Developing people, developing talents


I heard an interesting interview on FM 93.8 LIVE today in its “Small Talk, Big Returns” show. It was an interview of a Ms Sylvia Fernandez who practices motivation and leadership development using the methods of book author and leadership consultant Aubrey C. Daniels.

The interview struck me because I share the sentiments expressed by Ms Fernandez. She cited the example of Enron, the failed US Energy giant. It had a model of paying top dollars to buy top talents into the company, talents being defined narrowly by bright people with high academic achievements. They quickly learn the behaviours of the company and propogate the same behaviours because the leaders were looking for people who would exhibit the behaviours they wanted. Enron had over relied on a small group of intelligent people with bright results while ignoring the rest.

She said that while we should pay for talent, we should never undervalue the rest. Develop people, help them grow organically. Turn your organisation focus inwards too. There are talented people inside, even if they do not have the academic qualifications or perceived high IQ that some from outside come with. Identify people, take them up, reinforce them, inspire them to do more and make them fly. This will lead to great productivity gains in the company. Inspire people in your organisation to do more. There are a lot of misplaced and demotivated people in organisations. We need to take them from mastery of whatever areas they are already in, into fluency, even if it takes many hours of patient training and cultivation.

She cited studies that showed that exceptional performance and IQ does not have a strong co-relation and hence we should not be overly focused on just getting people with bright results and assume they can do exceptionally well in the organisation.

I recall my own experience as an entrepreneur growing a start-up, patiently growing from a 4-man company into a sizeable player in our industry. We started to grow rapidly only when we looked for talents internally, identified highly motivated individuals and gave them challenges to grow the areas they were in, or even create new areas which we allowed them to run with autonomy. They were not people with sterling academic results. In fact, one who rose to later lead the software development team orginally graduated from a vocational institution. The one who rose to manage sales and eventually the company’s entire operations originally had a polytechnic degree in a non-related field. They had started from the most junior positions in the company. Most of the rest who rose to key positions had started from the junior ranks, mostly with unimpressive academic results. They impressed with their exhibited self-drive and desire for continuous learning. This is not to say we did not value those that came with good academic qualifications. We had some with good academic results who did well too. The point is that many organisations follow too narrowly on the model that people with solid academic results are automatically talent and should be fast-tracked to leadership roles.

So I could immediately identify with what she spoke about. In this age when we need to raise productivity in organisations greatly to stay competitive, we need a different mindset in the way we identify, cultivate and motivate people. Only then can we get quantum leaps in productivity. You never know what gems there are in your organisation until you start to look inwards. Organisations that were successful in the past may become entrenched in their own past success that they start to identify only people who follow their same mould and forget how to reinvent themselves for the future, just like Enron. So we also need to be open-minded about our definition of talents and guard against in-breeding.

Being a politician now, I wonder if we should apply this to the way talents are identified and developed in government and politics as well. Hmm…

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