vrijdag 30 november 2012

The War for Talent Hoax

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." ― Albert Einstein

This quote by Einstein has been my motto for some time now. At first, because it gave me the pleasure of knowing that I am a genius too. But the more I learn about myself and about others, and what motivates us in our personal or professional life, the more meaning these words seem to acquire. Moreover, it has raised questions with me about the concept of 'talent' in business, finally causing me to think that talent management is just one big hoax. I will tell you how I came to this conclusion...

Everybody is a genius
Various intelligence tests pretend to give conclusive, scientific proof of differences in cognitive and emotional intelligence between individuals. But what are these tests actually measuring? In 1968, George Land gave 1,600 5-year-olds a creativity test used by NASA to select innovative engineers and scientists. He then re-tested the same children at ages 10 and 15. The test results were staggering! 98% at age 5 registered genius level creativity, 30% at 10 year and 12% at 15 years of age. The same test given to 280,000 adults placed their genius level creativity at only 2%! (Source: http://www.calresco.org/lucas/create.htm)

It seems from this test that there is a negative correlation between what we are taught by education or upbringing and the capacity to be a genius. Now you could argue that George Land's test is dated or have doubts about the soundness of his methodology. However, you cannot deny that education has prepared us first and foremost for a place in society, for a J-O-B. Building knowledge and skills to increase performance behaviour for our adult professional life. Whether these learnt behaviours actually match our innate talent, emerges for some at a young age (wonder-kid or high school drop-out), for others at an older age (career swappers) but for most of us never at all. We are all born unique, but many of us sadly die as a mass product of society. What we did has defined who we are, instead of the other way around.

So if everyone is a genius at birth and has the capacity to be great, what exactly is that talent 'thing' that distinguishes us?

Judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree
Could it be that in business we identify talented people on behaviours that might not have anything to do with their TALENT? At least it is not as conclusive as e.g. in sports or in certain arts. Now let's assume that this is in fact a system error, still these acquired behaviours may have great value for your business. In the end, knowledge and skills are the vehicles for performance behaviour. And those who are eager to continue learning are likely equipped to improve their performance, increasing the chances to success for themselves and consequently the company they work for. If the task is 'to climb a tree', one can execute it and has the ability to raise standards, who cares it is a fish? Maybe nobody does. The sad thing is however, that somehow it is missed out that the fish could have been the fastest swimmer. A task that was already assigned to Sid the sloth.

Of course, the system would probably not allow for such flexibility that everyone can be shuffled around within a company towards a job that better fits their innate ability. Anyhow it would take a lot of courage of leaders to do so without any probability of successful performance behaviour they are so used to measure through knowledge and skills.

The alternative for finding the best job for your employee is evidently finding the best employee for your job. Now in a business era of extreme competition where time is money, companies are fighting for the best tree climber. And so the war for talent has started.

Recognize the hoax!
Everyone knows that you need a strategy to win a war. This is where companies started developing talent management. A very broad concept, where activities range from attracting to retaining key talents for the organisation. However, we might as well call it 'waste-management'. A lot of companies apply talent management in a utilitarian manner. Employees who, if they are not, or at least not fast enough, showing the expected behaviours, are exchanged for the next candidate. These companies are stuck in an obsessive search for the best person for the job that they miss out on the possibility that:

1. an under-performer can be an over-performer in a different job
2. business success is a team effort and successful teams require complementary instead of similar minds
3. creating successful teams cannot be done with blue prints
4. team performance will excel once each individual knows his/her talent and understands how to combine them with the other talents
5. not recognizing your 'non-talents' creates an atmosphere that eventually makes people want to leave, whereas 'talents' leave first as they can easily find another job

But as I am still learning, I am sure I have missed some lessons. Can you teach me?

woensdag 28 november 2012

Ethical codes: A catalyst for responsible behaviour or a waste of paper?

Being part of an international organisation with offices in about 100 different countries and a workforce with 150 nationalities, I have witnessed a growing stack of rules on professional and ethical behaviour. The more the organisation grew in staff numbers and subsequent cross-border mobility, the more need for employee compliance, partially imposed by the environments we operate in. Partially. As a value-based organisation, the majority of rules are self-imposed.

Did all these ethical rules help create a safer environment with less workplace issues?

I am not about to disclose any sensitive information, but I can tell you that we most probably behave as an average organisation. So let me just put it to you bluntly: There is no evidence that ethical rules lead to better performance or a friendlier atmosphere. It is more likely that an organisation's core values and mission attracts people with compatible personal values, allowing communal values to exist which in turn foster the office culture. This makes it hard to justify the existence of ethical codes.

Will a person who has difficulties controlling his/her anger behave less aggressive with a protocol in place? Will a corrupted person then operate with more integrity? Not very likely.

An ethical code could assist employees in understanding the difference between 'right' and 'wrong', and applying that understanding to their decisions. But then again, how many errors can you make in a professional environment by not knowing the ethical rules? Or, not very uncommon, what if the rules do not give you a black and white answer to an issue?

If you want to create a safer environment, here are 3 Lessons-learnt from my experience:

1. Make values tangible
If decisions are better when made within the ethical frame of an organisation, then it would make sense to recruit on personal values that are compatible with the organisation or a particular trade. Use them as criteria with higher value than knowledge or skills. It will proof harder to change values as opposed to enhance someone's knowledge and skills. Evidently the organisation's leaders relentlessly make decisions that touch base with core values.

2. Create an open environment for raising concerns
An open door, I know. Though I want to stress that a nonjudgemental approach is paramount. Behaviours are best discussed on the impact that they have on one's environment, team dynamics, results etc. An open environment also implies that dealing with ethical concerns should not be delegated to some committee somewhere in a far corner of your organisation. They should be discussed at the heart of your organisation, preferably on the workfloor.

3. Show zero-tolerance for misconduct
Once someone has portrayed questionable behaviour, it needs to be addressed. The worst thing a leader can do is disconnect from the issue and allow for it to evolve to an endemic situation. This does not imply that one should always respond with discipline (often why codes exist). Sometimes it is even not necessary to address the individual directly, in private or public. Nevertheless the behaviour itself should always be addressed, preferably with the entire team present.

For clarity sake, I am not promoting for a deletion of codes. I am merely downplaying their value as opposed to these three things you can influence as a leader. As I am still learning, I am sure I have missed some lessons. Can you complete my list?