How we isolate talent
By Jacki McCartney, international development director, Syat
August 1 2012 - Organizations seek the best talent. We target individuals that stand out and assume they bring with them the talent shown in previous posts. If they fail to perform at the level we anticipate, HR managers and the board are left wondering what went wrong.
"No man is an island," wrote John Donne in 1624 - an opinion that still carries weight in the 21st century! Individuals rarely perform independently. By its very nature, any organization is a system of relationships with dependencies, interdependencies and co-dependencies that are sometimes ignored or denied. For a cohesive system to exist ie where the goals of individuals are aligned with those of the wider organization and where an environment is created that supports effective working relationships and talent development, t investment is required. When individuals are expected to shine without investing the time to create an environment that supports succes, we are often setting them up to fail.
Jacki McCartney, from organizational development consultancy Syat believes that organizational culture has been focussing for too long on the wrong goal. With the emphasis on seeking external talent, we often miss existing internal opportunities. Instead of asking ourselves what an individual can bring to the company - we need to ask, "How do we optimise internal talent in order to achieve mutual success?"
Many existing performance management systems focus simply upon defining and assessing an individual's personal goals. There may be some focus upon contribution towards team goals but rarely does this extend to the role and relationship with the wider enterprise and its strategic ambitions.
In failing to embrace the organizational dynamic and identify individual's contribution to success we can inadvertently isolate the talent we recruited to bring organizational success. In such circumstances, when the individual fails we frequently blame them alone for the failure.
By acknowledging the role of culture in supporting individual, team and departmental success, we create the opportunity to assess collective capability and potential to deliver a shared vision and achieve our strategic goals and ambitions. Such a dynamic organization focuses upon the use and application of feedback in a learning environment whilst providing the opportunity for individual talent to flourish.
The role of the leader
Formal leadership roles imply a responsibility for setting - and adopting - the tone, standards and culture of an organization. Not a position for the weak or faint hearted. Leadership assumes courage and moral ethics - old fashioned and possibly quaint terms but a vital response in the current climate. This is a vital counterpoint in response to the current short-term, disposable actions and thoughts of both individuals and corporations. Clarity of purpose, vision, mission and personal values will in turn enable key personnel to role model and communicate expectations and standards for the organization. Importantly it also creates a climate where leaders can be held accountable by staff for 'living by example'.
Leadership can be the most isolated of positions and as we've seen in the recent libor crisis, isolation does not bode well for the long term good of the organization or indeed for the individual themself.
As John Donne (1624) continues, "As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all." Whilst setting the tone of an organization and communicating strategic direction, it is vital that individuals are encouraged to understand and define their role and the part that they play within the wider context of the organization. Such an environment creates an arena for growth.
The focus of accountability and responsibility that appeals to leaders needs to embrace every individual, team and department. People need to be aligned to achieve the overall objectives, within the boundaries set by and role modelled by the values of the organizational leaders.
The challenge for HR
The challenge for human resources has historically been 'How do we find the best leaders and how do we persuade them to join us?" Such a short-sighted policy can be costly in the long term. Today's HR leaders need to consider not just recruitment but the development of existing talent in alignment with strategic enterprise ambition.
From a recruitment perspective, the challenge for HR is to assess and give equal weighting to the potential of an individual to integrate, operate and deliver whilst assessing the ability to assimilate and integrate the individual within the organization. It is about assessing 'cultural' fit alongside 'skills' fit; capability and capacity. HR needs to consider "Does this individual have the capacity to make a positive contribution to the job, the team and the wider enterprise? Equally, do they have the capability to enhance this contribution over time?
Similarly it is all too easy to be impressed by past performance without giving due consideration as to what part the operating climate and indeed, other team members, played in achieving success. How transferable are the individual's talents and capabilities from one environment to another?
When we consider talent management, there are equally demanding challenges. It's an easy but unwise assumption that roles can be successfully changed based on mere talent. Just because someone is a talented operational manager does not guarantee an easy transfer into a more senior managerial role. The qualities required to be a successful operational management are not the same as those of a professional business manager. The task and modus operandi are quite different - requiring different support, different training and different development.
Working with the system
If we seek to create organizations where personal and corporate values and aspirations are aligned with clearly defined goals, where individuals are rewarded for achievement, and where accountability slices through all layers of the company, we need to shift the focus of talent development from the individual and start to consider the wider picture. We need to be able to assess and develop talent as an integral part of the system in which they operate.
Whilst it sounds complicated it can be relatively simple to develop individual talent when considered from a three layer approach where these layers are all inter-connected. Syat uses Me, Me & You and Us to clearly communicate.
Working to the backdrop of the organization's strategic agenda and with a clear appreciation of the individual's current capabilities and aspirations, the focus is upon 'How can I contribute to the enterprise's goals?' At the same time considering "What skills and capabilities do I need to develop and practice to optimise my contribution and achieve personal ambitions?"
- Me / You
Again working to the backdrop of the organization's strategic agenda, the focus is upon "How can you and I work together to improve the performance of the team and the enterprise?" and "What are the important issues which we need to address?"
Within the context of the strategic agenda the focus is upon "How can we make best use of the talents and resources available in order to deliver organizational goals?" whilst resolving key business challenges and finalising priorities.
By viewing talent development as an all-encompassing development system, an environment is created that proactively develops the skills and capacity of individuals and teams to work together in addressing current and strategic business challenges. Such an approach creates a safe and supportive environment for practice and capability enhancement that embeds the learning into the future.
By working on real business issues, the outcomes include a shared clarity of purpose, vision, strategy and values as well as shared insight into the capabilities of people to grow and deliver strategic ambition.
Jacki McCartney is the international development director for organisational development consultancy Syat
(www.syat.com). She works in the UK and extensively in the United Arab Emirates.
tel +44 (0) 1749 890200