
  • Documents and files

Information and registration for in-person events:

  • Workshops
  • Talks
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Click on the result you are interested in to be taken to its page.  Join the course by clicking on the ‘Join’ button. On a mobile phone, this box will be underneath the course description. On a larger screen, it will be at the right of the page.

How much do the courses on Kaya cost?

All courses are entirely free, unless a course description specifically says otherwise – you will be able to find any cost information on the summary page of each course.

Investing In Transitions

Any bar room discussion where the word “transition” recurs is likely to be focused on the UK’s transition period due to kick in as the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. There are other, and we would say, equally complicated and life determining transitions that need to be made. As a former global talent leader with experience managing talent in over one hundred countries I consider that the education to work and training transition experiences offered to young people in the UK are letting down a generation. I am not alone in this.

A House of Lords select committee found, in February, that the apprenticeship system was “woefully inadequate”. The levy system, designed to ensure that three million people start an apprenticeship by 2020, is – on the evidence of new starts – actively repelling rather than encouraging employers to invest in apprenticeships.

Ofsted inspects the support system for apprenticeships: the colleges and training providers that offer the vocational training. They have concluded that 51% are either inadequate or needing improvement. Meantime, a January 2018 CIPD survey found that employers were actively engaged in “rebadging” training for existing employees as an apprenticeship in order to recoup the costs of the levy. The need for some agreed “red lines” here is clear.

Ethical trade addresses the ethical aspects of organisations including worker welfare. Many multinational organisations have adopted ethical trade policies that are policed by auditors monitoring the conditions of workers in their supply chains. Coherent with this good practice you might expect to find that, within the UK, there are no unpaid internships: you would be wrong. Between 70,000 and 100,000 unpaid internships are estimated to take place in the UK every year. Many of these young people work in London and certain industries have now established career entry routes that customarily rely on “serving an internship” as part of a threshold experience. Curious that, in years past, the commonplace phrase would have been “serving an apprenticeship” and yet today the legal status and, therefore, the remuneration – if any – due to an intern is a matter for the courts. When is an intern not an employee? Perhaps when they are a volunteer? Are they entitled to the National Minimum Wage: it depends.

Given all of this complexity, the House of Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility report “Overlooked and left behind” (April 2016) was surely correct in concluding that: “Every young person should have access to independent, impartial careers advice.” Careers education and guidance are important for social mobility. This is because knowing about the options available, and the skills needed to navigate those options, are a key part of a successful transition to work. The Education Act 2011, which made schools responsible for providing independent and impartial careers advice and guidance, also defined “independent” as “provided other than by a teacher employed or engaged at the school, or any other person employed at the school”. Impartial was defined as “showing no bias towards any education or work option”. Whilst these definitions are helpful, schools could be forgiven for being confused given that the same Act also removed their statutory duty to provide careers education!

Realistically, the funding and performance table system does not incentivise schools to give independent careers advice. It is hardly surprising that the House of Lords heard repeated testimony confirming what The Prince’s Trust told Peers, that: “schools have become increasingly focused on preparing for exams and less focused on preparing young people for the world of work.”

On the evidence so far cited, I would contend that the need for excellent, independent career advice based on a strong foundation of careers education is now more important than it has been for decades. For economic, social, mobility, skills, health and moral reasons we should be investing in helping young people make their transition from school to work because the dilemmas they face are huge.

Towards Digital Literacy?

Paul Gilster, in his 1997 book “Digital Literacydescribed digital literacy as the use and comprehension of information in the digital age. He also emphasised the importance of digital technologies as an “essential life skill”. Digital literacy is one of the core elements of digital citizenship. Digital literacy includes knowledge, skills, and behaviours involving the effective use of digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs for purposes of communication, expression, collaboration and advocacy.

The growth in digital literacy needs to keep pace with the rapid acceleration in the population’s access to digital media. Recent research from Hootsuite and We Are Social tracks the explosive growth in Internet access and uptake to January 2017:

In “Headline” terms, the most startling findings of this collaborative, global research are that:

  • More than half the world’s population now uses a smartphone.
  • Almost two-thirds of the world’s population now has a mobile phone.
  • More than half of the world’s web traffic now comes from mobile phones.
  • More than half of all mobile connections around the world are now ‘broadband’.
  • More than one in five of the world’s population shopped online in the past 30 days

Internet use in Asia is poised to overtake the rest of the world. Asia has an estimated population of 4,148,177,672: 55.2% of the world’s population based on 2017 mid-year estimates[1]. Internet use data from  CNNIC[2], ITU[3], Facebook, and other trustworthy sources indicates that 1,938,075,631 Asians (or 46.7% of the population of Asia) were users at the end of June 2017.

It is no longer the case that the poorest countries will necessarily have populations without access to the Internet. If we take a deeper dive into the available data for just one country in Asia we can see the phenomenal rise in Internet access by comparison with other indicators. The nation of Cambodia was recently ranked[4] 106th in the world by reference to Gross Domestic Product. It is one of the poorest countries in Asia and long-term economic development remains a daunting challenge, inhibited by endemic corruption, limited human resources, high levels of income inequality, and poor job prospects. In 2012, approximately 2.66 million people lived on less than $1.20 per day, and 37% of Cambodian children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition. More than 50% of the population is less than 25 years old. The population lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the impoverished countryside, which also lacks basic infrastructure. However, notwithstanding all these challenges, 25.6% of the population of Cambodia have Internet access[5] and one quarter of the population of the country’s population are Facebook subscribers[6]. However,such figures serve only to obscure widespread variations in access: in the capital city, Phnom Penh, Internet upload speeds are commonly faster than those available in most of the UK whilst in much of rural Cambodia, by comparison, Internet access is simply an unmet aspiration. The danger of Cambodia remaining a country with deep digital access chasms is clear.

Whilst digital technologies have spread rapidly in much of the world, “digital dividends”— that is, the broader development benefits obtained from using these technologies — have lagged behind[7]. In many instances, digital technologies have boosted growth, expanded opportunities, and improved service delivery. Yet their aggregate impact has fallen short and is unevenly distributed. For digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere requires closing the remaining digital divide, especially in Internet access. But greater digital adoption will not be enough. To get the most out of the digital revolution, countries also need to work on the “analogue complements”. One of the three most important of these complements concerns adapting workers’ skills to the demands of the new economy.

The non-profit sector was, arguably, first in the field of digital literacy education. The ECDL Foundation is a well-established[8] international, non-profit organisation dedicated to raising digital competence standards in the workforce, education and society. The Foundation’s Certification programmes, delivered through an active network in more than 100 countries, enable individuals and organisations to assess, build and certify their competence in the use of computers and digital tools to the globally recognised European Computer Driving Licence standard, known as the International Computer Driving Licence outside Europe. The ICDL is the world’s leading computer skills certification. To date more than 15 million people have engaged with the programme, about 2.5 million ICDL tests are taken annually in over 100 countries, in more than 40 languages worldwide, through a network of over 24,000 ECDL Accredited Test Centres (ATCs). The Foundation’s certification programmes are designed, validated, and approved by academics and industry experts from around the world. There is a continual development programme in place to ensure that the range of certification programmes remain in line with market needs and technological advancements. An Online Essentials Base Module[9] sets out essential concepts and skills relating to web browsing, effective information search, online communication and e-mail.

ECDL Foundation has also endorsed 14 targeted programmes[10], which are designed and created by other organisations for specific groups. These programmes often address specific digital literacy requirements or demands in a particular country, while still adhering to the high standard of quality in content and operation set by the Foundation. The Foundation also encourages and supports their national partners to provide digital literacy education to meet humanitarian and social needs. Here are two examples:

  • In autumn 2016, the Austrian Computer Society (OCG) realised that the refugee crisis demanded quick and un-bureaucratic action to help refugees and asylum seekers. Therefore, it launched the project, ‘OCG Cares’, aiming at providing those who had to leave their homes with ICT and language skills. After a strategic meeting of all stakeholders in December 2015, 22 refugees started their crossover courses in IT & German, with the aim to prepare for the ECDL Base certification tests by summer.
  • The Dzikwa Trust Fund, or simply Dzikwa for short, was established as a legal entity and began operations in Zimbabwe in September 2002. The underlying purpose of the society is to empower Zimbabwean orphans and give them a chance to lead a fulfilling life. It seeks to give the children long-term help, in their own community, in order to guarantee their basic education and general welfare. The ICDL project started in April 2015 and in August 2015, the first ICDL lessons and exams were taken.

The Mozilla Foundation, a Californian not-for-profit enterprise, is also committed to developing the ability of all to make use of the Internet. To that end they have developed and published, in English, a range of free learning activities[11] created by teachers, educators and technologists for individuals and groups of adults and teenagers. These include short, activity based, off line teaching and learning resources covering topics such as Internet Health, Web Literacy Basics, Privacy Basics: Protect Your Data at beginner level.

The importance of digital literacy is, of course, increasingly recognised by national governments. As Nagy K Hanna has written[12]: “Digital technologies have been transforming the global economy. Yet many countries have yet to experience the full developmental benefits of digital technologies, such as inclusive and sustainable growth, improved governance, and responsive service delivery. Given the magnitude of change in competitive advantage that digital technologies can confer on adopters, the risks of slow or poor adoption of these innovations can be dire for industries, governments, individuals, and nations.” Drawing on his significant humanitarian development experience, Hanna argues that one of the most important “analogue support mechanisms” that must be put in place to secure the benefits of digital transformation is “substantial investment in organisational capabilities, process innovation, and institutional learning. Best practice suggests that every dollar invested in ICT should be matched with a $4 or $5 investment in process improvement, training, change management, etc.”

In research undertaken for the Indian government, KPMG found that the number of Indian net surfers would rise by at least 50 million annually from 2014 to 2019. This equates to almost the entire population of South Africa gaining Internet access in each of these six years. On this basis KPMG confidently predict that India will have at least 560 million Internet users by the end of 2019. Without suitable training there is little likelihood that new users will be able to gain most benefit from access to the digital age so the government is funding specialist educational programmes through gram panchayats[13] (local elder councils).

The private sector is also active in education for digital literacy. Google’s “Digital Skills Programme for Africa” offers 89 courses through an online portal, and Google works with 14 training partners covering more than 20 African countries to offer face-to-face training. In March 2017, Google disclosed that it had trained one million Africans in digital skills in just eleven months. Recognising that digital literacy can drive economic development; Google has set itself new targets in 2017 including the provision of offline versions of its online training materials, increasingly in Hausa, Swahili and IsiZulu, to better reach individuals and businesses in low access areas where it is unable to hold physical training sessions.

The private sector is, of course, keenly aware that the growth in Internet access creates multiple potential markets. Microsoft’s digital literacy programme[14] aims to help the learner develop a fundamental understanding of computers. The courses equip the new user with the essential skills needed to begin computing with confidence, be more productive at home and at work, stay safe online, use technology to complement their lifestyle, and consider careers where they can put their skills to work. The five courses within the programme use examples and simulations from Windows 8 and Microsoft Office 2013.

Microsoft provides an Instructor’s Manual including ideas for adapting the digital literacy programme to different learning environments and for different learner needs. It includes sample syllabi, practice problems and exercises, and information to guide classroom discussions. It also covers classroom setup details including hardware, software, and Internet connection requirements and recommendations. The programme is certificated[15] on “an honour basis”, but without verification.

References

[1] Using figures from the United Nations – Population Division and local official sources.

[2] China Internet Network Information Center

[3] International Telecommunication Union

[4] CIA’s “World Factbook”

[5] According to the ITU (June 2017)

[6] Facebook

[7] According to the World Bank’s “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends” published in May 2016. See: http://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/wdr2016

[8] In 1995, the Council of European Professional Informatics Societies (CEPIS) created a task force, supported by the European Commission through the ESPRIT research programme, to examine how to raise the levels of digital literacy throughout Europe. The new certification programme was launched as the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) in Sweden in August 1996.

[9] See: http://ecdl.org/about-ecdl/online-essentials

[10] See: http://ecdl.org/about-ecdl/endorsed-programmes

[11] See: https://learning.mozilla.org/en-US/activities

[12] See: http://blogs.worldbank.org/ic4d/how-can-developing-countries-make-most-digital-revolution and “Mastering Digital Transformation” (Emerald, 2016)

[13] Gram panchayats are the cornerstone of local self-government organisation in India.

[14] https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/DigitalLiteracy This is available currently in 13 languages including Arabic, English, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Simplified Chinese and Vietnamese.

[15] There is a 30-question multiple-choice assessment for each course that provides students with a personalised Learning Plan. Certification is intended for the learner alone and not as a verified attestation of competence for employment selection purposes.

Leadership: What We Know – Part 2

The world of job analysis was overturned in the 1970s when McClelland began using a competency focus to understand the requirements of a particular role or job. It wasn’t McClelland’s intention to generalise but the publication of a 1982 book by his colleague, Richard Boyatzis, led to an explosion of interest in managerial competency frameworks. In the UK, particularly, this facilitated the growth of the Management Charter Initiative and competency-based learning and development. Over decades these approaches have progressively influenced practice in, particularly, Australia, New Zealand and the development of craft, technical, apprenticeship and managerial development internationally.

In the management domain, a strong argument can be made that most competency frameworks have identified four clusters of capability. The first of these is concerned with intrapersonal skills and includes growing awareness of and the application of emotional intelligence, as we now know it. The second focus is on the interpersonal skills of relationship building and the third is concerned with business skills. Finally, it has become widely accepted that there is a fourth leadership skillset that concerns vision, strategy (both allied to and using the business skills mentioned earlier) and building and motivating an engaged, high-performing team of people. It is helpful to consider that this four-stage model is developmental. The development of intrapersonal skills typically takes place during the pre-teen years and may be followed by the application of these capabilities interpersonally in the late teens and beyond. Business understanding and competency may be more amenable to formal teaching and coaching, action learning and other experiential methods of development can be used, powerfully, to enable the association of the first, second and third focus areas. Finally, leadership skills may or may not be added to the individual’s toolkit. It has generally become accepted that this developmental model also represents a trainability continuum. The first cluster of intrapersonal capabilities is not highly trainable – their very nature often warrants highly individualised approaches to learning. The second cluster is also less easily trained and may require considerable investment in experiential learning, feedback and coaching. The third cluster certainly includes a body of knowledge that can be relatively easily defined and may include core professional understanding plus organisational and wider business expertise that can be sector-specific or related to the maturity, complexity, type and/or scale of the business. Here we see the curriculum of the typical MBA. Applied leadership skills frequently develop later and the design of appropriately engaging developmental experiences provides the opportunity for great innovation and creativity.

Organisations may apply important nuances to the four clusters. One recent global client wanted to highlight the importance of leaders demonstrating, in their early careers, that they are ‘personally well-functioning’ and able to ‘operate effectively and to adapt to challenge, ambiguity and change’. The second cluster may be expressed in terms of the individual’s ability to make things happen through others by applying their interpersonal capabilities: outcomes rather than latent behavioural skills may be most evident in the descriptions of these competences.

Business skills need to be expressed in terms that are easily understood in the leader’s sector and, whilst there is some ongoing public and private sector business practice convergence, these two organisational spheres are clearly not the same in every respect. Similarities and differences need to be captured in descriptions of competences that resonate with the users of any framework of competences.

The extent to which the fourth cluster will have a strong future orientation will depend upon a number of factors including the maturity of the sector and the various changing and challenging opportunities and constraints the organisation faces.

Whilst the nuances are important, there is little evidence to suggest that the fourfold taxonomy of competences is less than comprehensive or has been superseded. When,  in 2001, Jim Collins published his groundbreaking book, “Good To Great”, a rare example of a business book based on actual research, Collins –  and his team – were able to conclude that leaders that took charge and improved organisational performance scored well on the four competences outlined above and had two other qualities. First, they were modest and humble, as opposed to self-dramatizing and self-promoting and, second, they were phenomenally persistent.

A question arises concerning the way in which leaders influence organisational performance. (They certainly do so: Joyce, Nohria and Roberson (2003) showed that CEOs account for about 14% of the variance in firm performance.) Leaders appear, through their personality, to influence the culture and the dynamics of their senior teams.

It was long thought that managerial incompetence was largely about managers not having the “right stuff”. Recent research shows that it is more to do with managers having the “wrong stuff”: some kind of “personality defect”. Leslie and Van Velsor (1996) summarised the results of reputable research and found that failed managers typically had poor interpersonal skills (they were insensitive, arrogant, cold, aloof and overly ambitious); they were unable to get work done (because they betrayed trust or didn’t follow through, for example); they were unable to build a team and they were unable to make a transition following a promotion. The associations with the four clusters are very clear.

References

Boyatzis, Richard E., “The Competent Manager: A Model for Effective Performance” Wiley, ISBN: 978-0-471-09031-1

Collins, Jim C, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t”, William Collins, October 2001, ISBN: 978-0-06-662099-2

Nohria, Nitin, William F. Joyce, and Bruce Roberson. “What Really Works.” Harvard Business Review 81, no. 7 (July 2003).

Leslie, J.B. and Van Velsor, E. (1996). A look at derailment today: North America and Europe. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

Information sharing, pathos and apologies

It is widely believed that leaders should share information with those they lead. The arguments to support this as ‘best practice’ draw widely on studies of staff engagement. These repeatedly show that, by explaining the connection between employees’ individual jobs and the organisation, leaders and managers can greatly increase employee satisfaction with their day-to-day work. The commitment to communication also rests on the belief that, whilst trust evolves, ebbs and flows it is essential to staff engagement and motivation. For leaders and managers, the evidence shows that employees who trust them are most likely to follow through on goals set. Trustworthy leaders and managers are also more likely to get a flow of honest feedback on the challenges their staff face: which is invaluable.

At the strategic level, as Alkhafaji stated (1997), “no matter how brilliant the strategy may be, unless the business team understands and accepts it, performance will suffer.”

The “terms” of understanding and acceptance depend on leaders being able to communicate relevant information credibly. Leaders typically base their own judgements on both hard data and softer information. Many will take the view that the data is easier to communicate than the softer information. Of course, what is easier for one leader to accomplish may be more challenging for another and track records certainly play a part in creating the foundations for each call to action. Agreeing, perhaps instinctively, with Aristotle, many leaders I have worked with know that credibility depends upon a rather subtle demonstration of competence, good intention and empathy.

Modern business communication has tended to elevate the attention paid to what Aristotle terms “logos”. This is often, and to a great extent rightly, associated with logic, the hard data and the apparent proofs of our case. Business leaders, perhaps because they are business leaders, will often avoid paying attention to “pathos” in their communication. However, as we will see, this failure to consider the emotional impact of communication can have catastrophic impact on how it is received and responded to. More generally,  and perhaps through a fear of being seen to be overly emotional, much business communication appears leaden, stilted and impassive: not the tinder that lights fires of commitment as Henry V did on the Feast of St Crispian. (As Richard Olivier explains so eloquently in his book “Inspirational Leadership”, 2007, ISBN: 978 1 905879 00 7).

The dangers of a failure to attend to engage emotionally with people are well illustrated by the response of the CEO of United Airlines to an airline-overbooking situation on April 9, 2017. This resulted in a fare-paying passenger being dragged bodily off an internal US flight. When the gruesome video footage went viral and the CEO, who had previously been named U.S. Communicator of the Year, failed to apologise he was widely criticised. In avoiding emotional response and failing to give a profound and heartfelt apology for the terrible manner in which the passenger had been treated on a United plane the CEO stoked fear. He did not appear to understand or to respond to the fact that relationships between United, its public, investors and actual and potential passengers were breaking down. His initial communication did not include an effective apology that would right these collapsing relationships. He did appreciate that passengers felt unsafe at the hands of United. Later attempts to correct the impression given were seen as too little and too late.

An example of a generally well-judged communication style that combined logic and emotional intelligence comes from Steve Jobs. Jobs appeared to completely understand the need to marry logos and pathos when sharing information with Apple’s market. His style was typically as calm, enthusiastic, and confident when launching high stake products as others might be in their living room. The author and Associate Professor of Management Garr Reynolds put it this way: “His style is conversational and his visuals are in perfect sync with his words. […] He is friendly, comfortable and confident (which makes others feel relaxed), and he exudes a level of passion and enthusiasm that is engaging without going over the top.” Sometimes this was no mean feat when the subject matter might have been a little dry!

In making the judgement call about the use of the hard data and the soft information, Blanes I Vidal and Moller (2007), call attention to the importance of the leader’s belief about the accuracy of the soft information available. When a leader strongly believes (and is self-confident about) her/his judgement about the available soft information she/he is more likely to share it and this, Vidal and Moller show, can increase the organisation’s surplus.

Conversely, Blanes I Vidal and Moller’s work suggests that information sharing can help to reduce the autocratic predisposition of self-confident leaders. Information sharing can help organisations to avoid overconfidence-driven courses of action. This happens because, when workers have access to information, for example about a possible merger, they are able to form opinions about its potential viability. Because this opinion affects their motivation, the leader can find themselves effectively constrained from pursuing courses of action that are unduly based on her/his ‘gut feeling’ or instincts.

This is not what is generally thought of when “the flow of honest feedback to the CEO” is being discussed but it can certainly be powerful.

References

Alkhafaji, A.F., 1997, Strategic Management: Formulation, Implementation and Control in a Dynamic Environment, New York: Haworth Press.

Blanes I Vidal, J., and M. Moller. 2007. “When Should Leaders Share Information with their Subordinates?” Journal of Economics and Management Strategy, 16, pp. 251-283.

“Post-truth”: Word Of The Year

The FT reports that Oxford Dictionaries has made “post-truth” its word of the year for 2016, citing a surge in the frequency of its use in the context of Britain’s EU referendum and the USA’s presidential election.

Dictionary compilers say that the word was probably first used in 1992 – though then it was used to mark the time when the truth was known – “post-truth” was the “after the truth was known” situation. In 2016 the word is coming to denote “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

Truth is a comprehensive term that, in most of its nuances, implies accuracy and honesty. Truth is also the currency of our analytical mind. A tension has however been created both through our frequent use of “truth” to refer to the idea of being authentic (or “true to oneself”) and the now widely accepted qualifications that truth may be subjective or objective, relative or absolute. Thus, “truth” involves both the quality of faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty, sincerity, and veracity and that of “agreement with fact or reality”. We are increasingly confronted by the living reality that an individual may be sincere – and yet wrong – at the same time.

Trust is, however, an emotive “currency” of the heart. In organisational life it may be part of the foundations for the individual’s faith or belief in a mission or the value of the common good. Trust has both a prior evidential aspect (in that it is developed over times past) and yet it is also closely associated with expectations about the future (particularly the behaviour of another person). It may deliver an accompanying feeling of confidence and security depending on the degree of trust and the extent of the associated risk.

Without truth and trust built into the gears of the organisation it may grind to a halt. There is much discussion about the individual leader’s and manager’s trustworthiness. This is sometimes fuelled by the results of employee engagement surveys and, of course, a trustworthy leader/manager is of great value. Yet it is also true that employees want to be able to trust the whole managerial system. They want to believe in the organisation as a result of the quality of its leadership, its consistent application of sound managerial practices and the equity of its people systems. This type of systemic trust arises when all managers use the same management framework and are held accountable to and act consistently within the values, systems and practices of the organisation. It does not therefore rely exclusively on personalities or on individuals, who may be here today and gone tomorrow.

Organisational action planning to address poor trust scores identified through an employee survey sometimes focus too narrowly on the behaviours of leaders and managers and may overlook organisational design and work processes. This is shortsighted because each of these impact on the working environment for all employees.

Effective organisational design engenders trust by creating the conditions where there can be work clarity and relationship clarity. This good design passes the test of being easily and consistently explained and understood. It fundamentally enables managers and staff to be clear about how work is organised and delivered.

Systems of work are the organisation’s policies, procedures, forms and information and communication technologies. They operate all day, every day. They never take holidays – unlike managers. Some work processes may rankle initially and require improvement but when they are sound, known and repeated employees will eventually get used to them and follow them. There is rare skill in designing and implementing light systems that reinforce legislation, policies and what is valued in the organisation and embed required behaviours in processes. Almost anyone can create a heavy system that wastes time, creates confusion and burns money!

The recurring challenge in volatile, uncertain and complex environments is to hold to truth, build trust, grow leadership and use effective organisational design and work systems to engender engagement.

Development Planning & Snakes

In this article we explore some factors that may help to explain why some people create and then actively work on development plans and others don’t! In the course of the discussion we will be looking at the role of snakes in shaping our understanding of the topic!

Generally, the aims of personal development planning are, first, to document a process of self-analysis, personal reflection and honest appraisal of strengths and weaknesses and then to help the individual to “take charge” of their own learning and development. The process of taking charge is usually encouraged through documenting a plan that typically lays out goals, timelines, interim achievements and the methods of goal achievement. 

Commonly a plan will outline areas of learning and development activity that are reasonably considered likely to enable the individual to either acquire new or develop existing skills and behavioural attributes. The end goal may, helpfully, be rather precisely identified and the whole process is often aiming at enhancing performance, addressing anticipated changes in a current role or laying out a developmental pathway towards a future role.

What is considered relevant content in the planning process – and the content of the plan itself – will clearly be influenced by the purpose to which the plan will be put. Development planning of this type is now, of course, widely used in educational, relationship, leadership and career contexts.

When the purpose of the plan is personal, an individual may want to retain to himself or herself the function of assessor of improvement or of regression. Where some validation of objective improvement is needed that will require assessment using standard criteria. These might include goals or benchmarks that define the end-points, strategies or plans for reaching goals, measurement, and assessment of progress, levels or stages that define milestones along a development path, and a feedback system to provide information on changes.

Much practice in this area has been influenced by psychologist Albert Bandura’s work – and here come the snakes! Bandura, investigating the fear and behaviours of people afraid of snakes, found that those who believed that the snake would not hurt them and/or that they would be able to manage the situation with the snake and to control their own rising fear would, in fact, succeed. This self-efficacy belief enabled the phobic individual to manage both their fear and their own behaviour.

According to Bandura, self-efficacy, or the individual’s belief in his or her own abilities to deal with various situations, can play a role not only in how people feel about themselves – but also whether or not an individual successfully achieves their goals in life. Indeed, since Bandura published his seminal 1977 paper, “Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change[i],” the subject has become one of the most studied topics in psychology.

But why has self-efficacy become such an important topic? As Bandura and other researchers have demonstrated, self-efficacy can have an impact on everything from psychological states to behaviour to motivation.

Bandura’s research on success in reaching goals suggested that self-efficacy best explains why people with the same level of knowledge and skills get very different results. According to Bandura this self-confidence functions as a powerful predictor of success because it enables those who have it to expect to succeed; it allows these people to take risks and set themselves challenging goals; it motivates them to keep trying if at first they don’t succeed, and, it helps them control emotions and fears when the going gets tough.

Coaches will be familiar with such people and also with those who lack this self-confidence. It is in the context of working with this second group that it can be helpful considering the four major sources of self-efficacy, according to Bandura. Each source provides an inventive coach with an indication of ways in which self-efficacy might be strengthened:

  1. Mastery Experiences

“The most effective way of developing a strong sense of efficacy is through mastery experiences,” Bandura explained. Performing a task successfully strengthens our sense of self-efficacy. However, failing to adequately deal with a task or challenge can undermine and weaken self-efficacy. Bandura’s perspective underlines the importance of providing clients with opportunities to practice in a “safe” and reasonably supportive environment and not necessarily “biting off” too much at the beginning of the development process.

  1. Social Modeling

Witnessing other people successfully completing a task is another important source of self-efficacy. According to Bandura, “Seeing people similar to oneself succeed by sustained effort raises observers’ beliefs that they too possess the capabilities to master comparable activities to succeed.” The key features of this observation relate, of course, to the phrases “similar to oneself” and “sustained effort”.

  1. Social Persuasion

Bandura also asserted that people could be persuaded to believe that they have the skills and capabilities to succeed. Consider a time when someone said something positive and encouraging that helped you achieve a goal. Getting verbal encouragement from others helps people overcome self-doubt and instead focus on giving their best effort to the task at hand. Whilst this is by no means universally true, it is my experience as a coach that many leaders rarely receive encouragement and that this, where appropriate, can be a very valuable coaching input.

  1. Psychological Responses

Our own responses and emotional reactions to situations also play an important role in self-efficacy. Moods, emotional states, physical reactions, and stress levels can all impact how a person feels about their personal abilities in a particular situation. A person who becomes extremely nervous before speaking in public may develop a weak sense of self-efficacy in these situations. The coach can serve to assist a client really understand particular situations through sensitive questioning and by helping their client to put a single experience into an appropriate context. Doing so can help the individual pay attention to the totality of their experience and prepare for subsequent opportunities in a more rounded and holistic way.

As Bandura notes “it is not the sheer intensity of emotional and physical reactions that is important but rather how they are perceived and interpreted.” A coach who helps to bring these perceptions to the surface and to understand what truly was happening on that prior occasion can facilitate invaluable learning for the next time.

[i] Bandura A. Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review. 1977; 84, 191-215.

Coach Selection

Selecting and appointing an executive coach is an important task. It involves the commitment of significant resources (time and money) to meet a given developmental requirement. The relationship between the business leader and the coach will be a vital factor contributing to or degrading the return on the investment made. So, in order to achieve the best “chemistry” and levels of coaching effectiveness the following aspects of potential coaches should be carefully considered:

Appropriate level of coaching experience. Different levels of coaching experience may be required, depending on the complexity of the issues being addressed, as well as the seniority of the individual. For example, the level of experience and skill-set of a coach needed to provide career coaching for a junior manager would be different from those needed when a business leader is being coached. To ascertain their level of experience, it is often helpful to ask prospective coaches about how many hours of coaching they have delivered, how many coaching assignments they have delivered, what kinds of issues they have coached individuals concerning, and at what level of seniority they usually work.

Relevant business/industry experience. An interesting, and debatable, criterion when selecting a coach is whether to look for candidates with relevant business experience (for example of a particular job, organisation or an industry sector). Opinions differ as to whether this is a necessary requirement. Most people would agree that coaches do need strong understanding of organisational dynamics and business. However, direct experience of a particular industry or organisation is unlikely to be a necessary requirement for a person to be an effective coach. (It might be if a mentor is being sought). It is important to remember that, while the coach should have a sound knowledge of business, their real contribution is their ability to help individuals learn and develop. Relevant experience can be useful in establishing credibility with the individual(s) being coached. The competence and credibility of the coach is a major part in the process of winning over the individual and creating a good working relationship.

Others argue that hiring a coach on the basis of specific experience can be counterproductive. This argument states that one of the main benefits of using external coaches is their neutrality and objectivity. They can uncover limiting beliefs, values and assumptions that may be obstructing the strategic objectives of the individual and of the organisation. Coaches should be hired for their ability to help someone see opportunities for improvements in performance as well as practical ways to help them make changes.

References. Talking to previous clients of the coach is a good way of finding out about their style and skills, as well as how effective they were in producing the desired results. A good coach should always be able to supply references and it’s important to check them early on in the process to accurately establish their credentials, experience and ability to deliver.

Background of the coach. Coaches come from a variety of different professional backgrounds. Examples include HR, occupational psychology, training and development, sports psychology and management development. Naturally, these different backgrounds will mean that the coaches may bring some very different experience and skills to the coaching relationship.

Supervision. Supervision is a formal, independent process of reflection and review to enable the practitioner to increase their self-awareness, develop their competence and critique their work with their client (Lane 2002) [1]. Professor Mike van Oudtshoorn and Professor David Lane from the International Centre for the Study of Coaching (ICSC)/ Professional Development Foundation suggest a number of benefits that supervision can deliver. The CIPD and Bath Consulting, in an extensive study of supervision summarised in Arney (2006) [2], explained the context for supervision. As investment in coaching has grown, so too has the need to find ways of quality assuring the services being provided, to develop and sustain the coaches who are delivering them, and to find ways of drawing out the organisational learning from the many coaching conversations taking place in the organisation.

As Hawkins and Schwenk (2006) [3] explain, supervision is critical to effective coaching:

  • It offers protection to clients – cases are discussed with trained professionals who are able to identify areas of potential concern and offer advice or referral to specialist support if appropriate.
  • It offers coaches the opportunity to reflect on their work and gain insights to improve their interventions.
  • It offers coaches the opportunity to identify their own personal strengths and weaknesses as a coach in order to realistically judge what limitations to set with respect to the type of work they undertake.
  • It offers coaches the opportunity to learn from peers who have had similar cases and experiences to further develop their skills as a coach.
  • It offers coaches the opportunity to keep up to date with professional developments in the field and to continually work to increase their competency as a coach.

Breadth of tools, techniques, models. Coaches should have an extensive ‘kit bag’ of tools and techniques that they use in different situations and with different clients. Coaches should be able to clearly describe their favoured approaches, but it is worth being cautious about coaches who push particular models and are unable or unwilling to flex their approach to suit a particular individual/organisation. Good coaches will use models, techniques and frameworks from a wide range of theoretical backgrounds, including organisational theory, occupational psychology, psychometrics, learning and counselling.

Coaches should be able to encourage reflective learning and change, and they should be able to describe how they do this during the selection process.

Understanding of boundaries and approach to referral. Good coaches understand the boundaries of their expertise. This means that a coach should not knowingly accept an individual into a coaching programme if they need specialist support beyond the competence of the coach or the resources available. If this situation does arise, the coach should encourage the individual to seek appropriate support from a qualified professional. It is essential that coaches understand their own limitations and can see when their methods/techniques are not able to address an individual’s needs. Buckley has advised and consulted extensively on this sensitive topic. For a summary of his approach, see Buckley (2006) [4].

Relevant training. Coaches should be able to demonstrate that they are competent in the provision of coaching services.

The training of coaches should be fit for purpose. There is definitely a place for short introductory courses, but, as with any discipline, expertise will vary depending on the length of the course, level of qualification, depth of study, practical experience of delivery and extent of supervision and support received while studying.

There are now a number of different training routes for coaches, and new professionals have a wide range of options to choose from. Specific coaching qualifications, ranging from master’s level to short courses, are being offered by institutions right across the world. Understandably, a qualification that is specific to ‘coaching’ would seem like the most relevant qualification for a coach to have. However, remember that these qualifications have only been available relatively recently and therefore the majority of professionals delivering coaching services may not possess one of these newer qualifications. In such cases it’s important to consider other formal qualifications and experience.

It is also worth noting that if a coach is being employed for the specific transfer of skills (for example skills-based coaching on presentation skills), they should be able to demonstrate that they have those skills and have the ability to impart them.

Other qualities/personal characteristics. The best coaches are those who give honest, realistic, challenging feedback, are good listeners and suggest good ideas for action. Beyond looking for specific qualifications, experience and knowledge, it is important to look for coaches who have certain qualities, skills or personal characteristics that are critical to successful coaching. Different qualities may be needed depending on the specific individual, the problems being tackled and the organisational context. However, it is widely agreed that there are some general skills that characterise effective coaches. These include:

  • self-awareness and self-knowledge
  • clear and effective communication skills (verbal and non-verbal)
  • relationship-building skills (including ability to establish rapport)
  • flexibility of approach
  • listening and questioning skills
  • ability to design an effective coaching process
  • ability to assist goal development and setting, including giving feedback
  • ability to motivate
  • ability to encourage new perspectives
  • ability to assist in making sense of a situation
  • ability to identify significant patterns of thinking and behaving
  • ability to challenge and give feedback
  • ability to establish trust and respect
  • ability to facilitate depth of understanding
  • ability to promote action
  • ability to build resilience

Danger signs. The following characteristics may identify a coach that could prove a problem. It is worth being very cautious about selecting any coach that:

  • can’t explain the model or models they use
  • names individual clients
  • can’t say what they can do, and what they can’t
  • does not know who they would not coach
  • has no experience in organisational settings (for example only has a therapeutic background)
  • has only done outplacement work
  • takes credit for past coaching results – ‘I fixed this guy’
  • sees coaching as a ‘power trip’
  • uses a strictly counselling approach (coaching is not counselling)

[1] LANE, D. (2002) The emergent coaching models. European Mentoring and Coaching Council Conference EMCC9.

[2] ARNEY, E. (2006) Guiding vision. Coaching at Work. Vol 1, No 7, November/December. pp 34–36.

[3] HAWKINS, P. and SCHWENK, G. (2006) Coaching supervision: maximising the potential of coaching [online]. Change agenda. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

[4] BUCKLEY, A. (2006) How to recognise when a client is mentally unwell. Coaching at Work. Vol 1, No 7, November/December. pp 54–55.

[5] BERGLAS, S. (2002) The very real dangers of executive coaching. Harvard Business Review. June. pp 86–92.

Third Sector Managerial Coaching

“Coaching managers” are managers who coach their team members in a work context. The person being coached is sometimes referred to as the coachee. Effective coaching, according to Hunt and Weintraub, ‘is much more powerful and useful than merely providing feedback to someone with a performance problem’ (2002:2).

Yet the role of the coaching manager is, according to Cox et al., Bachkirova and Clutterbuck, ‘the most difficult and controversial coaching role’ (2010) and the most problematic according to Bresser (2011). Managers may be reluctant or sceptical about the coaching manager role if they have not been coached themselves (Ladyshewsky, 2010). On the other hand, if a manager has had a positive experience of being coached, they are more likely to want their team members to experience coaching and to want to develop their own coaching skills (Knights and Poppleton, 2007).

Given that the relationship between coach and coachee is not just of significant importance but is actually the critical success factor in coaching (according to Bluckert 2005), where a manager has an existing strong relationship that enhances the prospect of success if they progressively adopt a coaching style.

In the Third Sector there are numerous tools that can help a manager take more of a managerial coaching approach. Bridgespan, for example, have a free on-line diagnostic survey that helps managers and leaders to identify those leadership development activities already in place and to think about how to step up to the next level.

The results from this survey frequently kick-start the flywheel and can help bolster a a culture of development. To keep things moving forward managers can then:

Meet with each of their direct reports during the year to discuss progress against their goals. Managers may not want to create something new: in which case they might use existing review meetings within which they are used to discussing progress against other goals. This existing framework can easily absorb a “progress against development goals” topic.

Development of people can sometimes be seen as an optional, “nice to do” process. If that’s the case managers may need an accountability framework. A coaching manager will want to ensure that they multiply their time investment by ensuring that their direct reports have development goals in their annual performance agreements. Then, at key points in the year, these will need effective review and an end year evaluation. This business-like approach is a powerful way for a leader to make clear that development is part of a leader’s and a manager’s job.

Of course, the coaching manager should expect to be ready to coach and counsel those struggling with developing their staff. The well timed follow up after managers have had discussions with their team members to see how it went and to provide advice for the future is often key to setting expectations. (You might bring in an outside coach to run a session for the entire leadership team on this topic).

Having established these accountabilities discussing the performance and potential of staff members becomes an easier conversation to have and, if a 9 Box Performance/Potential Matrix is used, the provides a great framework.

This annual review is helpfully put into context if it is possible to start the discussion with a perspective on where the organisation is going and what the likely leadership and other capability requirements will be in three years or so. This meeting may also help the top team to develop a common view of the key positions that will probably become vacant in that timescale.

The Nine Box Performance/Potential Grid or Matrix

The Nine Box Performance/Potential Grid or Matrix

The coaching manager will need to ensure that the top team using the 9 Box Performance/Potential Matrix agree on what constitutes “high potential,” for example. It’s good to calibrate judgements by first discussing a few individuals whom the top team know really well. Once you’ve established a rough set of standards and benchmarks, the senior team can plot their direct reports on the performance-potential matrix. Time spent in focused discussion on the outliers is invariably a good investment. Who stand out clearly as future leaders? Where do you face problems? Who are the excellent individual contributors that you need to retain and develop? Pick a small number of future leaders to focus on for development discussions, and charge each senior leader with the collaborative development of a plan with the individuals and for them.

Leadership teams get better at this each time they do it. Before long, your top team will be talking about more staff and about how to move individuals from the upper left to the upper right of the performance-potential matrix. You’ll soon increase the number of individuals whom your top team should focus on from a few to many.

THenschelTom Henschel grooms senior leaders and executive teams. An internationally recognised expert in the field of workplace communications and self-presentation, he has helped hundreds of executives achieve The Look & Sound of Leadership™. He provides excellent 15 minute case study-based podcasts of huge value to any manager wanting to adopt a coaching approach. √itas Consult recommend these for starters:

  • Coaching your people: A fifteen minute crash course in managerial (or leadership) coaching, tutored by one of the world’s most respected coaches.
  • Leading through delegation: Learn the three steps of effective delegation (in under 15 minutes) and discover how to inject coaching into the mix, for greater success in getting the job done and developing your people.
  • Coaching versus therapy: Both interventions share certain features and yet also differ. An experienced, professional coach explains how and why.
  • Thinking errors: A thinking error is a pattern of thoughts that aren’t true. But we believe them. And since it’s a pattern, it repeats itself. Usually for years. Thinking errors tend to lead to bad outcomes. The coach explains how a thinking error was handicapping a client’s work.
  • Assertion: Rosa’s main coaching goal was to become more assertive. Her boss, her teammates and her direct reports all wanted her to manage more boldly, share her wisdom sooner, and speak up when she saw things going awry. But Rosa was very uncomfortable asserting herself. Find out how her coach helped Rosa speak her truth.

Need advice about managerial coaching? Contact √itas Consult.

 

The Rise Of Badges

Blue-Peter-badge-002Many people have gained a formal academic or professional qualification of some sort during their lives. But informal skills acquisition doesn’t usually attract proper recognition. This is why ‘badges’ to accredit this kind of learning are gaining in popularity. Traditionally seen as indicators of quality, badges are generally used to demonstrate a person’s affiliation with a scheme, association or professional body. In education, however, they can be used to reward learners for achieving a certain level of knowledge, acquiring a new skill, demonstrating a level of competency, or displaying a desired standard of behaviour.

As people become more comfortable with learning online, this has created an opportunity to design “digital badges” to accredit completion of informal courses. Demand from learners has partly ignited this trend, as badges provide demonstrable credit in return for effort. Accrediting informal learning drives user engagement and motivation, as recognition and reward is gained through sharing the success with others online. Learners can broadcast achievements to colleagues and friends across social media platforms, such as LinkedIn. It’s this aspect that is driving increased participation. We expect to see badged learning increase in popularity. Badge schemes in mainstream online environments are gathering momentum and have been successfully applied within World Vision’s global, corporate university. Initiatives like Mozilla OpenBadges and Moodle, a virtual learning environment are easily combined to enable learners to display their Badges on their profiles.

Badged learning has a useful role to play in achieving important objectives like fostering a learning culture, encouraging self-directed learning and improving employees’ digital skills – as the Open University have recently recognised. Learning and development specialists are increasingly acknowledging their benefit in the workplace. Badges can form an integral part of individuals’ continuing professional development (CPD) programmes and help to structure learning pathways by allowing prior achievement to be recognised and advanced learning to become an appropriate starting point. Simply put, badges allow staff to earn verification as they acquire new skills and improve their competency levels. And they enable learners to display an icon on their online professional profiles, and list on their CVs the courses they’ve completed and certificates they’ve gained.

 

“Incidental” Learning

JournalAs the Open University Institute of Educational Technology has recently reminded us, we live in an age of rich information. Sometimes the sheer quantity may become overwhelming! However, with unprecedented amounts of knowledge available to us at the touch of a button, we are provided with unlimited opportunities to learn just by going about our everyday lives. This is what’s known as ‘incidental’ learning: learning without needing to be taught, in ways that are instinctive, unplanned, immersive and, at times, unintentional. Incidental learning happens as we go about our daily lives, interacting with others, carrying out activities and using technology. As the OU point out, this learning goes on throughout our lives, in many forms: play, exploration and discovery in childhood; teamwork, collaboration and problem solving in adult life; immersion in another culture when learning a foreign language; and so on. These are all examples of how we learn incidentally, and build a rich bank of knowledge over our lifetimes.

The richness and sheer variety of opportunity creates both challenge and opportunity for any organisation’s learning and development specialists.

Three Knows_Fotor 1Incidental learning happens every day in the workplace, in a myriad of ways: induction processes for new staff; cross-functional teams working together; junior employees shadowing senior colleagues; and more. In such scenarios, workers investigate challenges, solve problems, and identify resources to help them do their jobs. They learn by being immersed in the workplace experience. Though it is potentially all around us, incidental learning tends not to be seen or valued by employers, as it’s not structured, tutor-led or certified.

Businesses will increasingly become aware of how staff learn incidentally and the potential value it holds. They’ll recognise the important role it plays in building management capability, through knowledge-sharing, networking and negotiating activities. And they’ll increasingly seek to capture and share this knowledge, in order to improve organisational productivity, performance and growth. This is an area where learning and development and organisational learning/knowledge management overlap – at least potentially.

There’s now a host of workplace applications designed to drive the sort of experiences that prompt incidental learning. These include internal social media platform Yammer, cloud-based collaboration tool Slack, and crowd sourced innovation and partnering management software IdeaScale.

As so much of the UK economy generates value through “knowledge work” and so many of the UK’s working population are knowledge workers it becomes vital that organisations pool the collective knowledge and expertise of their staff. Very few organisations can now be sustainable unless they pool knowledge through some kind of organisational ‘learning bank’, almost certainly crowd-authored by the workforce itself — but, critically, retained after staff leave.

Tools For Talent Assessment

Moon_FotorResearch indicates that the most reliable approaches to the assessment of people use a variety of methods to learn about competences and potential derailers. When you use a range of complementary methods to assess leadership potential (for example), you are  better placed to come to some working hypotheses about potential, how to target development and concerning placement decisions.

The main types of tool available are:

Simulations: Where people are asked to work together or alone on the resolution of challenges that relate to the known demands of the future role. Simulations can include simple “in box” exercises where people have to assess email/mail and make a succession of decisions about how they will prioritise their time, delegate responsibility and deal with risks. There are more complex and extended simulations which evolve over a period and may attempt to replicate the challenge of a particular role or a team in the organisation.

360 Degree or Multi-Rater Assessments: These provide comparisons of an individual’s self perception with the perceptions of their behaviour that are held by “significant others” – invariably including the individual’s manager(s); their peers; their team members and possibly people they supply services to/partner with or have contractual relationships with. Results are provided on an anonymous basis. These assessments are normally conducted on-line.

360 (or 180) Degree Interviews: These are standardised interviews that may be undertaken by the individual or their coach or mentor and which provide data not dissimilar to the on-line multi-rater assessments but are usually conducted face to face or, sometimes, “virtually” using the telephone/Skype, etc.

Personality Inventories: These provide objective measurements of underlying personality characteristics – usually based on a self report basis. Access to these tools (and often to the more sophisticated and reliable forms of simulation) is usually restricted to those who have been thoroughly trained in their use.

Cognitive Ability Tests: These measure intelligence – a component part of some competencies.

Behavioural Event Interviews: Though strongly associated with job selection these can also be used to investigate how a person’s work experience relates to future role requirements.

Development Centres: Typically residential events where a number of the methods above are used to gather information that is then discussed in considerable detail with the individual in a feedback meeting or meetings.

Performance Assessments: Manager’s assessments of performance are useful particularly where a number of years of assessment data exists and that data has been “moderated” (or calibrated) to ensure that the ratings given by different managers carry the same value.

Need advice about assessment? Contact √itas Consult.

Talent Assessment

The objective of a talent assessment process is to reach a conclusion about each potential member of the talent pool in the following terms. Are they:

  • Ready Now for their next role
  • Will they be Ready Soon for their next role, typically meaning in two/three years
  • Will they be Ready in the Future, typically in around five years time
  • A Key Contributor – someone whom the organisation would find great difficulty replacing if they resigned
  • A person that should be included in the pool for Developmental purposes

(The words in italics are usually employed as the category heading in talent pools).

Notice that this approach sorts on the basis of time to readiness. However, the mere passing of time does not necessarily result in any person becoming better qualified for a given target role! More focused approaches to accelerating talent development have, therefore, begun to consider the critical experiences and learning support services that need to be made available to people in the talent pool.

Critical experiences

Art_FotorThe critical experiences may be particular postings, secondments or job moves that are known to be highly correlated with success in a given, future role. These experiences might be broadly defined (“living and working in a francophone country”) and be quite specific (“has managed a revenue account and grown income by a factor of x over a period of y”). Where this approach is taken the emphasis on “time to readiness” is often progressively overtaken and more attention is paid to “paving the way” to a given, future role (or roles) with suitable experiences.

Learning support services

It is well known that two people can experience what appears to be the same occurrence and one will learn a tremendous amount from the experience whilst another very little. It is also evident that people learn in different ways and may be more or less active, pragmatic, and reflective or articulate about what they have learnt. Given this variety of approaches to learning it not surprising that a range of learning support services are now used to accelerate development. These services include mentoring, coaching, good management practices, journaling, action learning (for groups in a talent pool), assignments and so on.

Assessment for what?

Assessment serves three fundamental purposes in talent and succession management:

  • It helps to confirm potential by indicating what kind of talent has been nominated into the pool.
  • It helps target development by allowing you to understand the relationship between individual capabilities and business objectives. This enables you to select highly targeted development solutions for each individual and for them to be captured in a motivational (leadership) development plan.
  • It helps in making placement decisions. This facilitates the selection of just the right experiences, job challenges and assignments and in providing the most appropriate support to the individual.

Need advice about any aspect of talent and succession management? Contact √itas Consult.

What Is Talent? What Can Be Learnt Through An MBA?

The term talent (Latin: talentum, from Ancient Greek: τάλαντον, talanton ‘scale, balance, sum’) was one of several ancient units of mass dates back to the Ancient Greeks and Biblical times, starting out as measure of weight, then becoming a unit of money, and later meaning a person’s value or natural abilities (Michaels, et al.,, 2001). The talent as a unit of value is mentioned in the New Testament in Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). This parable is the origin of the use of the word “talent” to mean “gift or skill” in English and other languages. (The Hebrew term for “talent” was kikkār, meaning a round gold or silver disk, or disk-shaped loaf).

We sometimes make a reasonable distinction between individuals who have natural abilities in an area (who some might called gifted) and those who have learned their skills and knowledge. Of course individuals are a mix of both natural abilities and learned skills.

Recently DDI undertook extensive research to investigate two associated questions:

  • Do particular degrees translate into developed leadership skills that can be rigorously assessed? Or, to express that a different way, do leader skill profiles vary by educational degree? And,
  • What skill advantages do MBA graduates exhibit?

DDI evaluated assessment data from 15,000 leaders across 300 companies and 18 countries and compared the performance of those with undergraduate business degrees and MBA degree-holders against a set of critical leader skills.

butterfly_FotorGiven that MBA programmes commonly give centre stage to the development of financial acumen, becoming business savvy, and establishing strategic direction it came as no surprise to learn that MBA degree-holders did better than undergraduate business graduates. However, MBAs performed worse than undergraduate degree-holders in coaching and developing others, driving for results, and selling the vision. DDI’s conclusion was that while an MBA programme “can strengthen many important leadership skills, it won’t necessarily produce strength in all of the skills leaders need to be successful”.

Thankfully, the skills where business degree-holders weren’t strong—compelling communication, driving for results, and inspiring excellence—are all closely aligned with the highly develop-able interaction skills imparted by leadership development programmes, such as those created by √itas Consult.


Michaels, E., Handfield-Jones, H. & Axelrod, B. (2001). The War for Talent. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.