Developing New Talent

An ability to keep employees motivated is a key skill for any business leader and it is widely recognised that in any organisation productivity is directly proportional to the overall level of workforce motivation. Many business psychologists make very good livings by advising organisations on how they can improve employee motivation and their guidance often translates into significant improvements in organisational effectiveness.

Equally, there is evidence that a poorly motivated work force is associated with very negative outcomes ranging from high levels of workplace stress and interpersonal hostility to poor quality goods and services. In view of the fact that worker motivation is a key determinant of organisational success it is perhaps surprising that employers have not allocated more resources to maintaining and nurturing the very high levels of motivation that almost always accompany new graduate, or graduate equivalent, entrants.

An enduring characteristic of talented and creative young people is that they enter the world of work with considerable energy and incredible optimism about the future. New graduates (and even some not so new graduates) are typically so fired up to work and so keen to demonstrate their skills and abilities that they often need to be protected from over working. This is particularly the case now when the competition for posts is so fierce and so many graduates are desperate to gain employment.

However, in spite of this perfect storm of positive attitude, willingness to learn, desire to develop and ability to provide maximum effort most organisations either fail to respond or they significantly under-respond, i.e. they provide some training and development opportunities but far less than they could and should. In essence these employers are missing the golden opportunity to secure a current and future workforce of very well motivated employees because they simply do not recognise the full potential of their graduate intake.

The enthusiasm that new graduates bring to the workplace is often taken for granted when it should be harnessed; if new graduates were supported and developed fully it would in all probability result in a more dynamic work environment and why should this be true?, because enthusiasm and positive behaviours are infectious.

There is psychological evidence for this conclusion (particularly from work in the relatively new field of positive psychology) but readers happy to use common sense will probably see the assertion as blindingly obvious. Unfortunately, as opposed to high levels of motivation from new talent infecting more seasoned employees causing their motivation to be raised, what tends to happen is the exact opposite – new graduates almost invariably have their motivation adjusted downwards to be more aligned with that of the established workforce.

This process could easily be reversed but it would require organisations to spend more; to benefit fully from new talent organisations would need to increase their investment in their new recruits but, understandably given the fact that a considerable amount of resources have typically been used to attract and recruit new talent, organisations are somewhat reluctant to make further investments until they see some return. Prima facia this response appears logical, i.e. it is simply too risky to spend significant sums of money on new talent when you don’t know whether they will stay in the organisation or leave it, but there is actually a more compelling argument for spending the money than not spending it.

Chris Whiteley, a former Finance Director in Siemens, argues, “if you don’t develop young people they will move a lot sooner than they may otherwise move. People’s formative experiences always carry a large degree of weight and I would suggest any organisation that has respect for its own brand and any economic benefits that it brings should be fully prepared to finance graduate development initiatives.

The question of how much value for money one is getting from such action needs to be considered carefully against the economic landscape. In simple terms just like standing still is not an option for companies these days, not developing your most motivated employees, i.e. new graduates, is also not an option.” Chris makes the obvious point that if you want retain new talent you have to make ‘staying put’ attractive and the best way to do that is by demonstrating you value and trust them.

Once the argument for making more investment in developing new talent has been accepted the question to be addressed is, ‘what is the best way to develop these highly motivated, optimistic and energetic people?’ While there is no unique right answer to this question, the point made earlier in this article about positive attitudes and behaviours being infectious is one that logically leads to the conclusion that developing talented people alongside other talented people is highly desirable.

Creating a learning and development environment where lots of bright and well motivated people can interact with each other is an ideal way of maintaining and raising all those positive behaviours that are related to high levels of work performance. Although organisations can create such environments internally, and some large organisations already do, what these in-house programmes lack is variety. Organisations differ considerably in the demands they maker on their employees and consequently the skills that employees develop in response to these demands varies significantly across organisations.

The potential benefit, in terms of more effective work performance, to be realised by organisations supporting their employees to go outside and learn from peers working in other organisations is enormous and the business case for funding this type of external development programme is a compelling one, as Chris Whiteley explains; “with the transferable nature and inclination of today’s young workforce, there can be quite a debate around whether development should be in-house and insular to the organisation or external and open.

Both have merit in terms of their developmental benefits but I believe the financial case for internal academies for entry level talent has become more challenging because the retention rate is threatened by the popularised belief that young people can only develop by moving companies. I would say that it’s not so much the movement between companies that brings development benefits but exposure to and integration with others working in these different companies”.

Based on his strong convictions about how young talent should be developed Chris has developed a practical solution (i.e. an academy) for organisations that want to fully develop their graduate intakes, he explains, ‘Our Life, Leadership & Creativity Academy is an open development programme for graduate employees in any organisation. Participants are tutored and coached by a team comprising executive coaches, business psychologists and professionals with leadership experience; the vision is to create an innovative learning and development programme for emerging leaders who are currently in the infancy of their career.

The learning environment is one in which the enthusiasm, optimism and keenness to achieve excellence, which is so much a part of the young graduates make-up, is encouraged and nurtured by a team of highly experienced business professionals’. What is perhaps most attractive for organisations about this idea of an ‘external and open’ approach to developing entry level talent is that it offers their new graduates the development they need to realise their full potential without having to go to another company in order to get that all important variety of experience.

Gary Fitzgibbon
Chartered Psychologist and Executive Coach
T: 0845 111 6543

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