The system is the star

I’ve coached a number of clients who are GE lifer’s; they are highly competent, have often worked in multiple geographical territories, speak more than one language (in most cases) and accelerate quickly to positions of power. They have a reputation for staying focused, positive and supporting the development of those around them, a rare feat in our current climate which tells us that a job for life is an outmoded concept.With exposure to both the corporate and non-profit organizations I have seen many lifer’s in those workplaces become toxic hazards for colleagues, managers and customers. So how does it happen? How do some firms retain staff for years and allow them to never lose Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s elusive and highly desirable ‘flow’?

It seems, as Malcolm Gladwell suggests, that the system really is the star when it comes to retaining talent and keeping high potential’s inspired and productive. If a firm is thoughtful and invests in its approach recruitment, development and talent management, like GE does, the conditions for success will be created and high potentials can become the star performers inspiring others to perform with them. Other firms have started to develop methods to mirror this success; Deloitte Consulting has introduced a matrix approach to career development that I’ve written about in a previous blog allowing them to customize the career development of High Potentials but also capitalize on market gains made against competitors in the recent financial crisis. AMEX have a fluid management development approach that will land high potentials in highly challenging and varied assignments and Citi appears to be striking ahead of its peers with an innovative leadership development program that places newly minted MBAs in stretch assignments across the globe.

I’m fascinated to see how each of these firms continues to invest in their systems of recruitment and development. If their systems are truly robust then these organizations should continue to perform when these star performers move on or out, and in this way, the system really is the star.