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due to missing out on promotion, or following a restructure, risked further demotivation in some cases from seeing their rating downgraded from where it had previously been.


People lacking in aspiration Tis group contained people who were either unclear of their own aspirations or showed no desire to move on, perhaps because they had been in the same role for a long time. In particular, people close to retirement were mentioned.

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People experiencing personal challenges Tere was recognition that employees experiencing difficul- ties outside of work could be hard to rate due to inconsistent performance.

Te ability of managers to hold effective conversations with their staff, no matter the situation, was critical to the success of the Grid and the sense of engage- ment of employees. Managers spoke

Despite the difficulty of some conversations, if handled the right way there is much to be gained for the employee, the manager and the organisation

about conversations which opened out avenues previously unexplored, managed expectations and changed perceptions in a positive way. Tere was a sense that, despite the difficulty of some of the conversations, if handled the right way there is much to be gained for the employee, the manager, and ultimately the organisation.

What makes for a good conversation?

What seems to make for a good conversation is the ability of

managers to employ four key skills: ``

Great listening Managers should develop higher-level listening skills, intentional rather than reactive or proactive listening. In reactive listening, we listen at a superficial level, reacting to what matters to us and agreeing or disagreeing with

22 | October 2016 |

what we hear. At the proactive level, we listen for something not to something, keeping our ears open for opportunities to advance our own agenda. Intentional listening is focused totally on the person, listening without presumptions or our own agenda in mind. In our daily lives, we rarely employ intentional listening and it is so powerful precisely because we are so very rarely really listened to.

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Compassion Daniel Goleman talks about three levels of empathy, the highest level of which is compassionate empathy. Cognitive empathy is about understanding how another person might feel, something he points out that can be used to manipulate and may be present in the archetypal corporate psychopath. Emotional empathy is about feeling what the other person feels, something which, without the right ability to manage emotion, may lead to being overwhelmed by others’ feelings of distress. Compassionate empathy is to feel what another feels, but not to be overwhelmed by it and ultimately be moved to act.

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Focusing on behaviours not judg- ments Managers need to focus on giving feedback about behaviours not the person, and to be mindful of where they may be rushing to judgment.

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Presence and embodied leadership When holding difficult conversa- tions, managers can benefit from reflecting on how they are holding themselves, how that conveys their thoughts and feelings and affects how they ‘show up’. By adjusting how

they hold themselves, they can adapt to pressures in the moment better.

What can L&D learn from all this?

Tere are perhaps three key learning points that L&D should

consider alongside the Grid: ``

Involve managers as much as possible Managers need to give their views on what potential looks like in their context. Involving managers more widely in peer calibration meetings can help them think about the leadership pipeline and identify development opportunities beyond their own area.


Equip managers with the capability to hold effective conversations Introducing a process to identify high potential talent such as the Nine Box means that many employees who are performing well in their jobs may be disappointed and, may view their career options within the organisation as limited. Tere is a risk, then, that a

process to identify high potentials can disengage the ‘core’, the bulk of effective performers who help make the organisation work. Any process of selection will lead to success for some and disappointment for others, but the message here is that managers, HR and L&D need to be alive to the impact of such processes. Managers need to be equipped with the capabil- ity and skills to hold effective devel- opment conversations with employees at different stages in their careers.


Be clear about what it means to be high potential It is critical that there is joined-up thinking between HR and L&D about what it means to be ‘high potential’, what opportunities will be available to those identified and in what timescale. Keeping em- ployees with high potential engaged demands clarity about what is on offer, and taking clear and confident steps to meet expectations.

Dan Lucy is Head of Research at Roffey Park Institute. Find out more at

Reference 1 Jane Yarnall, Dan Lucy, Is the Nine Box Grid all about being in the top right? Employee experiences of the Nine Box Grid, Roffey Park Institute, 2015


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