3 talent dilemmas and ways to tackle them

3 talent dilemmas and ways to tackle them

Posted by Ajit Kambil on October 13, 2015.

Some of the toughest decisions leaders face are about people. Having the wrong people in key positions or failing to act quickly to address issues can damage performance and morale and jeopardize the ability to execute business strategies. While there’s no magic formula to solve talent dilemmas, understanding the potential trade-offs of various actions helps leaders be prepared and can contribute to positive resolution. Let’s look at three common talent dilemmas and potential solutions.

  • The passed-over employee.
    Making promotion decisions comes with the leadership territory—inevitably some team members will move up and some will not. Leaders should have a plan to address the fallout of their decisions, acknowledging the uncertainly of how the individuals involved might react.

First, is it important to retain the employee? If so, a leader might consider offering the passed-over employee development opportunities to build skills or experiences that were found to be lacking. Or the employee might be given an incentive to stay on, such as a bonus to be paid out in installments. This may be sufficient to take the sting out of being passed over, or at least provide a window of time to plan for the employee’s replacement in case he or she decides to resign later on. Of course, retaining the passed-over employee may not be possible or preferred; leaders should also have a plan for filling gaps that may arise if ties are severed.

  • The employee with issues.
    To rescue or not to rescue? That’s the dilemma facing leaders with team members who exhibit issues that undermine their performance or the performance of the broader team. Two common scenarios are employees who are well-liked, but underperforming, and employees who perform well, but whose demeanor or actions run counter to the organization’s culture or diminish team morale. A goal for every leader should be to develop his/her team, but it’s important for leaders to be realistic about rescue efforts. Setting a timeline for development efforts, understanding and setting expectations for progress, and enlisting the help of outside resources (such as coaches, training programs, mentoring networks, and the like) can help leaders develop employees to the benefit of the team—or feel more confident about their decision to replace employees who don’t meet expectations.
  • The promoted employee who can’t let go.
    In addition to affecting passed-over employees, promotion decisions can also cause talent challenges related to the promoted employee. Employees promoted to leadership roles (especially C-level roles) often sabotage their own effectiveness by continuing to do their old job to the extent it interferes with their performance in their new role. Leaders should be prepared to help ease promoted employees’ transition to new roles and responsibilities. Having a successor ready to go, delegating the prior role’s responsibilities across the team, or appointing an interim person to fill the role until a successor is appointed are possible courses of action that can both contribute to the promoted employee’s success and help alleviate the strain on the prior team.

A recent edition of CFO Insights, “Talent Dilemmas: What Should You Do?”, explores these situations in more detail through a finance lens. The lessons are equally applicable to leaders in any function who face tough decisions about people.


Ajit Kambil is the global research director for Deloitte LLP’s CFO program and the creator of Deloitte’s Executive Transition Labs.

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