Where has the great pool of management talent gone? They are out there, but few and far between. There aren’t as many choices anymore, and I’m not the only one who notices.
As I mentioned when we last met, this question comes up at least once a week. The typical questioners? Executives who were in the talent pool during the 1980s. The economy certainly was experiencing its challenges then, especially at the beginning of the decade. But the structure and culture of training business leaders of the future was firmly in place.
First, I pin the dimished pool on the lack of numerous in-house training programs that we so prevalent in the past – which I discussed last time.
Second, both the landscape and “pecking order” of career maturation events were changed by the tech bubble at the end of the 1990s.
Many experienced managers and leaders had big wins in IPOs and M&A activity that gave them considerable and unusual don’t-have-to-work-anymore money. Many retired in their 40s and 50s, way before they naturally would have left the workforce. We miss their direct participation, leadership as proponents of the best practices they learned and utilize; and we miss their mentorship, training the next generation of leaders to use these same practices — and most important — to develop their basis of judgement. So the training ground is missing, both in the office and in the field.
Also, as you recall, things speeded up pretty quickly – which is an understatement. There were numerous “battlefield” promotions. Sometimes great for a person’s career, and sometimes way before they were ready. I’ve seen plenty of resumes of executives who were CEOs in 2000, until their companies cratered, and then never again. Their promotions were anomalies. And they still think they’re qualified to be CEOs (or VPs).
Furthermore, replacing experienced leaders were “twenty-something” / “thirty-something” entrepreneurs who became CEOs during the Bubble, who brought in their buddies as EVPs, VPs, and Directors – usually straight out of school, without the benefit of any management experience. Investors were funding these companies, and taking them public without profits, or even paying customers. I recall meeting with the SV leaders at Idealabs in early 2000, and they told me their goals were to take companies public — 6 weeks from inception! From idea, to hiring a CEO to IPO in 6 weeks! And they were very impatient with me when I questioned this.
So these “executives”, who came of age in the late 1990s and early 2000s, in these companies-that-should-not-have-been are in the market now – without the benefit any training or mentorship in the development of their foundations of knowledge. How do they make decisions, develop their judgement, train others?
Well, believe it or not, there’s some good news from the recent financial meltdown! The well-trained executives who have been “on the beach” for a few years are coming back into the market – and many who stayed because they enjoy the challenges of the marketplace and just HAVE to work — are sticking around! We owe them a big THANK YOU!