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Talent debt

When a company is young, with few people and even fewer leaders, the promise that each person can develop and grow is simpler to deliver each day.

As more employees arrive, each one shares in the promise: we’ll be here when you need us to help you learn, grow and progress here.

More people, more promises and expectations to meet. And quite quickly a gap emerges between what people expect and what they get.

Part of this is access to progression and development.

Part is access to great leaders. At the start everyone has access to the leaders and other leaders fill in where needed.

As you grow this flexibility disappears. Leaders become more distant and harder to access. People don’t know them. Leaders don’t know what all their people actually do. What started as a resilient system where it was OK to have some variability in leader performance becomes brittle. Each leader starts to matter.

And this talent debt of missed expectations builds up.

Every time a leader makes a casual promise of future progression which they don’t deliver. Repeats the line that we aim to promote from within as they hire externally. Or identifies someone has high potential then does nothing, it gets cemented in to people’s memories as a commitment broken. And people do not forget.

Developing people to be their best, and stay their best, is the lifeblood of any organisation. It is both a privilege and duty.

But it doesn’t often scale.

So what do we do about it? We can effectively give up, hide behind process and labels and live in a reality where we are not delivering our promise but pretend we are.

Or we do the hard work of creating growth opportunities for all. Making our leaders better and being honest with people about what they can really expect going forwards.


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