Sunday, November 25, 2012

Do You Hire Talent that Challenges Your Thinking?

What kind of people do you like to have around you? Do you have enough confidence in your ability and knowledge to have people around you that will challenge your thinking, look at things from a different perspective, and help you develop the most comprehensive and effective strategies for the future of your organisation, department or team.
Or would you prefer people around you who will do as they are told, just focus on their job and be good, solid followers? Since you know your job, business and industry best - that’s why you’re in the job in the first place.
It seems in a tight economy, when you’d think executives and managers would be looking for the best talent to help them challenge their thinking and maximise the sustainable growth of their business, that organisations are in fact preferring to play it safe and are recruiting and developing ‘talent’ that will ‘toe the line’, get on with their job and do as they are told, making them feel better about themselves in these difficult economic times.
Let’s face it part of the problem with corporate boards over the last fifty odd years, is that the CEO and Chairperson often don’t want people on the board who will actually challenge their thinking, but people who will look good on their letterhead and who can bring some good business, publicity and/or finance there way, but who otherwise will simply rubber stamp their strategic and executive decisions, without asking too many questions.
There’s no doubt that this short sighted, self-preserving way of thinking is one of the main contributors that has stopped boards diversifying and being more demographically representative.
When Jim Collins wrote about having the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and the right people in the right seats – he’s left it up to the reader to define their definition of ‘right’ – which appears to be slightly dangerous in today’s business world.
If organisations want to optimise their growth, the right people on the bus will be people who besides other things, will challenge the organisations thinking; people who will be innovative and look for ways to improve their performance and that of the organisation. This doesn’t mean they are arrogant or rude people who’ll burst into the CEO’s office, telling them that they’re an idiot and ‘this is the way’ things need to change or be done.
Far from it, as these are professional individuals, people who are ‘talented’, which is why you recruited them in the first place and why you should want to hear what they think. In the right organisational environment, with the right culture, they are skilled and confident enough to give their opinion about a subject they know something about, but talented enough to listen to other opinions and agree on the ‘leaders’ preferred way forward after a transparent debate.
It was Albert Einstein who said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious” and that’s what organisations need – humble but talented people who are passionate and curious, talent that through their curiosity will question and challenge the way things are done – not in a nasty self-centred way, but in a positive way that will enhance the organisations performance.  
In a fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review in May, 2010, Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt highlight how, “our recent research on leadership transitions demonstrates that nearly 40% of internal job moves made by people identified by their companies as 'high potentials' end in failure. Moreover, disengagement within this cohort of employees has been remarkably high since the start of the recession: In a September 2009 survey by the Corporate Executive Board, one in three emerging stars reported feeling disengaged from his or her company.”
If you don’t employ talented people who you want to challenge the status quo in your organisation, don’t be surprised when your bubble bursts. You might be successful now, but it won’t last, as your competitors with the right organisational approach and culture focused towards embracing talent will grow faster and more effectively in your market place. You will probably have forgotten about this article by then, blaming the bank for lack of financial support or your sales team for lack of progress – but unfortunately it will be due to your lack of effective leadership and your unwillingness to be challenged for the right reasons – that of the growth of your business.
Finally I’m reminded of the words of the American basketball coach, John Wooden who said; “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”
Martin, J. and Schmidt, C. (2010). How to Keep Your Top Talent. Harvard Business Review. [On-line: accessed 25.11.12]

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