INTERVIEW by Michael Köttritsch, Die Presse, Austria, February 15, 2016

Not to put too fine a point on it: it takes heavyweight talent to build an excellent talent program. No trivial task, even for talent consulting experts.

Just two years ago, Günther Tengel, Managing Partner of Amrop Jenewein in Austria, worked with his team to design a talent program for Amrop. In the process, he developed many fundamental insights. Here are just a few.

The selection of tomorrow’s leaders according to past-oriented factors such as experience and know-how no longer fits the bill. “In the future,” says Tengel, “selections will be based on personality, and above all, on potential.”

It’s a challenging proposition. For a start, it’s more difficult to test for potential than it is for knowledge. Tengel advises practitioners to concentrate on the curiosity and motivation of potential candidates. Secondly, the questions arise: in what direction do we want to go as an organization, and what talent do we need for that?

To find out more about the future, Tengel advises every new CEO to spend the first four weeks in the job on the road with clients. “Clients will tell him or her, above all, what he or she has to do.” Instead, the first step of many is to take a screwdriver to the finest strategic details.

Demographics play a role, too. Austria alone is poised for a shortfall of 50,000 well educated 30-40 year olds, Germany, up to 700,000. One way or another, companies will be forced to re-think their talent programs. One challenge for personnel responsibles will be to avoid carrying on in a “more of the same” way.

On this note, many 20-30 year olds say: “I’ve already been all over the place. I’d like to be at home more.” So programs that flag themselves as ‘international’ hit a vacuum and sidestep parts of their target group.

Sequential thinking is a must, says Tengel. It makes no sense to design ten or fifteen-year career paths. “People think in a sequential way and fundamentally re-adapt their life planning to circumstances every four or five years. So companies should say to them: “I would like you to stay at least three years with us and do your job as well as possible. I will give you optimal support for your operational work. At the same time, I am going to foster your potential.

This duality is something that Tengel adopted for the Amrop Talent Program. Talent from Amrop’s own ranks receives additional off-the-job training, developing tools with business school IMD. Next to that, they work in teams on themes and projects that concern Amrop’s future.

It’s not enough to engineer talent programs around the short term. When picking talent, it’s more a matter of asking the central question: are you curious enough, and are you ready to tackle questions about the future in our organization? Now, says Tengel, the kiss of death for any talent program is when it hides an ‘if-then’ logic. When I get accepted on this program, then my next career step and my ascent in the hierarchy are a sure thing. It’s also about their interest in the themes of the future, and not about their next position.

“When it comes to the knowledge they gain from projects they’re enthusiastic about, these people are unbeatable,” says Tengel. The next challenges follow automatically. One condition is to crack rigid hierarchies (specialist- and leadership- careers).

It’s also necessary to crack open the theme of leadership. “Leadership isn’t remunerated,” says Tengel. “The results of leadership are.” So leaders are not primarily busy leading. If someone delivers good results, it’s deduced that he or she led well. “Not an outcome you can always depend on.”

Every talent program costs money in the first instance – just like client-related activities – and narrows profit margins. The shakier a business model, the more Tengel recommends investing in talent and thereby in the future. To make the case for costs, Tengel cites a cartoon depicting a conversation between a CEO and a CFO. The CFO says: “This program costs 50,000 Euro. What happens if these people are no longer with us in a couple of years? The CEO answers: “Imagine that we don’t invest, and they stay!”

Read the original article (in German) here.