Talent Isn’t Everything

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You can’t fix a broken situation by hiring better talent. There, I said it—and it feels almost blasphemous. But we’ve all seen great hires step into a dysfunctional environment and gradually become part of the existing (dis)order. As much as we hope to change organizations by hiring great people, the fact remains that existing conditions just carry too much weight.

 Photo credit: Bksimonb, Wikimedia Commons

This is not a new phenomenon. One of the greatest “strengths” of the Han Chinese of Medieval China was their ability to absorb and assimilate conquerors. Historians of the era agree:

“The conquerors in some cases took over so much [of the local culture] that they soon disappeared as foreigners and came to be regarded as Chinese.”[1] 

Unfortunately, while the power of the status quo may protect existing systems and cultures from being taken over, it can also prevent new ideas and new approaches from taking root—even when they’re actively sought!

Why Hiring Can’t Fix What’s Broken

Mark Weber, PhD (Associate Professor, Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship & Technology Centre, University of Waterloo), recently shared some social psychology insights at a local conference. Contrary to expectations (and the title of the session!), his presentation was far from dry. In fact, it was highly informative, entertaining and relevant. As he shared examples illustrating the impact of situation and circumstance on individual behavior, one thing became increasingly clear: we can’t solve organizational problems through improved selection.

No matter how talented incoming hires may be, if they land in a dysfunctional or disabling environment, they will eventually become part of the problem or leave. To look at it another way, even a superbly trained Olympic swimmer can’t win when swimming in a pool of molasses!

First, Change the Workplace

One of the fundamental principles of modern quality improvement is captured in the words of D. M. Berwick:

“Every system is perfectly designed to achieve exactly the results that it achieves.”

To change results, it’s first necessary to change the system. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that talent isn’t important. Having the right people on board is critical to the success of any organization. But first you have to create the environment that will enable those people to deliver their best and exemplify the behaviors you seek.

What might that mean to your organization?

While attitude and personality make a great difference in people’s approach to life, research demonstrates that the situations people encounter on a daily basis are much greater predictors of behavior.[2] This is true because people’s need to conform to the expectations of a group and the demands of a particular environment usually override individual preference. Fitting in is a powerful motivator.

To fix a broken workplace situation, first create an environment and culture that enables the desired behaviors, put the systems in place to support those behaviors, and then hire the best talent you can find to deliver exceptional results.


What are you doing to create an enabling environment in your workplace? NetSuite TribeHR can help. Try it free today!

[1] Wolfram Eberhard, Conquerors and Rulers Social Forces in Medieval China.

[2] Kelley, H. H. & Stahelski, A. J. (1970), Social interaction basis of cooperators’ and competitors’ beliefs about others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 16(1), 66-91.

Chart an HCM Middle Course: Customization versus Best Practices

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The recent HR Technology Conference held in Las Vegas was, once again, the premier place to dive into the past, present and future of human resources technology. From the vendor side, I heard and saw a good deal about the possibilities of predictive analytics. Indeed, analytics and the lack of its uptake (via Brian Sommer), predictive analytics (via Bill Kutik), and Big Data (via Frank Kalman) were major themes of the show and important and exciting examples of innovation in our industry. Yet my conversations with customers and prospects tended to focus …

10 Behaviors that Build Trust

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Last week we shared a list of Ten Behaviors that Kill Trust. I admit, presenting things in such a negative light went against the grain. So, being a glass-half-full kind of person, I decided to flip it around and offer some best practices and behaviors for building trust to counteract last week’s worst practices. Trust by Jol Ito, Flickr Building trust in the workplace starts with being trustworthy. Here are ten behaviors you can practice to become more trustworthy and build trust. Be honest: Be a truth-teller. Become known for answering questions honestly and telling the truth, even …

The Benefits of CSR

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In a recent blog post we explored the impact of NetSuite’s Corporate Citizenship efforts on overall employee engagement. Our internal research clearly demonstrated two things: Employees who are aware of programs designed to give back to the communities we serve are more proud to work for the company and are more engaged. Direct involvement in these programs, offered through NetSuite.org, increased feelings of pride and engagement even more. NetSuite is not the only company finding value in Corporate Social Responsibility. A recent study conducted by CECP[1] in conjunction with 261 of the world’s leading companies revealed …

Setting Boundaries and Saying No at Work

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At work and in our personal lives, sometimes we encounter situations and people demanding more than we’re willing or able to give. Learning to set boundaries and say no in response to situations that might include being overworked, micromanaged, harassed or otherwise taken advantage of, is a key employment survival skill. Equally important (though perhaps less obvious), it’s also in an employer’s best interest to encourage workers to stand up for themselves. With employee engagement and retention continuing to top the list of HR concerns, employers need to understand what happens when employees feel …

Taking Your Vacation Creates Jobs

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Time for a vacation! We’ve all heard the arguments for taking our full allocation of paid vacation. The mental and physical break from work reduces stress, recharges our batteries and improves our frame of mind. From an employer’s perspective as well, it makes sense to ensure employees take an annual vacation. When employees return after a break, they are more productive, less stressed and less inclined to suffer heart attacks and other stress related ailments. Clearly vacations are a win/win proposition for employers and employees. But none of the rhetoric about the benefits of taking …

Employee Happiness: A Little Goes a Long Way

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Sometimes the job of keeping employees happy, focused and engaged in their work seems almost insurmountable. The larger the organization, the more complex the system of interactions that impact people every day. Removing all the stress and struggle from the workplace is impossible—and not even desirable since a certain amount of stress serves as a catalyst for growth, achievement and change. But finding a simple way to smooth out the daily bumps and improve employee happiness? That's something worth considering. Improving Employee Outlook and Motivation Mood Matters at Work If we can’t reduce the complexity …

10 Tips for Coaching Remote Workers

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Coaching team members can be challenging at the best of times. When those team members work remotely, the coaching process is further complicated. Distance prevents the manager or team lead from observing and responding to performance on a real-time basis. And the loss of visual cues, such as facial expression and posture, during conversations also limits the amount of information a coach can receive and respond to. Photo by: Chris Potter, stockmonkeys.com via Flikr In spite of these obstacles, coaching can be an effective way to overcome the distance and feelings of isolation that many remote employees experience. At …

10 Behaviors that Kill Trust

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Dennis S. Reina, PhD and Michelle L. Reina, PhD have devoted their professional life to building and rebuilding trust in the workplace because, in their words:  “Business is conducted through relationships and trust is the foundation of those relationships.” Photo by Jesse757, Flickr While working directly with organizations for over 20 years, in those that foster relationship and trust-building behaviors, they found that employees focus on the work they were hired to do and productivity increases. When trust is damaged, however, morale and productivity begin to decline and turnover increases.[1] Although it’s possible to destroy trust …

5 Steps to a Healthier Workplace

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In the last few decades the workplace has changed dramatically. Notable changes include globalization, ubiquitous use of technology, more diverse workforce composition, increased use of contract workers, and the accelerated rate of change. Together, these changes have created a much more complex and stressful work environment. No work, no stress In the past, creating a physically safe work environment was an employer’s primary concern. Now employers have to look at things more holistically and take into account physical, social and mental well-being too. Research shows that employers can make a difference in these three areas by offering programs …

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The Latest from Workplace Tribes
Talent Isn’t Everything November 26, 2014
Chart an HCM Middle Course: Customization versus Best Practices November 24, 2014
10 Behaviors that Build Trust November 21, 2014
The Benefits of CSR November 19, 2014
Setting Boundaries and Saying No at Work November 17, 2014
Taking Your Vacation Creates Jobs November 14, 2014
Employee Happiness: A Little Goes a Long Way November 12, 2014
10 Tips for Coaching Remote Workers November 10, 2014
10 Behaviors that Kill Trust November 07, 2014
5 Steps to a Healthier Workplace November 05, 2014