Unlocking a work force's latent talent
New management techniques can help grow the bottom line
Posted: February 27, 2013
By Michael Finnegan
For the Post
Finally, bosses may have to hang up their red faces and pointing fingers as a new wave of progressive management techniques helps businesses to make the most of their staff.
The company of the future will not rely on holographic screens and fancy keyboards. Instead, it breeds an atmosphere where talent is nurtured and even the lowliest clerk can make a meaningful contribution.
At least that is what Clive Wilson, deputy chairman at Primeast, explained at a recent workshop organized by the British Chamber of Commerce Czech Republic in Prague. His program saw a dozen of the Czech Republic's entrepreneurs and managers getting together to discover how their businesses could remain competitive in these difficult economic times.
"Over the past 25 years, I have helped businesses perform," Wilson says. "Performance is the most important thing in the world of work. The companies that perform are the ones that stay in business, and that only comes by deploying the strengths of your staff."
He and the company he works for, Primeast, have spent the last quarter of a century working with businesses, organizations and communities around the globe, educating them in the fields of leadership, change and teamwork. It is Wilson's belief that big businesses are slowly starting to realize traditional methods of development are no longer effective and are being forced to look elsewhere out of necessity.
"A lot of companies still use outmoded practices," Wilson says. "The average business spends about 80 percent of its training budget developing people in their areas of weakness, and it has been proved time and time again that you get a much better return on investment by developing their strengths."
What he advises businesses to do is to concentrate on what people do bring to the table and not to worry about what they do not.
Contemporary talent management is derived from management practices developed in the United States in the 1980s, but it was not widely practiced until three consultants working at McKinsey & Company - Ed Michaels, Helen Handfield-Jones and Beth Axelrod - released a publication entitled "War on Talent."
The mantra of the book, which is also the motto of McKinsey & Company, was: "Recruit the best and make great use of them." Their reformist stance undoubtedly boosted the performance of companies across the United States, but the problem, according to Wilson, was that it only focused on the top 10 percent of highly talented members of staff.
Even today, most companies still work within these outmoded frameworks, Wilson says, where a small selection of high-potential employees receive training and development, while the rest are left to menial tasks that leave them feeling uninspired and miserable. The knock-on effect is that staff that do not fit into this elitist clique consider themselves "untalented" as a result.
According to Wilson, when you unlock the skills of all of your staff, and they feel valued, they are in a much better position to achieve the goals of the company, and the benefit is that business leaders free up more time to focus on their own jobs.
"To give you an example, the director of one of our most successful clients, Cape plc., spent nearly all of his time solving the problems of his managers, instead of concentrating on the more important tasks of his job, like strategy and key alliances," Wilson says.
"Finally, he had decided enough was enough and called us in to help. We spent our time empowering his managers and helping them bring into play their own unique talents. That meant the director could get on with what he needed to, and they ultimately went on to win last year's Oil and Gas Awards."
Alex Went, head of communications at the British Chamber of Commerce Czech Republic, agrees it is important to develop talent. "Progressive techniques such as those offered by Primeast have the effect of presenting essential new ways of looking at antiquated structures," he says. "They take a contemporary approach to talent management, and their training programs drive companies of all shapes and sizes forward in a rapidly changing business environment."
Jiří Kocich, executive assistant at the Wall Street Institute, who attended Wilson's workshop in Prague, also believes there is something to talent management. He emphasizes the importance of recognizing the individuality of each member of staff and the dangers of letting one's ego get in the way when trying to achieve a goal. "Ultimately, it's about having good knowledge of your work force and developing the discerning type of mind that allows you to make the most of them," he says.
Wilson says talent management should be a fundamental part of every business, not only because it boosts productivity, but because it is the only way to make people's life at work meaningful.
"It is about helping them understand who they are and what is going on around them," he says. "And in working through that, how they can best serve their organization and its end customer."
Michael Finnegan can be reached at email@example.com