As I have gotten older, I have recognized that knowing what you don’t know… admitting it and asking for help… is a virtue that is not well recognized and not well understood. I really didn’t want to be an Ops person, didn’t have any choice, so when I had enough successes behind me, there was one step left. Find someone who did (or at least thought they did), and convince them that I needed them to take over. In this case, my pace was accelerated by the continuing disruption between my boss and his boss the VP, and aided by the fact that my boss had a very loyal lieutenant that he thought could step in…
The other thing that I learned over and over again is that talent is the universal solvent for all problems and opportunities. You have to constantly keep your eyes open for great people, because when you need them – and when they are ready – rarely overlap, without Preparation. And then, you are stuck in a bad situation that you can’t get out of fast enough. As I was contemplating today’s post, I typed out the word “successor” – and the pagination split it into… success.. Or… I think that will be the way I spell that word from now on, editors and spell checkers notwithstanding.
It is that important. You have to have a constant flow of talent that you are watching, Preparing, managing, and being ready to step in – so you can move on – up or otherwise. In this season, after repeatedly failing to get one of my “directs” promoted (as I wrote about last week), I looked in the other direction – who does my boss want to step up? I didn’t like them, and didn’t really believe they would do the job, but that was less important than me moving back into a world that I plausibly understood better… and an opening that was tailor-made for me. The other side of talent management is knowing what YOU want and constantly scanning for that also.
Growing up in the Southwest, Route 66 was more than a song… it was a lifestyle. It was a piece of highway that cut across some of the prettiest, and most desolate part of the country. Literally going over 2000 miles from Chicago to LA, it was captured in 1946 by a songwriter who drove the route to… wait for it… become a songwriter in LA. He started in Pennsylvania on Route 40, but his wife suggested when they joined Route 66 that “Get your Kicks on” worked way better with 66 😉 If you haven’t driven a piece of it, add it to your bucket list. It was recorded first by the Trio, and then re-released and re-recorded by Nat a few times, along with others. This video you get to actually see Nat play and remember what a great player he was long before the vocals became the road he traveled.
Like the highway, you have to manage talent like a pipeline – constantly moving people into it, and ensuring they are exposed to the right skills and opportunities so they are ready for what will eventually face them. And also, to train them on the same approach for their team members, so they are also Prepared to move on when the time is right. If you haven’t thought about it with the analogy of a pipeline, I would encourage you to google “Human Capital Planning” as you are managing it – either well, or poorly 😉
For me, I was able to step out of the role, leaving it better than I found it, with team members who were all now in much more significant roles. The “NeXT” team were now some of the most sought after talent, Prepared with all of the challenges we faced, overcome, and then thrived from. Even though we all had to drop that from our titles, we stayed in close contact as my new role was back into developing software that still ran on NeXT. It was rewarding to watch their skills on that specific platform wane as they were drawn into more and more mainstream efforts.
It was similar to watching Route 66 eventually being replaced by the superhighways. Not as romantic, and not as fun, but certainly way more efficient and easier to manage on longer trips. For much of the ride west, you can see the “old” road just off a bit, having blazed the trail. Who do you need to Prepare to pull onto your “on-ramp” and start to accelerate their career – so your own can move into the fast lane? Do you have a success Or….Go ahead – and get your kicks on Route 66.