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HR Chronicles: He was about to get promoted… then he quit

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Kumar Abhishek, VP of HR at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, recalls what happened when a high potential employee resigned without knowing how valued he was.

A particular company, which shall remain nameless, experienced a meteoric rise in Asia Pacific.

I joined the organisation in the regional HR team when it had a small number of employees, a respectable half-yearly revenue and, over the years, we cruised through some great people policies and procedures that increased headcount and bumped up the company’s revenue into the millions.

The CEO, thankfully, was a staunch supporter of human resources strategy and was one of the architects in designing the talent management philosophy to align, acquire, assess and develop talent.

However, all those talent management credentials came into question one day.

It all started with the resignation of a particular high flier, who had been earmarked for a promotion.

He was a “high potential” employee and came out on top of our potential vs. performance grid. He was also marked in the succession plan of three critical roles and he was slated to go to Switzerland for a management programme as part of his developmental plan.

Unfortunately, when he resigned, he didn’t know any of this.

Initially, when we first envisaged our talent classification and management process two years earlier, this ignorance on the part of the employees was intentional.

Our talent classification principle was based on the performance and potential of the employee. Performance can be impacted by employees, but potential is also based on external circumstances

Therefore, we decided to keep performance results transparent to employees and talent classification, including their potential ranking, was only available to their managers.

We believed this would avoid complicated communication to employees and any heartache among those who have the same performance ratings, but different talent classifications.

We made the assumption that even though employees are not formally told of their talent classification, they would benefit from focused development and engagement through appropriate interventions. A high talent classification employee, for example, would get subtle hints by being constantly picked to represent the team to visiting top executives.

However, experiencing a resignation like this gave these assumptions some serious doubts.

Is it advisable for these talent classifications to be transparent to employees so they know how much they are valued, and what’s in store for them in future? My concerns about the demoralising impact on employees with the same performance ratings and lower talent classifications were met with a classic, “If you want to make omelets, you’ll have to break some eggs” response.

Can we be transparent on talent classification and count on our employees’ maturity, that in some cases, they can live with enhancing performance and decreasing potential? Does transparency lead to better development? How is employee morale impacted by this if they can influence only performance axis on talent classification grid? Are we paying people based on their performance only or should we pay based on their performance and potential?

These are some of chicken and egg dilemmas that need to be dealt with in order to have an efficient talent classification process in any organisation.

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