Approximate reading time: 2 minutes

The test of any talent management system is first whether it throws up the leaders that the organisation needs and secondly whether these succeed in their new role. By that test BP has some heart searching to do over its present talent management approach.

As Tony Hayward heads towards Siberia, presumably consoled by his payoff from BP, it is worth reflecting on how a clearly talented employee came such a cropper. Here was a high level performer whom BP had nurtured for many years and who desperately wanted to be chief executive. Yet when the crunch finally came he did not deliver.

In fact BP has been unfortunate in its recent choice of CEOs. The much vaunted Lord Browne, often declared a role model for others, left BP somewhat precipitously a few years back after being caught lying to a judge.

Two CEO’s, two talent failures. So what do these two breakdowns say about BP’s talent management process? In both cases they reflect on its people development process.

Nobody says developing effective leaders is simple, but clearly Lord Browne’s personal development did not have sufficient probing and personal growth in respect of integrity, one of the core leadership requirements.

In the case of Hayward, his development lacked sufficient focus on growing his emotional intelligence. Faced with the demands to defend the company over the Gulf spill he came across as insensitive and over defensive. Even worse, he did not deliver on his own commitment to transform the company’s abysmal safety culture. No one says changing cultures is easy, but as CEO he should surely have been able to make more of a difference.

Talent pools have been shown to be rather shallow when it comes to people with potential to lead in times of ambiguity, complexity and rapid change. Research by the Corporate Leadership Council has shown that less than a third of those identified as “talent” actually has potential. A study by Ashridge showed that only 31% of managers were confident that their appraisal system was capable of identifying high potentials. [1]

Therefore questions for BP that also apply to any company talent management system include:

1)    Do our high performing people have the potential to meet our future needs?

2)    Do we have a sufficiently sound system for identifying potential

3)    What gets in the way of our most talented people performing better?

4)    Do our high potentials have robust values and how do these relate to those of the company?

5)    Can our high potentials articulate with passion what we are about?


Andrew Leigh is joint author with Steven Hoare of a forthcoming book on Talent Management to be published by FT Pearson later this year.


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