Have you seen a full-grown tree in parks, gardens, on the road side? How much ability do you have to change the direction of its growth. Can you change the fruits it bears? Can you change the season in which it flowers?
At best what you can do is prune its branches or give its crown a shape. That too won't last for long as the tree again grows!
Managers are also like trees in that sense. Consider a person who enters an organization after graduation. They can be equated with saplings from work perspective. There are a number of ways and direction they can grow into depending upon the work environment they are subjected to. Shaping-up happens for next few years when they learn and unlearn a lot of things. But their core still remains the same. That is if someone is an orange tree he/she will not become an apple tree over the years.
After working for say about a decade, the HR identifies them as the potential leaders for some reasons - mostly from the past track record. To become successful leaders, HR identifies that these potential leaders need to change in a lot of ways (sometimes they want Guava tree to start bearing apples!). For this, IDPs (Individual Developmental Plans) would be made for each of the identified managers. A lot of interventions in terms of training programs will be put in place. All this is with an expectation that once they are through with 5 or 10 or 45 days of program they would suddenly change or transform. They will get inspired by the talk given by eloquent speakers. They will get a framework of successful habits which high achievers possess. They will be surprised by traits exhibited by leaders around the world, and knowing all this, they will change by leaps and bounds! Short-term inspirations are confused with long-term permanent changes.
Reality check: How many times have you gone through such programs and seen permanent changes in yourself for good?
This is what I call twisting a full-grown tree syndrome! HR and organizations, with all its noble intentions, is trying to accomplish an impossible task here. If you want to really nurture talent, that should start right from Day 1 when you recruit students from colleges. Once people have clocked thousands of hours of working in a particular way and which has made them successful in the first place, there is a very little chance of an appreciable change. To understand this point, we can think of how habit formation takes place in a child. Isn’t it easy it to change the taste, habits, thinking of a child vis-à-vis a 20-year-old lad? The bark of inflexibility keeps getting thicker as we grow old. Small changes are possible but at the expense of humongous input of effort, time and resources. In fact, chances are high that you will end up having a distorted version of the original person if the changes attempted are too different from the original personality of the manager!
Based on our experience of working with many big and small organizations & leaders, HR should endeavor to understand the original core leadership style of the manager and help them become better at it. I am not saying that the new skills and knowledge should not be imparted to refine people. What I am saying is understand what are the hardwired competencies and which ones are softer competencies. Do not waste time until and unless you are a psychiatric institute on changing personalities of people. Clearly, demarcate the additional skills that fit in well with the core personality of a manager and build on their current set of abilities.
A lot of effort needs to be focused on choosing the set of possible roles in future that a manager can be groomed for. This has to be based on scientific understanding of their hard-wired competencies, behaviours, cognitive abilities and interests along with the aspects that we traditionally evaluate such as experience, past performance etc.. For this, thankfully, you have now access to a battery of assessments - behavioural & cognitive and talent analytic tools in the market. These would aid in deep dive in the hardwired aspects of both jobs and the manager in a very reliable and scientific way. Google it, and you will get scores of options for the same. In our own work with helping clients place the right guy in top roles, this aspect has emerged time and again.
In one particular instance, a highly accomplished technical guy was taken up at an elevated position of CTO for a start-up company. His credentials, knowledge, experience in technology was beyond doubt. So was his sincerity and ability to work hard. But still, things were going the way they should have. The CTO was struggling in the eyes of founders of the company. To understand what is happening we analyzed the hardwired aspects of the job using tools such as Job PRO and de-coded the behaviors of the incumbent using Predictive Index. What we found was an eye opener for the founders. The hardwired aspect of the job and the person were diametrically opposite! The behavioral requirement of the job was that of a person who would be very comfortable in dealing with ambiguity, open to experiment with new ideas, someone who takes initiative and loves working under pressure. While the CTO exhibited traits such as being highly contentious, critical of new ideas, focused on one task at a time for best results, looking for direction in unfamiliar situations. So to cut the long story short, even though every other thing matched but because there was a mismatch in behavioural requirement, this person could not perform in the new role. And we could see through our analysis that how twisted this tree was feeling from inside in order to perform!
In the end, I would like you to close your eyes and just imagine what would have been the outcome if coaches put all efforts to make Virender Sehwag a great bowler instead of helping him close gaps in his batting! So, don’t twist the tree, help it grow stronger.