Linear vs systemic perspectives on talent and succession

Linear vs systemic perspectives on talent and succession

This is a guest blog by Professor David Clutterbuck

In our continued work with organisations on systemic talent management strategy, we frequently find that – consciously or unconsciously – it is the mindset of the leaders and the HR team that determines what is possible and over what period. Some of the blockers relate to the process of change itself – for example, the implicit assumption that attitudinal and behavioural change is something that needs to happen at operational levels, rather than in the leadership team itself. (HR is not immune to this kind of thinking, either!)


The table below illustrates some of the differences we have observed between a traditional, linear mindset about talent and succession and a systemic mindset. You can use this chart to assess prevailing mindsets in your organisation by asking a sample of senior managers and HR people to score on a seven-point scale a) their own beliefs and b) what they consider to be the prevailing mindset in the organisation.


Linear Systemic
Talent is innate and focused on the individual Talent is contextual and dependent on the individual and the systems, of which they are a part
Clarity of succession is important Flexibility of succession is important


Performance is dependent on individual behaviour Performance is dependent on both individual, team and system
Motivation and reward should be individually based Motivation and reward should be collectively based
Leadership skills are generic Leadership skills are contextual


It’s important to identify talent It’s important to create conditions where talent can emerge
Potential is fixed and measurable Potential is contextual and largely unmeasurable
We need to invest most developmental resources in high potentials We need to create conditions, where genuine high potentials can create their own developmental networks and pathways
Job roles are relatively stable Job roles are constantly evolving


Job descriptions should focus on qualifications and experience & on how to do the role as it is Job descriptions should focus on outcomes and potential to transform the role
The role of HR and the top team is to reduce the impact of change The role of HR and the top team is to embrace and encourage change
Predictability and clarity are critical Managing paradox is critical


Talent strategy is a top down process and responsibility Talent strategy is a collaborative effort between HR/ Senior Management and talented employees
Our workforce is the people currently on our payroll Our direct employees are only part of a wider resource of overlapping systems that include past, current and future employees, contractors and other contributors
We expect loyalty from our employees We expect engagement from our employees
Diversity is one of our biggest problems Diversity is one of our biggest opportunities


© David Clutterbuck, 2016

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perspectives on talent and succession


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