Developing Low Flyers

Developing Low Flyers

By Nick Gendler, Executive Career Coach

It struck me recently, when thinking about a client, that we rarely consider what the less-talented have to offer.

Organisations develop talent, and what that really means, is that they develop the talented and ignore the rest.  They allow those people to progress at their own, slow pace.  They don't invest in them because they don't think they are worth investing in because if those people leave then so be it - they are easily replaceable.

But are they?

I don't think so.  If they do a useful job then they are important people to the organisation because if they leave they will need to be replaced, and staff replacement is expensive.  Of course, there may be those people in an organisation who have been there many years and have clocked up a hefty salary as a result, but invariably those people will have something very valuable to offer. Speed and knowledge.  They can do those unexciting tasks quickly and effectively, but more than that, they are the guardians of corporate memory, and for that alone they are worth a premium.

However, I digress.  Corporate memory is a subject for another day.

I was thinking about low and high flyers when working as an executive sounding board with an organisation that had made a low-flying manager redundant and transfered some of his tasks to someone considered to be a high-flying manager. The low-flying manager was, I understand, a quiet, friendly man who got on with his work diligently and was well-liked.  He wasn't a visionary and he wasn't a strategist. His colleague, the high-flyer, was a dynamic, ambitious, visionary person, a great asset to the organisation and a person who had made great strides in growing it. He was also friendly but lacked the ability of his erstwhile colleague to secure a comfortable relationship with others.  He was less focused on relationships than on tasks.

As I discussed this with my client, the chairman of the organisation, he realised that the chap who was leaving was taking with him more than they had bargained for.  The dynamic manager would, he realised, need to acquire some of those skills and qualities that were now gone.

I'm not saying that the redundancy was the wrong decision. It probably was the right thing to do. What I am saying is that the organisation failed to see the qualities of the person they were saying good-bye to until it was too late.  These are qualities that will take Mr Dynamic a long time to develop to the same level.

They didn't realise it but this wasn't such a clear cut decision.  Until I became involved nobody questioned the right way to play the problem.  There was certainly no justification for having both people at that level - the organisation wasn't big enough to sustain it.  However, there was no recognition given to the capabilities of the person who was leaving.  They were simply seen as the weaker manager and therefore the one that must be made redundant.

It's rare that the quiet person is seen as the high-flyer.  More often it's the person who makes a noticeable impact.  These are the people we regard as worthy of development but are they always the right people to nurture?  What balance do we end up with at the top of organisations if we only train that one particular type of personality for leadership? What if we were to invest in the less dynamic and pushy people?  Would that not lead to an organisation that is, overall, better skilled?  After all, the marginal improvement in ability that can be acquired from training someone who is already a high performer must be less than the marginal improvement that we will see after training someone who is less talented.  I'm not saying train the duffers.  I'm saying just because someone is not a high-flyer it doesn't mean they are a duffer.

By ignoring the people that are quiet and unambitious we dismiss them as having nothing or little to offer, and see them as dispensable when they may be a rarer gem than Mr Dynamic.

Nick Gendler, of Workjoy, is our recommended Career Coach.