Recently, a vice president at a Fortune 500 company was speaking with us about a meeting he had had with his executive team.
It was a good meeting. We discussed the talent development opportunities for the up and comers, and I feel confident that we have a strong bench to back fill any important positions that might open up.
Did you ask them and the rest of your organization about their hopes for talent development?
Maybe we’ll do that next time.
The meeting is not unusual. The dominant theme at many talent development conferences and in the current literature is about how business objectives must drive talent development. The model is top-down, command and control. “The company needs the following results, and we design our talent development programs to deliver them. Our throughput is ____ and our metrics show ____ level of retention and application.” Purveyors of such programs have a mechanistic view of how people engage in the organizations. It’s like Newtonian physics. For each action, there is a reaction.
Are you trying to drive your people?
It would make complete sense, except that people aren’t machines and don’t like to be “driven” like cattle. Certainly, such programs have a role for transferring knowledge and helping people learn how to complete routine tasks. However, they aren’t likely to get the breakthroughs in new ideas and genuine engagement that we need for innovation and growth of both organizations and their human capital.
When companies pursue engagement from the perspective of how do we get employees to contribute more than what they are being paid for (i.e. discretionary effort), they have lost right out of gate. This transactional view of engagement stimulates a shortsighted response from employees. “OK, I’ve got my skills. You’re my employer. How are we going to barter? What’s the deal?”
Wellsprings of Talent takes a different tack to move talent development from a transactional paradigm to a generative paradigm. Based upon the near universal desire of people to tap more of their own talent and experience the resulting satisfaction, we provide ways to help them put their yearnings into action. This generative view shifts the dynamic. “I want to use my talents. I want to expand what I can accomplish. How can my employment be a forum for me to do that? How can we make it work for both me and my employer?”
Here is a critical choice for organizations. How much of a command-control structure do we need to insure that we can deliver outstanding results? How much can we work with people and their generative nature and trust that things will work out…perhaps even better than we could have imagined? How much of each of these paradigms is right for us? The companies that give lip service to engagement but lean heavily on command and control are seen right through and the efforts flounder. Firms wonder, “Why isn’t it working?” It’s because the underlying ethos, and more importantly practices, don’t support self-generated engagement.
When people get into transactional mode, it triggers their fearful brain. Everything is a negotiation. “What are you going to give me for my extra effort? Is it fair? Who’s going to come out ahead? Who’s in charge? Do I like him or her?” That line of thinking takes us to the wrong set of questions. They won’t help us get to our best work. But, organizations sure spend a lot of time on these issues and questions.
Even positive answers to the transactional questions won’t be fulfilling. For example, so what if the deal is fair? Lack of fairness can kill motivation, but fairness doesn’t inspire it. The transactional view fixes attention on all of the wrong things. The generative view focuses on what I am doing to identify, develop, apply, and celebrate what I can contribute. How am I reaching and connecting with my coworkers and others to accomplish that?
Tap sustaining self-motivation
When we are in a generative place, we’re looking for how to make things better not only for ourselves but also for other people. Our spirits are full. “This is working for us, how is it working for our coworkers, our boss, and our organization?” We can take this stand when we choose to come from a place of deep engagement and tap our best thinking.
The generative view has a strong foundation in the latest scientific understandings of how natural systems such as beehives and flowing streams adapt, shift, and organize themselves. This alternative organizational paradigm emerging from the work of Margaret Wheatley [see, for example, Leadership and the New Science (Berrett-Koehler, 1999)] and others invites us to unleash the human capacity for self-organization.
More recently, Daniel Pink has challenged the traditional transactional assumptions that incentives yield performance in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Riverhead, 2011). He notes that while piecework production responds to monetary incentives, today’s knowledge workers don’t. They seek autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
When, organizations honestly embrace helping employees develop the talents that they are inspired to use, they gain a powerful, self-motivated workforce.