I have always been an enthusiastic advocate for talent spotting in a business. It was brought to mind last week when I saw on TV, Jurgen Klopp, the manager of Liverpool Football Club talking about the January transfer window.
He made the point that even though he may spend £15 million on a new player in the end he was buying that player purely and simply on potential without certain knowledge of how he would fit into his team.
It was a matter of culture. Even though every precaution had been taken the only way to find out if he would fit in the team was to play him.
Rather wistfully he said "but that is football!"
Football it may be but that problem exists in business as well although thank Heaven the transfer fee system does not cloud our decision making when we hire a new candidate.
In their great management book, The Puritan Gift, Kenneth and Will Hopper make the point that even if we decide to parachute in an MBA it will take the shop floor 18 months to train them.
The fact is that there can be a major gap between the perceived potential of an individual and the actual performance. This can apply both to existing members of staff and equally to somebody who has just been recruited.
This is why I am keen to promote the idea of formal talent spotting within a business. One of the most important functions of HR should be the formal search for potential talent in the business and then the construction of a fast track for their career.
Equally the search for talent in a business needs to be a Board function with a director being specifically responsible for finding and developing really good people
The problem will always be when we are recruiting that we actually buy sight unseen even if we go through a stringent recruitment process. Interviews are not the best way to uncover the true potential. It comes down to whether they have the right attitude.
I remember an instance where a member of my Vistage CEO peer group recruited an accountant for the business. All the signs were good during the interview and he told me that the candidate had excellent technical ability.
He was accordingly appointed and spent the first week of his working life in the business playing Solitaire on the computer. Technical ability he may have had but his attitude was totally unacceptable.
What then is the best way both to uncover potential in a member of staff and then to ensure that the subsequent performance matches the potential?
While it is very difficult to make promises to anyone about their career I feel that it is a good idea at least to make it clear to them that they have been spotted, they seem to have the potential and they are on a fast track career path.
After that it is entirely up to the individual to justify the faith that has been put in to him or her and to ensure that the performance matches the potential.
Fast track career planning is not merely a plan. It demands regular checking on performance, on personal growth and on how the individual actually contributes to the success of the business.
If we are to go through the process of offering a career to talented people then as leaders we must ensure that every aspect of their life in the business is monitored.
This is not to say that they are under examination all the time but rather making them aware that they are privileged and the business is anxious to ensure that they succeed.
All of that can work well with an individual already in the business. The recruiting of people from outside can be an entirely different matter.
This is why any interview process must endeavour to uncover attitude in the candidate rather than emphasising their technical ability and experience.
The cost of recruitment can be double the annual salary and it is essential that as far as possible the recruitment process must be successful.
A friend of mine was the HR Director of a global company employing some 120,000 worldwide. He told me that if they achieved 50% success rate this was viewed as being more than acceptable.
The costs involved must have been horrendous.
Anyone recruited from outside must have some baggage from their previous employment and once again it is a matter of culture. The question to ask is was the culture of their previous job consistent with our culture.
If there is a mismatch and that is relatively simple to discover, then great care needs to be taken in recruiting that individual.
In an ideal world it is far more preferable to promote from inside the business. Obviously this is not always feasible but it is most definitely desirable.
Better to grow your own talent than to hope that somebody else will do it for you.
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