We might like to think that two people doing the same job will produce similar levels of output, but in practice there can be significant differences. Certain people are twice as productive, sometimes even five times as productive, as others. In these challenging times, being able to identify, recruit and develop these rare performers can mean the difference between business success and failure.
When recruiting a senior team member, we find that organisations often place too much emphasis on a candidate’s CV and qualifications, sometimes overlooking the personal attributes that will potentially make them a perfect addition to the business. This has been backed up by a recent study which examined the findings from over 2,000 interviews with high level candidates - the analysis interestingly revealed that qualifications are not an essential ingredient for becoming a high-performing employee – or ‘star’, as we call them.
The findings showed that further education certainly helps - seven per cent of graduates go on to become ‘stars’ while just two per cent of those who finished their studies after doing their A-Levels do so. However, education only contributes up to a certain point – those people assessed with post-graduate qualifications were no more likely to be business leaders than those educated to degree level.
The results also revealed that teamwork is the area where stars tend to be least strong. They score as well as their lower performing colleagues in this area, but it is rarely an outstanding feature of their profile.
So looking beyond the CV, what should employers look for when searching for a potential senior team member for their business? Brains are the most important element – the ability to analyse complex information and make sound judgements. Second is hard work – the best leaders put more effort in. Third is emotional resilience – the ability to remain emotionally stable and balanced amid the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. After those three dimensions, interpersonal warmth and openness to new ideas are the next best predictors of executive success.
It’s also important to note that while these skills are transferrable across industry, the importance and relevance of each will vary depending on context. In big corporates the CEO needs to manage across scale, and leverage his/her influence through teams of others. In SMEs or private equity-backed businesses it is much more about being a jack of all trades and moving at pace. In the public sector process-adherence, inclusion and stakeholder management are more important. But you still need brains, hard work and emotional stability whatever the context.
Once you’ve found a potential star, how do you ensure you develop them to the best of their ability? And more importantly, can you train them to become one? The simple answer is yes. Deliberate practice combined with the right opportunities and a dash of luck can convert those with potential into genuine high-performers. But the most important objective is to get stars into your organisation in the first place – as a rule, companies and organisations should spend 70 per cent of their HR resource on selection and assessment, and 30 per cent on learning and development (talent management).
It is essential to cultivate talent to ensure a progressive, evolving organisation, yet embedding a talent management programme can be tricky. Getting buy-in from those that matter is key to its success. Through our ongoing talent management work with The Co-operative Group, we shared some of our learnings with delegates at our latest thought leadership event in London. At the event, Jackie Lanham from The Co-operative Group and Keith McCambridge, who heads up our London office, revealed the following five core principles for embedding talent management programmes within a business.
One - emphasise the context for change. Unfreezing existing behavioural patterns is one of the greatest challenges in introducing change, and the economic context, for example job security and market competitiveness, can be leveraged to trigger senior buy-in, or encourage the adoption of fresh working practices. Two - tedious process kills engagement. Although you will need clear processes backstage in order to underpin an efficient talent or leadership development programme, you should limit the visibility of it.
Three - focus on winning over the ‘naysayers’. These are the cynics of the process, and their behaviour is critical to the success and pace of change across the organisation. If they do not believe it will work, they signal this to others enflaming resistance and contaminating the messaging.
Four - focus development on those who want it. Seek to uncover and understand each individual’s motivations for engaging with the process. A person’s focus on their career can change dramatically over time, and timing development interventions to suit their personal aspirations and life commitments will help ensure you focus your resources wisely. And finally - keep it alive. The succession plan and talent pool should be managed proactively and continually.” .
Colin Mercer is Managing Director of search and talent consultancy Wickland Westcott