Is a new C-Suite talent crisis on the horizon?

Over the past few years, we have observed several notable shifts in how executives manage their careers. We wrote a piece on the disintegration of the social contract between companies and employees and the impact this has had on core values such as loyalty and stability. We noted how employees adapted and reframed themselves as hired guns with agency to architect their own careers across as many companies as they chose to work for. Job hopping was destigmatized and became an effective means by which to gain increases in pay and title (see Job-Hopping As The New Normal).

Last year, we wrote about the emergence of the jungle gym as the latest metaphor by which to build careers. In addition to frequent job shifts, individuals are increasingly embracing non-linear, even unconventional career moves, prioritizing continuous growth, novelty, and compensation while essentially re-conceptualizing career narratives (see Jumping On The Jungle Gym: Employers Beware). This has lead to the emergence of ‘skill-based’ hiring and talent management models that help companies name, organize and assign value to the non-linear experiences employees are accumulating.

The jury remains out on the impacts of these developments. However last week we had a discussion with a CEO who argued there is already evidence that trouble lies ahead. Let me explain….

In the not so distant past, organizations of a certain size provided employees with opportunities to progress laterally and vertically in order to develop, broaden and enrich their overall knowledge and executive function. For example, an individual working in human resources might start as an HR administrator/generalist and over time assume roles in talent acquisition, compensation, talent mobility, training and development. Some organizations might even encourage HR team members to take roles in manufacturing, sales or finance in order to better understand the business in which they work. Breadth was the beneficiary as individuals developed their functional knowledge, management and critical thinking skills, as well as strategic perspective.

Fast forward to today and consider a young individual who has worked in Talent Acquisition for the past few years. While delivering on his or her responsibilities, they identify themselves as ‘open’ to new opportunities, with the proviso that any new role must include improvements to compensation, role or title. Logically, qualifying roles will most likely be in talent acquisition as this is where the individual’s experience has greatest currency. It is less likely to be forthcoming for roles in other facets of HR such as compensation or training and development where this individual has less experience from which to ask for inducements. And thus, should this individual change employers it will likely be for another role in talent acquisition. The hiring firm will seek a return on their investment by having the individual perform for a period of time in the role for which they were hired. However, eighteen months later, building on the last experience, the now Manager of Talent Acquisition is ‘open’ once again to new opportunities. At this stage, for the same reasons as before, qualifying roles will almost certainly be in Talent Acquisition. And thus, the individual becomes deeper and ever more siloed in their functional expertise. Several years later, now a Senior Director or VP of Talent Acquisition with aspirations to be the CHRO of a company, they are a mile deep in TA expertise but an inch wide in overall HR, and perhaps business, experience. They become trapped in their silo and a risk for broader roles.

This scenario was at the heart of a CEO’s explanation of why his firm’s new Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) lasted less than one year. The CEO fully acknowledged the demands and complexities placed on the modern day CMO including fast changing markets, frequent technological disruption, attribution challenges and intense demands to deliver results. He recognized that the field of marketing itself is broad with many sub-fields, some measurable short term, and others with indirect effect and/or measurability only in the long term. The CMO they hired had a superb reputation and a stellar track record, largely in product marketing, gained across a number of organizations over two decades. The company believed it unnecessary to question such a veteran’s functional knowledge, and focused instead on evaluating leadership, vision and the ability to champion and manage a marketing organization. These all seemed to be in order. It proved not to be enough however as the CMO struggled almost immediately with a myriad of issues arising in various functional departments reporting into her… departments in which she had little direct experience. Breadth of experience had not been considered key until the individual proved unable to extricate herself from departmental weeds. The CMO admitted afterwards that she had failed to surface these issues during due diligence. It proved to be an expensive lesson for all. It bears noting that the CEO believes siloing is a trend that presents risks to other functions beyond marketing.

While it must be acknowledged that siloing and its risks might be overstated, it is nonetheless possible that companies will increasingly find themselves with all manner of siloed and ‘non-linear’ executives brimming with accredited inventories of competencies and skills, yet bereft of the actual experience required for success.

About the Author

Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.Contact Robert by email at [email protected] or call (1) 416-365-9494 EXT 777

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