Fast-tracking high potential management and technical talent is a strategy many organizations are using to ensure that the good people they are able to attract are properly developed, effectively utilized and retained. The scenario goes like this: Sammy Starr is top dog of his MBA class at Famous University. Before “B” school, Sammy was a Phi Beta Kappa and swim team captain. From 650 Fortune 500 job offers, Sammy finally accepts an offer from Big City Bank.
Obviously, the last thing Big City’s human resources people want to do is to lose Sammy. And the first thing they want to do is find a way to use him. As he stands now, he is only a potential contributor to the company’s future. He’s got lots of street smarts to learn before he’ll be able to function at a maximal level for the bank. Solution? Fast-track. Rotate Sammy quickly through the minimum possible number of internal training and work experiences and then put him to work. From there, move him as high and as fast as possible into the managerial hierarchy.
Absurd? Fanciful? Not in the least. There are literally hundreds of Sammy and Sally Starr fast-trackers in today’s organizations. No bank like Big City can afford to have Sammy “work his way up” Horatio Alger-style from teller to executive vice president. Most organizations need a faster return on their human resources in¬vestment.
The good news
The good news in fast-tracking is that it works. Potential high performers are attracted to organizations with fast-track systems. Also, the systems do move people quickly through necessary experiences into key management positions. And fast-trackers tend to be extremely loyal to the organizations which so recognize them as high-potential individuals.
But the bad news….
TRAINING polled a number of human resources planning experts on both sides of the “to fast-track or not to fast-track” issue and garnered several problems and potential solutions.
1. Those “annotated” to the fast-track may succeed simply because everyone knows they are being watched and given special treatment.
As Researchers Robert Rosenthal, Lenore Jacobson, J. Sterling Livingston, and, of course, Eliza Doolittle, have aptly demonstrated, the Pygmalion Effect is real. People often succeed because they are expected to succeed. As a precaution, most fast-tracked organizations take pains to ensure that :
• All evaluations of the fast-track people are independent and verifiable.
• No fast-tracker is advanced as a result of a single glowing report. One contact told us of a “Hi Po” engineer who was evaluated by 47 separate individuals before the glowing reports of his super skills were accepted as factual.
• Pains can and should be taken to document actual hard independent in-formation about the F.T.’s performance. P&L sheets, budgets, production figures, any artifact that isn’t fakeable should be used as an acid test.
2. Non-fast-trackers may become demoralized by their non-Inclusion.
This is almost but not quite a pseudo problem. Yes, fast-trackers do come on strong from time to time. They know who they are and they know others know. And, yes, they are envied and sometimes resented. But the cure is obvious. First, fast-trackers can be taught proper humility, if need be— fraternities and sororities have known how to do that for centuries. Secondly, the glamour of the fast-track can be countered by the kinds of things the fast-trackers are assigned to do. A third de-glamourizer is a time-limit, up-or-out policy that is enforced. Fourth, long hours, weekends, and frequent demanding performance re¬views will also cut the image down to size.
3. Stagnating and Jealous managers can derail the fast trackers.
Naturally, giving a fast-tracker to your in-house Attila the Hun makes little sense. When possible, seek out the managers who have a reputation for cultivating good people, and assign the fast-trackers to them. Another solution is to require multiple performance reviews of the same fast-tracker by independent raters. This quickly shows up both false positive and false negative ratings.
4. Fast-track systems tend to be populated by people who are remarkably like the people now in prominent positions in the organization.
On the whole, this means white, male, etc. Doesn’t this mean that the EEOC and other federal and state affirmative action agencies might be gunning for an organization’s fast-track system? Yes, the EEOC and others have occasionally challenged fast-tracking as a form of elitist discrimination. Note the word challenged. Most organizations that fast-track have demonstrated a critical defense: There are women and members of minorities on the fast-track as truly qualified candidates for key positions.
5. A final complaint is that no one dares really review fast-trackers.
That is, once a person is appointed to the fast-track, he or she has it made; performance no longer counts. There is a tendency of line managers to tried softly on the toes of fast-trackers. After all, one never knows who one might end up working for. But a few precautions negate this tendency:
• Multiple, reviews of performance help cancel out the reviews of the intimidated.
• Evaluating fast-trackers on actual bottom-line results tends to eliminate bias.
• Finally, fast-trackers are often put in stretch situations—those with a real risk of failure. One cannot fake the result of being in such a situation.
The bottom line is that there are problems with fast-tracking. The Crown Prince effect and hiring in “thine own image” are only two of the more obvious. But with adequate precautions and dedication to fairness, fast-tracking can supply an organization with high quality “young blood” when a transfusion is most needed, and welcome.
Source : Training Magazine, September 1978
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