NZIM: LEADERSHIP: Recognising Talent

Tough times demand creative responses and the reality of the economic and organisational challenges ahead will demand the smartest answers and the drive, energy and innovative thinking that promising young executives bring to the table. How best to ensure that happens?
There is, after all, more to it than simply despatching high fliers to additional and more advanced personal development programmes – not that these don’t help build individual management capability. The issue is rather, how to help the organisation benefit from the presence of the talented among its ranks. The answer, in word, is recognition.
Personal recognition is one of the great individual and collective motivators. Organisations that commit to recognising their achievers deliver multi-faceted winning whammy.
The supportive act of encouraging individuals to be recognised in broader arena, in other words being recognised outside the organisation, sets up positive internal environment that delivers several messages.
For example, it highlights appropriate role models. This in turn shows others in the organisation the meaning and measure of success, process which can also become an important driver in developing the organisation’s culture.
Supporting higher profile recognition says something else about the organisation, according to Kevin Gaunt, the New Zealand Institute of Management’s Northern Region chief executive.
“It effectively says this is place worth working for because there is opportunity for recognition and development.” This message in turn builds employee engagement and retention.
And, perhaps most important of all, strong and well-conceived personal recognition programme helps the organisation become more competitive in talent-starved world. Even in today’s tough times of managerial lay-offs, finding and attracting talented individuals is difficult.
Talk with any recruiter or management developer and odds are they will report wide variety in the quality of today’s seemingly successful young managers. There are unquestionably some highly talented and skilled individuals out there in the workplace.
The everyday reality is that all-too frequently their often high level of tertiary learning doesn’t prepare them well for the practicalities of the real world. As Gaunt puts it: “They can often reach quite senior positions and yet are clearly experimenting with theories rather than applying best practice management.”
Highly talented young executives can also lack good understanding of how to manage people effectively, critical component of any good manager’s toolkit. As Harvard Business Review pointed out few years back in less than charitably entitled feature The Young and the Clueless, promoting talented young managers too quickly can have its downsides.
The article, by contributors Kerry Bunker, Kathy E Kram and Sharon Ting, warned that promoting young managers too soon prevents them from developing key emotional competencies – such as negotiating with peers, regulating negative emotions during crises, and building support for change – skills that come with time and experience.
And, they said, “young and clueless” managers can lack patience, openness and empathy – qualities that are more vital than raw intellect at top-level leadership levels. This is particularly relevant in today’s world of complex and often new organisational conundrums.
The solution the authors offered was to delay promotions so that managers can mature emotionally. They conceded that this wasn’t always easy because of the need to balance confrontation and support, patience and urgency. Support for strong individual recognition programmes should not, necessarily, compromise planned and well-considered career promotion plans. The individual can be recognised for the promise they show and the accomplishments achieved while still acknowledging their place on full competency scale.
To be really successful, promising and talented young executives need to have been around long enough to have worked with wide range of different types of people. This is about building and understanding the importance of relationships. Again, as the HBR article warned, aggressive and insensitive, fast-tracked managers may pooh-pooh relationships with peers and subordinates – not realising they need these connections to conquer problems.
Again, in Gaunt’s opinion, successful young managers need good project management skills. “They need to get things done,” he adds. And they need to have an understanding of how to build an effective organisation and how to engage people fully in the organisation.
For those wanting to escape being labelled “young and clueless” Gaunt suggests developing the ability to “listen”. There is, he suggests, no better way to enhance an individual’s understanding of the issues, the people and the options for taking an organisation forward.
Finally, promising and competent young managers should develop or possess well-honed intuitive sense of organisational awareness. The more manager recognises the “real situation” without clouding it with his or her own biases, the more often they make good decisions and the more they learn.
NZIM’s commitment to promoting the case for high-profile recognition of successful young executives began in 1994 when, with this magazine, it established the Young Executive of the Year Awards. Eagle Technology became supporting sponsor of the awards in 2005.
The Award, now promoted and staged within the context of the Deloitte/Management magazine Top 200 Awards programme, was established “to encourage high standards of management practice, giving our top young achievers something to strive for, plus offering an award for and recognition of excellence”.
The alumni of award winners and finalists include some of New Zealand’s most outstanding individuals, most of whom have gone on to bigger and better things. They include, for example, Barbara Chapman, group executive human resources and group services at the Commonwealth Bank under CEO Ralph Norris; Russell Stanners, now chief executive of Vodafone in New Zealand; Stephan Lepionka founder of Simply Squeezed and Charlie’s Juice businesses; and, Theresa Gattung, formerly Telecom CEO.
NZIM’s role, says Gaunt, is to research worldwide management best practice and to communicate that to New Zealand managers. It also helps managers develop their capabilities through “learning” via its training courses, networking activities and mentoring programme. And, says Gaunt, it provides professional recognition through its member grade framework, its training programme certificates and diplomas as well as the scholarships provided by the NZIM Foundation.
The Young Executive Award therefore, effectively fulfils “our strategy of providing recognition and publicising role models of best practice management”, says Gaunt.

Reg Birchfield FNZIM is management writer and NZIM Life member.

For more information about the 2009 NZIM/Eagle Technology Young Executive of the Year Award go to or

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