The Corporate Goldsmith: Unearthing, Refining & Nurturing Talent

Leadership is about identifying the right qualities in a candidate and providing the most appropriate ecosystem to extract the best performance

Updated: Dec 2, 2016 10:46:38 AM UTC
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The head of supply chain looked worried. He walked into my room lamenting about the recruitment team’s inability to fill-in a key position in his team even after months of persistence.

He was looking for a sourcing and procurement manager with a specialisation in pharmaceuticals. The candidate needed to be a qualified pharmacist with direct relevant expertise in sourcing and procuring pharmaceutical goods. He had to be an excellent supplier relationship manager, communicator and negotiator who excelled in commercial aspects. Given the budgetary constraints, the candidate had to be a relatively young person – somebody senior would be more expensive and unaffordable.

The recruitment head pleaded helplessness – if there were people with a good pharmaceutical background, they were not necessarily good at procurement and vice versa. Candidates who met all the criteria were quite senior and way too expensive. Given the “gold standards” that the hiring manager was seeking, it was impossible to find a single candidate that met all the requirements.

Gold Standards The mention of “gold standards” set me thinking. For thousands of years, gold has been synonymous with beauty and value conjuring up images of royalty, exquisite ornaments and resplendent settings. Today the consumer is spoilt for choice with a highly evolved ornament market. However, no one spares a thought to the manner in which these beautiful ornaments come into existence.

The source of gold is its ore - gold in its oxidised natural state which is painstakingly collected from beneath the earth’s surface. This ore is subjected to highly complex chemical processes, concentrated and refined to remove impurities. The pure gold is then fabricated into a bar which a skilled goldsmith fashions into an intricate ornament. Finally polished with a lot of care, it is further embellished with diamonds and precious stones to be presented as an exquisite work of art coveted by the prospective buyer.

The Corporate Goldsmith
Finding the right human talent is not very different. Almost always, it exists in a raw form. Education and training refines the person to a certain degree of maturity and usefulness, preparing him to perform certain generic tasks. This raw potential needs to be further refined, shaped and augmented by skillful managers, for this potential to be effectively applied on the job. This task of refining talent becomes particularly relevant and necessary in today’s age of fast-emerging innovations and technologies (e.g. Internet of Things, driverless cars, etc) where learnings from previous experiences are scarce.

The point I am making is that there is significant work to be done in shaping young technocrats, managers and leaders to deliver “gold standards”. If each member of your team is already geared for deployment, precisely knows what to do and is capable of achieving the expected outcomes, what is the need for a leader?

In a dynamic and aggressive business environment, it is common for hiring managers to look for candidates who can “hit the road running”. The expectation is for a new hire to meet most (if not all) of the role requirements precisely and be capable of producing results within a few weeks. Such talent, while available, may be hard to unearth. Even assuming that the best person for the role has been hired, it is still the manager’s responsibility to guide, refine, embellish, and shape his or her talent, in the push towards excellence. Managers need to try and get the best talent possible for a role but they should also be prepared to shape it, hone it and provide the right operating environment.

Lessons From Metallurgy
Coming back to our situation, I advised the team to look for someone with the best possible fit but having the right aptitude and attitude to learn. Right attitude and willingness to learn help overcome many of the obvious limitations. If this person met six out of the ten attributes required for the role, he could be trained and refined into gold. With a favourable environment and continuous mentoring, he would become an excellent performer.

However, a word of caution: Refining, shaping, polishing and converting to an ornament works only if the “ore” is of the right material. A piece of iron does not turn into an ornament no matter what exquisite treatment it is subjected to. Ferrous oxide has its uses and requires a different treatment to make it useful, not necessarily as an ornament.

Leadership is also about identifying the right material and providing the most appropriate ecosystem to extract best performance. Even gold needs to be maintained well and polished from time to time to retain its splendour. Human talent needs similar care.

The need is for every leader to be a corporate goldsmith!

- By Narayanan Sampath, Vice President & Business Head for India, Asia-Pacific and Europe at Infosys BPO. The views expressed here are his personal views.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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