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The Secret Ingredient in GE’s Talent-Review System | HBR


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A lot of words but basically it comes down to this: They strive yo pay attention to their people.

It starts with the attention given to the individual appraisal. Managers are expected to dedicate time to prepare for a detailed discussion of a direct report’s performance and values, strengths, development needs, and development plans. Most employees spend over 1,800 hours a year working for the manager and the company. Is it unreasonable to expect the manager to spend at least a few hours thinking about and discussing the performance appraisal as part of a larger commitment to helping the employee be more successful? (More about that in a moment.) Individual appraisals are considered enormous opportunities for the candid, constructive conversations that employees deserve.

It is not uncommon for a manager’s assessment and feedback to be questioned by his or her own manager, if the commentary does not appear to reflect the individual accurately. I have seen our top leaders return an appraisal because it did not do justice to the feedback on the individual. Such a disconnect is the worst thing that can happen because it is a reflection of the manager, or the HR manager, as much as it is of the employee. This practice of multi-level engagement ensures that the quality of the appraisal is honest and comprehensive.

Most of our leaders, including the chairman, spend at least 30% of their time on people-related issues. It’s part of our operating rhythm. These discussions are rich in making calls on leadership, succession, opportunities for development, organization and talent strategy, diversity, and global talent builds. The discussions also afford us the opportunity to assess performance more closely and holistically − including market factors, internal factors, organizational complexity, and risk elements. More importantly, it is the business leaders who take the lead on these discussions, not the HR person. This is consistent with our philosophy that talent development and assessment is a key business agenda, not just an HR activity.

Some skills are more important than others to be a great leader. As I have observed these discussions, some of the patterns are becoming increasingly obvious to me. For instance, the difference between a great leader and a good one is not just about intellectual capacity; it is often about judgment and decision-making. Likewise, a hunger to win, tenacity, customer advocacy, and resourcefulness can trump some of the skills we often look for − analytical skills, for instance. Such traits are best unearthed through discussions and become important considerations for future talent mapping.

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