Either nurture your organisation’s talent or employ drones instead

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In the ever-competitive commercial world where recruiting and keeping top talent is paramount, we need a subtle but rigorous approach in nurturing such individuals and teams.

There has been a cartoon illustration doing the rounds on the Internet for a while now. It shows a row of candidates lined up ready for to take an entry test into an organisation. The candidates include an elephant, a monkey, a goldfish, a seal, a bird, a dog and a penguin. The official sitting behind the desk is saying: “For a fair selection everyone has to take the same exam: please climb that tree”. It’s not very subtle, but it does illustrate the ludicrous one-size-fits-all approach we often take to recruitment and talent development. 

A so-called strengths approach to human development is not a new phenomenon. Marcus Buckingham and Don Clifton’s seminal airport lounge text ‘Now Discover Your Strengths,’ is now over ten years old. And while some major organisations have embraced strengths into their recruitment strategies, very few go on to fully exploit this potentially innovative and radical approach. Buckingham defined a strength as a “consistent, near perfect performance in an activity.” This elite functionality is viewed as the synergy of ‘natural’ talent supplemented by the requisite knowledge and skills that form the dynamism of outstanding performance. The research that underpins this approach also demonstrates a scope way beyond simple performance metrics. Benefits can include improved wellbeing, higher levels of optimism and greater motivation.

Even if your business deals in programmatic algorithms and machine learning, you still shouldn't think of the actual individuals that make up your company as interchangeable drones. Individuals have different personalities and strengths that lend themselves to differing methodologies, approaches and working styles.

At Forward3D we have implemented a strengths approach that covers three crucial aspects of the business: support and development of senior leaders; high performance and increased efficiencies at team level; and a strengths based recruitment and retention model.

It is often said that an organisation’s greatest assets are its people, but more accurately its greatest assets are its peoples’ strengths and talent. The problem is that these assets are not well understood or fully exploited - especially at leadership level. Such assets can be defined as an individual’s pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that enables optimal functioning or performance that is authentic and energising to the user. All leaders and managers have strengths, but they do not always use them, or feel encouraged to use them at work, to their maximum potential. By helping leadership identify and nurture their own particular modus that fits both their own unique style and that of their teams, we have seen an increase in confidence and performance.

This approach has also been extended to developing our teams at F3D. We employ a vibrant, agile model of team development where from day one graduates are trained and developed to be multi skilled and multi faceted. As such, all individuals within teams have the capability to step up into each other’s roles, dependent on the context and the needs of the client, so a competencies model sits at the heart of training the workforce to a high level. But in addition, we integrate this with a strengths approach that acts as a leverage point to bring such competencies into play. So for example, a development competency may include the requirement to develop sophisticated client facing skills. But this may not necessarily mean that everyone has to become ‘jazz-hands’ charismatic to achieve this. It may well be that an individual’s natural strength is to be highly articulate in technical linguistics, and that the way the client facing skill is enhanced is via a well-tuned and sharp visual presentation deck that delivers all that the clients needs to see and understand - but crucially, it emanates from the core ability and talent bias of this team member.

This combination of skill and talent leveraging is what makes a difference to people’s performance. Fusing strengths: what a person is innately strong in, loves doing and is energised by, to technical and competency development is the way to create outstanding performance and happy clients.

This approach also translates into diverse teams where individual talent is harnessed to invoke an even more potent team dynamic that can be expressed through the collective. Gallup reported a 12.5% increase in the productivity of teams whose managers had received a ‘strengths intervention’. But it doesn’t stop there - when colleagues get used to tuning in to their talent capabilities and using them on a daily basis, it also encourages them to go on and develop mastery in those areas. Mastery often manifests itself eventually as outstanding leadership and so provides an ongoing pipeline of next-gen managers and sector shapers.

Finally, we have introduced a strengths assessment component to graduate recruitment. We still give a rounded opportunity for applicants to meet teams, to prove their technical prowess and to have access to all levels of key staff to measure proper fit for both parties. But we’ve also now added a psychometric test layer to their application that adds an additional level of granularity to the process. This gives colleagues another lens through which to view the natural inclinations and proclivities of our applicants, but also gives up the opportunity to provide valuable feedback – both to successful and unsuccessful candidates.

This approach has proven very popular as even in the disappointment of not gaining position at F3D, individuals are given crucial insights and feedback that should help them in their next job application. And for those who are successful, it signals our ongoing commitment to supporting their development in the areas that motivate and energise them most – a critical factor in retaining our talented staff and leaving drone style recruitment to lazy employers.

About Gary Pritchard

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