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'Limited thinking': an obstruction for employees and organizations!

by Richard van der Lee

January 23 2012 - A long time ago Greek philosopher Socrates (469-399 BC) wrote the following profound words: "Let him who would move the world first move himself". From this perspective it is interesting to look at HRM concepts that indirectly relate to the word movement, like employability and empowerment. These concepts are important when organizations set their goals for the coming year and targets are defined. The movement and exploitation of Human Capital is a hot issue in these dynamic times as the market is constantly changing and, for many organizations, this requires employees with different skills from past decades. Because of automation, outsourcing, streamlining of processes or just a decreasing share in the market, reducing workforce numbers or refreshing them within organizations is desirable and/or unavoidable. Achieving the desired flow of talent at the employee level within many organizations requires competency management or talent management. Richard van der Lee, Manager Retail Clients at Rabobank in the Netherlands asks if the way organizations deal with these methodologies can lead to the right moves. Below he describes his personal opinion and findings.

Focus on what is going wrong

Competencies are often linked or related to a job description and function domains . Immediately, we have the first limitation. Based on what I read, see and hear it regularly emerges that executives often focus on desirable competencies, which employees in their view do not optimally master, instead of aiming at further development of competencies which are already strong. By doing so there is no exploitation of employees' talents and strength. Employees themselves often influence this process, intentionally or unintentionally. Ask employees, in relation to the functions they hold, to name development issues that are critical to them and how they can be developed. Such development issues can be listed quickly and employees as well as executives can soon arrive at desired actions. But when the same employees are asked to specify the talents they possess that are not directly related to their functions, they may struggle to provide an answer. Individual talents are always present but certainly not directly visible in all cases. By means of good observation and a broader search, however, these talents can be detected. Then action can be taken for further development on behalf of employees and the organization. By doing so employees can be triggered to start moving and to look at opportunities within other departments in the organization - or even outside the organization. To put it briefly, think outside function profiles and exploit the talent present. To return to ancient times, Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 BC) made a statement that is still relevant: "To see what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice".

Outside the boxes

There is another significant issue that organizations have to deal with in this context: the pressure originating from strategic planning. Organizations often have to deal with multiple developments of interest to strategic planners. Consequently there may be endless enumerations of organization objectives to be carried out. These objectives are translated to the level of the individual employee in the form of result-objectives and function-related competencies, when standardization of competencies at function level is common. Through this policy it is very difficult for executives and employees to jointly create the space for the development of individual talents. These talents do not have to fit directly within function profiles but are of interest for the movement of skills and development at an individual level. Incidentally, limiting attention to talents that fit function profiles provides a good excuse for employees and executives, for by standardization and not having to think outside function profiles extra time will be saved, and now-a-days time is not something that is abundantly present. However, employees as well as organizations do have an interest to think outside function profiles and create room to give an interpretation to this. Focus, time and space are hereby the investments needed to realize the flow of talent.

A wrong signal

Recently I read a research article which suggests that employees in the Netherlands are well-satisfied with the possibilities of self-development in the workplace and that they feel they can utilize their talents. Assuming this research paints a true picture of the situation, it provides a very positive image about the development of talent, from which I make the assumption that development of talent also provides movement in organizations. The following cited questions and their answers attracted my attention:

The interviewees indicated that most of the time they could freely use a big part of their working time in accordance with their own views and that they are stimulated in the workplace to utilize their qualities.

Another eye-catching outcome of this research is that the majority of the interviewed Dutch professionals (85%) are allowed to self determine their working hours, of whom more than half do so regularly to frequently.

It is tremendous that employees get freedom and trust and I am pleased to hear this. However I do not directly see that the relation with development of talent and its movement outside the function profile will emerge. Self-development is also in my opinion looking over the function boundaries or in this case the assigned job. My conclusion is that these kind of researches certainly are valuable but also can produce an incomplete view by which possible 'limited thinking' will be preserved and this cannot be the intention.

Emphasizing the flow of talent

Assuming the earlier described citation of Socrates, the question is what HRM and organization heads will do to facilitate and to bring the desired movement into motion. My view is that organizations should place available Human Capital on top of the strategic agenda. HRM may not and cannot be satisfied with a supporting role and has to take the lead, whereby eventually an additive value can be provided within the desired role of strategic business partner. Movement starts with changing the mindset and the agenda. The motto is to highlight the employee and the customer, because if this is not done the desired and necessary flow of talent through the organization will not take place.

About the author

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. Email Richard for questions or suggestions to, or find him on twitter under the name @visieoptalent or visit his website Visieoptalent. 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.


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