Sunday, 12 June 2011

Social leadership at GE


   (My notes from Susan Peters, CLO, GE at the Economist Group’s Talent Management Summit)


GE’s talent management roots can be traced back to the 1950s, however they’ve been reviewing some of this, asking whether the company would be in a different place now if some of this had been different too.

Plus they know leadership requirements will continue to change through to 2020 and beyond. For example, organisations are needing to get much flatter. Susan wonders about middle management – and worries about it too as it’s such a big part of organisational structure. Managers need to turn into coaches but their role may disappear.



You can always find people who can aggregate, but people can get performance feedback from a wide range of sources eg anonynous twitter based coaching (gen Y are totally cool with this). It requires a different style of management – with more letting go.

GE also expect corporate social networks to be as prevalent in ten years time as the internet is today. And mobile will be to the next 10 years what laptops have been to last 10. All of this is important as social media is not about the technology – it’s about the way people work.


(That last one says you will be hired and promoted based on your relationship capital – see my recent post on influence.)


It’s all supporting a continuing and massive change in the way we lead…

GE’s review of leadership and talent management started in June 2009 when they got together with an eclectic group of thought leaders (two academics and a millennial, futurist and historian etc) to ask whether their leadership DNA was where they wanted it and what is leadership today?

This led into some research leveraging the Senior Executive Development class talking to 170 entities around the word (including the Boston Celtics, Chinese communist party etc) asking what they are thinking leadership is and what they are doing about it – a bit like drinking from a firehose.

In late 2009 they decided rather than publishing this to engage GE leaders in dialogue about it. So in 2010 they invited academics to dinners on innovation strategy, leadership etc with ten company leader and set up sessions at Crotonville asking what does it mean to you to be a 21st Century Leader and what do you want your leader to be like? There was a Leaders in Residence programme in which leaders took a week out of their job to teach, including fireside chats, one-to-one coaching etc: where people got the chance to discuss what they saw as the gaps.


(Notice Susan’s yammer messages popping up at the top right of this pic.)


By the end of 2010, leadership had been reframed by hanging contemporary definitions on the existing values.



One thing that helped employees to get it was to talk about leadership development in same way as product developing – you wouldn’t want to use the same cell phone as five years ago because your expectations have changed – the same with leadership development. You don’t want to be the same person you were five years ago, and you wouldn’t want to work for someone whose skills and perspectives haven’t changed.

The updated values are used in GE’s differentiation matrix etc and they have a two-pronged approach. Firstly, development happens through on the job experience although it often happens in unplanned way too (eg HR will learn by planning a downsizing or a layoff, but it’s when someone breaks down in tears in your office that you get real experience). Secondly, leaders are given assignments beyond what they should be doing. They’re then held accountable and are given feedback.

GE also bring together intact leadership teams of 15-20 people for four days to teach strategy, learn and do. And a programme called Leadership Explorations is also provided as there are lots of senior executives who have not been in training programmes for some time. This consists of 2 – 3 days studying matrix management, the 2020 workforce, innovation, strategic networking etc.


Also see these two previous posts on GE’s leadership, talent management and social networking:




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