Unlock talent by finding the right fit for a person

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

The Straits Times, March 6, 2016

The recent G-20 meeting of finance ministers in Shanghai would have us all investing in new businesses and getting down to productive work, creating goods and turning over real cash. But the simple answer is we are all different and inclined to different aspects of travail.

A strong insight comes from a group of Cambridge academics who assessed managers and derived role characteristics based on their observed behaviour, such as the Ideas Person, the Team Worker, the Chairman and so on.

All in all, they found nine prominent roles within the Team Role theory. The analysts led by Dr Meredith Belbin said that with suitable training, most of us could carry out any management role. But like round pegs in square holes, wrongly placed individuals would fall by the wayside.

The best proposition is to follow our two strongest roles and be aware of our weaker roles. It is a pervasive theory that is proven worldwide.

Coupled with the knowledge that early learning at home and in school and colleges shapes our culture and technical skills, we could be on our way to designing “dream teams”. But the workplace is messy and such teams do not often arise.

However, we are entering a new phase of global development.

In many nations, birth rates are falling along with their working populations. People are living longer, with the elderly becoming a greater burden on carers, be that the state or their children.

The pace of technological advancement in simple engineering spheres like robotisation, or via sophisticated software incorporating artificial intelligence algorithms, will see machines of one sort or another taking over from workers.

Once this did not matter.

Economist John Maynard Keynes said in 1930: “We are being afflicted with a new disease of which we will hear a great deal of in the years to come, namely, technological unemployment… “This means unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour.” He understood that in an expanding world, in economic terms, there would be other work for displaced persons.

That may come about, but it is not the case at present, when some estimates put it that 50 per cent of jobs are at risk of being computerised across all economic sectors.

There is a need for the human resources personnel to look closely at the composition of an organisation’s staff and deploy them better with a good understanding of their psychometric traits and innate talent.

Could some staff be Ideas Generators, or Ideas Evaluators, who are presently forced to undertake the more mundane teamwork stuff – necessary of course, but stultifying for mismatched persons.

Across G-20 economies, firms are in lockdown due to ageing staff, reduced cash flows and a death of productive investments, as too much money is banked in low rates of return, even negative rates.

The G-20 ministers call for entrepreneurship, but not all of us are both risk-takers supporting ideas generation and blessed with good implementation skills.

Most of us, in fact, are “team members” willing to follow orders, but our roles are now at risk from computers that will follow orders even better than the most assiduous of staff, working 24/7 with no holidays and no union to call a strike. What can be done?

One way forward for the G-20 and other finance ministers would be to relax labour laws and labour taxation, and so free up staffing. If firms can sack and re-employ others, they might be able to create their “dream teams” easily.Staff need not fear redundancy, as other jobs would be available soon in an expanding economy, as Mr Keynes reminded us.

In any case, a declining workforce worldwide in developed nations should mean enough jobs for humans even when computers take over many roles. Managers might be able to create and dissolve intrapreneur teams which, protected from the full rigours of an external world, can be charged with finding new solutions to issues not yet seen within the firm.

Staff need not always be in a high-powered skunk works role, but may move into suitable managerial roles as time passes.

I have often thought modern companies squander too many bright people because we sit them in dreary tasks, though someone or some machine needs to pass the firm’s data along.

Sadly, even the best of managers do not know the full characteristics of their staff, and too many still employ and deploy via first impressions.

If we are courageous and serious about “fitting the person to the task”, we may be able to better unleash talent to unblock economies. Freed-up labour regulations (while protecting human rights) allow creativity to flourish. Then perhaps the G-20 pleas may work, raising the global economy through the forthcoming technological revolution while maintaining humanity in the workplace.

The writer is founder of Horasis, a global visioning community. Its inaugural Horasis Global Meeting will be held in Liverpool on June 13-14 as part of Britain’s International Festival for Business.