Sunday, March 7, 2010

Demotivation 2.0: secret leader list

This article on talent management reminded me of an odd approach to leadership development I encountered a few years ago. The company I worked for announced it had created a "secret list" of the company's future leaders. The selected future leaders were to be informed of their status by their managers. The employees didn't know who was on the list, and it wasn't even known who in management knew who was on the list. These future leaders would be given special developmental opportunities and visibility with current leaders and other perquisites, also unstated.

There was some discussion in the ranks of who these secret future leaders might be, but the topic was quickly dropped since there was no other information passed on about it. One thing was very clear, though. If you weren't contacted and informed of your special status you were quite sure that you didn't have any opportunities to move up at this company. The company already had a well-earned reputation for a good-old-boy, insiders-only culture with few paths for career advancement, and this program seemed to solidly reinforce that image.

As someone with an interest in organizational design and leadership, I've often wondered about this program, who initiated it, and how it turned out. I've never heard of anything like it. I still can't imagine what good was expected to come out it. I do know that the possibility of promotion and visibility within the company is one of the most reliable tools managers have to motivate their direct reports, and that was taken out of their hands by the program.

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