“Our Aspirations are our Possibilities” – Robert Browning
Dhruv (name changed) resigned from his position of Zonal Sales Head in his company citing that he had received an excellent opportunity in a slightly smaller set up as an Head of Department for country wide operations – and the was offered a pay, title and perks that couldn’t possibly be matched by his current company.
Dhruv had proved his worth in the current organisation where he had spent around 15 years, growing up the ranks from a front line role to the mid-senior team leadership role that he was currently responsible for. He had been spotted as a high-potential early on; his Growth had been a culmination of structured development plans, high potential leadership-building programs, blended with Management Development Programs from leading Institutes, and mentoring by best in the industry seniors who had groomed him to take up higher responsibilities.
So why is he changing his job after a dream run like none other? Oh yes we could attribute this to the Great Resignation – but ‘WHY’ really is he leaving? I asked this to Dhruv during his exit interview and something interesting came up. He had been in his current role for the last 3 years and Dhruv knew that the next level was at least a 5-year wait away – and the current incumbent in that position was in no hurry to move out of that. The company also has a not-so-great track record of cross-functional movement for growth or global experience. He put it simply – “I choose growth today versus growth tomorrow. I may succeed or fail in my new role – but I wouldn’t know if I continue in my ‘comfort zone’ and don’t take the plunge today!”
Dhruv’s story makes us realise quite a few things here. Good talent is often rewarded and invested in by organisations; however the perceived ‘Glass Ceiling’ or ‘Growth today vs Growth tomorrow’ syndrome is what is turning out to be a challenge for organisations today. While the Great Resignation has actually accelerated this even further – I believe that companies soon have to focus more on a structured “ASPIRATION MANAGEMENT” process for its employees – particularly for the High-potential ones.
The Basis of Aspiration Management
In many progressive performance management and potential assessment systems, aspirations of the employee are ‘mentioned’. This takes the shape of a section-to-be-filled in the form. However, organisations need to sit up and take note of aspirations – especially amongst its talents and high potential employees. This should not be a mere form filling – but a detailed dialogue discussion with the manager and if required – the reviewer and HR.
Does that mean we have to commit to every aspiration of an employee?
No – this dialogue – and discussion allows the company to review and chart out novel growth and career alternatives for the incumbent. This detailed dialogue would help in the following:
Where next & when? This dialogue sets realistic expectations between the company and employee and gives the employer a head start in case of a red flag. If there seems an apparent disconnect in the company's plans and employee expectations, then it is better to take stock of it before the event occurs rather than after the event.
Who is the next in line to this role? And how quickly can we replace the current incumbent should this vacancy happen? Sometimes the discussions focus around retention. If retention is not a viable possibility, then next in line incumbent and readiness is discussed and plans for the next in line growth are prepared. Sudden surprises can be circumvented this way.
Growth today vs growth tomorrow –Retention (if necessary), and at what cost. Every employee, whether in the current role or for a future role is an investment. Ultimately businesses have to take a measured decision in terms of investments and Returns on investment it perceives from matching aspirations of their potential talent versus the business returns such a match can bring to the table.
Set them free, they may evolve further and boomerang back – a departing employee might not have immediate role available for her/him; however if we track their progress and consider to bring them back a few years later can actually benefit the organisation with evolved perspectives and value addition they bring in if considered for rehiring. This approach however is time-sensitive and subject to internal parity.
How do we weave in “Aspiration Management” in existing People management Systems
A Plug-&=Play pipeline isn’t always possible! Glass Ceilings very much exist in any organisation! Every aspiration cannot be fulfilled! However some techniques that can help to prepare any organisation to plan people aspirations include:
- A half yearly or a yearly discussion purely dedicated to assess stability / Vulnerability of the current incumbent in the current role. This helps to dialogue and discuss real time issues that may become a concern in the time ahead.
- One-to-one discussions on possible avenues of growth if not directly aligned with the incumbent’s aspiration. Geographical mobility and cross-functional exposure are key discussions in this.
- If glass ceiling exists because of incompetence, causing a block to grow for next levels – this requires discussions at relevant organisational levels. Tolerating incompetency is not conducive for talent retention in organisations. Corrective actions taken earlier are always better as it allows employees to reinforce their belief in the company’s Talent Management processes.
Dhruv’s story is not unique to him alone – one of the factors attributing to the Great resignation is an aspiration to grow today rather than tomorrow. Aspiration Management is a practice that may not stop the exits altogether – but could do well to stem the loss of key talent from organisations.