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The escape from the 'boring cage' of talent development

June 12 2012 - In 1871 Charles Darwin wrote that rabbits which grow up in a boring cage have brains that are 15-30% smaller than those of rabbits which develop in free nature. But when these animals have a large cage with new items every day and can play play with other rabbits, more connections grow between brain-cells.

Today there is no better parallel with Darwin's research results than the way in which organizations handle the coaching of 'new' employees and their individual talents - especially in the period immediately following the recruitment and selection process. Methods of coaching in this induction/orientation phase are diverse, particularly between organizations, and organizational size plays a distinct role. Dependent on the knowledge and skill of the employee, which should have been assessed during the recruitment and selection process, employees will be directly deployed on the working floor or will be provided with some form of 'work up' programme. Such introductory programmes are standardized as they were 20 years ago and focused on the job functions that ought to be implemented. In itself that is logical but organizations run various risks and the question is 'are they sufficiently taking notice of this.'

To engage and to fascinate

During this current time of economic stormy weather and the coming shortage in good qualified personnel in the job market it is essential for organizations that want to 'survive' or even play a leading role in their niche to engage and fascinate the right employees. As has been written in many publications, the Y-generation within this framework clearly demand a different approach from previous generations and the 'digital natives' i.e. the Z-generation have yet to make an impact on the job market. For these Y and Z-generations, concepts such as self-development, diversity and challenge are hot items, surely connected to the activities they would like to perform within organizations. It is also the case that employees outside these generations will be infected by the virus of possibilities, self-development and making the most of one's own talents. Here the parallel with Darwin's research results is clearly visible.

Standardizing and limited thinking i.e. the 'boring cage resulting in smaller brains' is no longer appropriate in the present situation given the need for new generation employees and the desired development of organizations. For this desirable development think of concepts like; empowerment, the new working order, self-control, flexibility and entrepreneurship or, to stay in Darwin's terms, 'the development of larger brains'. Many organizations are still insufficiently organized for this and implement methodologies that date from a period before the Y-generation. In short, there is a clear mismatch in facilitating employees when the recruiting and selection period has been completed.

Looking further than job descriptions

Richard van der Lee, Manager at Rabobank and author of several publications about talent development and HRM-issues in the Netherlands, has a clear picture for the source of mismatch and describes this as follows: "The mismatch doesn't originate from the lack of good intentions within organizations but will mainly be caused by the absence of 'fine tuning' at the level of the individual employee. Coaches or mentors (often line managers) theoretically have time to spare but because of the daily madness of working life cannot or will not make time for individual employees. Employees ask for real - not pretended - attention for their development and here there is a clear risk factor for employees and organizations.

"When organizations want to make use of a new employee's talents then it is necessary, besides developing basic skills related to the job, to give employees the necessary space and time to discover talents that go beyond those needed for that job. For unexpected reasons it can happen that an employee doesn't feel good in a new position or doesn't fulfil expectations but yet can excellently develop and display his or her talents for another post. With timely fine-tuning to facilitate thinking outside the job description and 'limited thinking', the employee can provide added value for a longer period and stay there for him/herself, the organization and eventually also for the customer."

The financial consequences of the mismatch

Madelon Eling and Fabio Antonutti, former decisionmakers of the Dutch company 'The Talentenbank' described the following:

"(this)... mismatch also has financial consequences for organizations. With a quantitative and not qualitatively executed recruitment and selection process, followed by a training path that is insufficiently tuned to the (latent) talents of new employees, organizations are regularly confronted with sudden and unexpected departures of new employees. Consequences are that the investments in new employees in terms of training, time and costs for coaching will be lost and usually a new recruitment and selection procedure has to be started. Moreover, image damage arises because ex-employees share their experiences consciously or consciously in their social networks, so that potential new employees are less inclined to apply for work with this organization. Given the frequent use of social media and the speed by which messages travel the world this indirect damage is not immediately visible but it is present.

It will be obvious that besides financial damage it also will be more damaging in other areas to keep unmotivated employees at home. To demonstrate the financial damage the following is an outcome of a research that completed earlier by interview-NSS. The costs of a new recruiting and selection procedure adds up to an average of € 15.000 to 20.000. Of course this sum will significantly differ by organization and function but it indicates that a lot of money is involved in recruitment and selection and costs for training, coaching, etc. are not even taken into account. Often the overall picture is missing for this area within organizations. Training, onboarding with time spent by the different persons concerned, introduction days and recruitment and selection are not always accounted for within the same budget. Owing to this, organizations often get no total picture of the actual costs that are involved with recruitment and selection and the subsequent induction period."

Organizations get what they deserve

In the article " Use more intuition during the recruitment & selection process" Van der Lee pleads for thinking 'outside the box' with the goal of engaging talent. This does not simply apply to the recruitment and selection process but for all parts of the input-, through-put, and exit process. He states that:

"Tuning the process of facilitating new employees after the recruitment and selection period will improve organizations' profits, besides increasing involvement and interaction between the executive and employee. It is essential that the expectations being created during the recruitment and selection process also will be fulfilled. Within this framework organizations can learn from errors made, by providing good exit interviews and not let the evolving do's and don'ts be confused. As part of coaching and the development of leadership and with sufficient effort this can immediately be implemented and be used to establish the principle of 'the right person in the right place' within all layers of the organization. The essence of this article is that organizations get what they deserve. Organizations nowadays want innovative, enterprising and committed employees and to realise this it is necessary to have a 'hands-on' approach. Firstly throw the oppressive thinking tied to job descriptions or, in Darwin's terms, the 'boring cage' overboard. This requires vision and guts by HRM and line management - the guts to think of talent and development!

To finish this article and to emphasize the sense of urgency we close with another quotation of Charles Darwin, which in our opinion is very striking. (In keeping with modern gender equality, we changed the word 'man' into 'person' because it is all about persons with talents - and not just men!)

"The person who dares to waste an hour has not yet discovered life."

About the author

Richard van der Lee

Richard van der Lee is working as a Manager at Rabobank in the Netherlands. Besides that Richard is Talent Entrepreneur at his own company ‘Vision on Talent Consultancy'. He published several articles/blogs which have been published on several HRM-sites and a website for managers and directors in the Netherlands and Belgium). He gives advice to individuals/organizations about talentdevelopment-issues and is also asked to give presentations about his vision on HRM-issues in seminars. As part of an Executive MBA he researched the development of individual talent in organizations. This resulted in a specific ideology for organizations, and a corresponding model on how to build a ‘vision on talent'. The main component of the model is the strong relationship between relevant market perspectives and organizational perspectives. A version of this article was earlier published in the Netherlands on several websites and is translated from Dutch into English by Joop van der Lee.

Website: Visieoptalent

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