Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

When expertise becomes an enemy of quality service 8 – helping good employees with potential to become great employees 4

Posted in career development, HR and personnel, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on March 1, 2016

This is my eighth installment to a series on expertise, and on what an employee or manager needs to bring along with it, if it is to offer real value and either to themselves or to the business they work for (see my supplemental postings section at the end of Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 69 and following, for Parts 1-7.)

I have been writing in this series about soft, interpersonal skills such as communications skills and how developing and improving them in employees can be managed, and in essentially the same way that developing and improving more hands-on technical and management skills are. And then in Part 7, and as a part of that ongoing narrative, I offered brief and selective descriptions of two very different and distinctive companies which I identified as the Alpha Company and Omega Company, with:

• Alpha a mature manufacturing business working in a stable and technologically settled industry, and
• Omega a more fast-paced enterprise that focuses on producing and providing the newest and greatest in a very rapidly evolving high-tech field such as consumer electronics.

And most all of Company Alpha’s employees have been and can expect to remain employed there long term, and even for most or all of their work lives, with Alpha developing and maintaining a relatively insular corporate culture, and a largely static and fixed system of operational and I add strategic processes and ways. Company Omega on the other hand is always seeking that ephemerally changing cutting edge, and both in its technology and the skills and experience of its employees, and in keeping abreast of its market’s ever-changing needs and demands. Omega has a much more active employee turnover as it is always looking for new employees with the next up and coming technical skills, and it is always looking for current employees who are not keeping up as rapidly. They even, in effect have quotas there, seeking to leaven their staff with new fresh blood and more cutting edge skills, while dropping an equal number of their lower performing employees to match their hiring to keep their overall headcount steady. Omega’s owners and senior managers see their business as representing a pure meritocracy where talent and performance can rise to the top – and where deficiencies in those traits and inability to keep up means an employee would be better off elsewhere.

I ended Part 7 by raising the issue of correctability for gaps and limitations to employee and manager skills at a business, and the question of how an employing business would address this type of challenge. And I did so with a primary focus on soft, interpersonal skills as they represent an arena that most businesses are slower to positively respond to with training options, and opportunities for improving workplace and career skills. I will address this here, but I start out with a broader focus that would also address hands-on technical skills training and improvement options, and management training as well.

I just wrote more towards the start of this posting that Alpha and Omega are “two very different and distinctive companies” and they are in many respects. But let’s consider them both again, and from the perspective of employee and manager development.

The Omega Company might offer at least their most promising non-managerial employees, or lower or mid-level managers at least some training support – provided that they were essentially certain to make the cut for being retained at the business anyway, when employees are let go. But if they in fact do have the type of at least-almost quota, for dismissal for underperformance that I just noted, this type of employer sponsored and supported training benefit would only be offered selectively and even very selectively – and even if it were cited more widely as a marketing point about the business for convincing best job candidates to come onboard. Selection of employee candidates for this would be made on a more case-by-case basis, and the process governing that would be more ad hoc in nature.

The Alpha Company would not, most likely see need for offering training support for employees or managers per se, and certainly not as a systematically offered program for staff development. So if this were to be offered, for example in addressing emerging problems faced by individual employees or managers of long-standing with the company, that would also be done on a more case-by-case basis. And once again, the process governing that would be more ad hoc in nature.

• So for this, and as an end result consideration for staffing management throughout the table of organization as a whole, Company Alpha and Company Omega come to sound very much alike.

Now let’s consider what for purposes of this discussion, would qualify as a more middle-ground company, which for purposes of this posting I will identify as the Mesotech Corporation. Mesotech, unlike Alpha, is a business that seeks to stay more cutting edge in its processes and technologies so it can remain competitive in a changing industry. It is not a largely legacy, backwater company and it does not function in an essentially stagnant, mature industry or serve the needs of a settled market. But at the same time Mesotech, unlike Omega sees its current employees as its greatest asset and it sees their in-house knowledge and expertise as holding real value – and value of a type that could not be acquired on the outside and that would have to build and developed in-house in any new hire to bring them up to speed and fully productively working there.

• Mesotech is much more likely to see value in employee and manager training and in staffing enrichment at all levels in the organization.

I ended Part 7 by stating that helping good employees to become great employees is all about identifying potential problems early, and course correcting from that initial point of discovery and realization as quickly and efficiently as possible. I stated that I would address that complex of issues next and added that I would also discuss the issues of “correctable” in the context of communications and interpersonal skills challenges and how these issues can and do raise risk management concerns.

Ultimately, and looking past that one skills area as a special case of employee development per se, what correctable means here becomes a cost-benefits analysis exercise, and for soft skills when they are allowed into this discussion just as much as for technical and managerial skills when they are allowed in. What is cost-effectively correctable, and for whom? Any valid answer to that will depend on the business model and the corporate culture in place, at least as much as it does on any bookkeeping or accounting, monetary considerations.

Would the Alpha Company benefit from more actively offering their employees and managers opportunity to upgrade and enhance their skills and across the board? Probably yes. Would they do this? The answer to that is equally probably going to be no, unless of course their owners and executive managers were willing to open themselves and their business up to change as a whole, and to breaking out of its perhaps comfortable but still stultifying inertia.

Would the Omega Company benefit from more actively offering their employees and managers opportunity to upgrade and enhance their skills and across the board? The answer to that is probably yes too. And if they were to allow for growth and if they were open to really capitalizing on the potential of their current employees and on bringing the best out of them as individuals they might agree with that – if they were willing to make the changes in their business model and more particularly in their corporate culture that this change would demand. Accepting this would require them to rethink and even fundamentally discard their whole vision of their company as the type of meritocracy that they proclaim it to be.

I started this series focusing on individual employees and the issues that they face, and on citing the business and its workplace environment as contributing to that but with the individual employee as a central point of focus. Part 7 and this posting have turned all of that around and looked at the issues of this series from the employing business perspective, and how an employer and its systems can contribute to or even fundamentally create employee problems. Both perspectives: employee out to employer, and employer in to the level of the employee, enter into understanding and addressing these issues and these challenges.

And this leaves me with that only briefly touched upon Mesotech Corporation, and on what they do and why in developing and supporting their current employees. And it leaves me with the question of how they decide to dismiss employees when they do that too, and certainly when non-performance or under-performance are the primary cause for taking that action. And it leaves open the issues and questions of how they hire too and of how they present themselves as a business and as a place to work. I am going to turn in my next series installment to at least begin to consider all of this and more, and in some detail – and businesses that actively embrace opportunity to develop their employees and managers as a route to strong, reliable competitive excellence. And in that regard, I note that I began this series by discussing problems faced and I have now turned to address approaches for resolving them.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 (with this included as a supplemental posting there) and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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