This week’s letters

Are you releasing potential or just sweating the asset?

Company brochures often talk about the importance of ‘releasing the
potential’ of all employees, thereby enabling them to feel fulfilled in the
workplace. By finding out what their wants and needs are, by enrolling
employees on relevant training programmes and by encouraging them to take an
active part in company-wide activities, it is hoped their pent up and untapped
abilities will be released.

But every thesis has its antithesis, and I have noticed in my discussions
with work colleagues, business associates and friends that instead of feeling
fulfilled by the added opportunities being presented to them, some simply feel
drained by the process. Instead of releasing potential, they feel that as a
corporate asset they have been well and truly sweated.

Many people neither want nor expect all of their potential to be used in the
workplace. They see work as a place to come to earn some money, to do the job
they’ve been asked to do, and then return home in the evening unscathed and
unstressed. The last thing many want is for the goalposts to be constantly
moved or to be presented with new ‘challenges’ or ‘personal development

In a recent management meeting I attended, an HR director was attempting to
introduce a ‘skills analysis’ procedure. All managers were asked to return to
their teams and attempt to classify their various team members’ talents,
knowledge and interests into categories such as ‘interpersonal’, ‘coaching/teaching’,
‘technical’, ‘creative’, ‘managerial/supervisory’ and ‘practical’ in an attempt
to investigate whether or not the organisation was releasing the potential of
its staff and, more importantly, whether staff were getting the most out of their

No doubt the HR director’s intentions were honourable, yet when another
manager indicated that his team might be suspicious of the process, I realised
how important it is to explain and manage it effectively. Exercises of this
nature can be seen as an attempt by management to get more out of their team
members for no tangible return.

So where should the line be drawn between ‘releasing potential’ and
‘sweating the asset’? Is there always going to be a division between those who
perceive such initiatives as a threat and those who see them as a real
opportunity for personal fulfilment?

The majority of us are not motivated by money per se; being stretched and
stimulated intellectually are much more important. There are also, of course,
those who simply do no want to give any more than they are already giving and
do not see work as the main outlet for the release of their potential. Such
views should be appreciated and, provided the team member is performing his/her
job to the required standard, no attempts made to ‘force’ any extra potential
from them.

By communicating benefits to individuals effectively, by listening to their
needs and wants and by being open about the consequent benefits to the
organisation as a whole, managers should be able to encourage people to
undertake the processes that do release their full potential, creating a "win-win"
situation for everyone.

Additionally, a working environment should be provided which encourages and
supports knowledge sharing through coaching and mentoring schemes, and which
provides thanks and recognition for a job well done. In this way employees
should be more motivated to give closer to 100 per cent of their potential to
their employer – or at least have had the opportunity to do so.

Jan Bailey
Marketing manager, The Leadership Trust

Public sector joins in the war for talent

The pipeline for talent is perhaps the most vital issue facing employers in
the current climate regardless of sector or type. Here we are, five years on
from when McKinsey’s War for Talent hit desks across the HR community and many
of us still don’t have the answers to fill the skills gaps that will drive UK
plc in to the future.

I totally support the fact that the Employers Organisation has produced a
‘Guide to Workforce Planning in Local Authorities’ (news, 16 September). The
need to help assess ‘how many employees are and will be needed and to ensure
sufficient and appropriate training and development is provided’ in the public
sector is no longer an issue for bluechips alone.

The war for talent isn’t confined to the public sector. In the interim
arena, rates have risen by 15-20 per cent in the past 12 months and in the
permanent sector, salaries for senior roles often equate to those expected by
HR directors in the private sector.

Good people see the public sector and local government as a good career
move, but candidates who may have cut it in an investment bank still need to be
the right ‘fit’ for an utterly different culture. Organisations need to rely on
suppliers who can create a pipeline for talent, thinking strategically and
supporting HR departments and candidates in identifying the skills they need to
flourish in the future.

Jane Robson
Joint managing director, Courtenay HR

The inter-personal e-learning paradox

Your article ‘E-learning Curve’ (22 July) highlighted the challenge of
achieving e-learning success.

Nowhere is this more of a challenge than in the area of achieving
professional and management skills.

It is broadly accepted that e-learning, with the appropriate support and
customisation, can achieve satisfactory results for knowledge, procedural and
lower level technical subject areas. However, the case is not so clear where
interpersonal skills are concerned.

Paradoxically, surveys show the lack of interpersonal skills in our
workforce is the single most significant limiting factor on corporate success.

Experience shows that it is only when we combine e-learning with human
contact and communication, and appropriately structured opportunities to
practice skills learned via e-learning, that real performance leaps in creating
winning relationships can take place. Just half a day of intense, customised,
classroom training will enable learners to reinforce and practice new
techniques learned in e-learning modules.

As a result of this small but significant investment, learner motivation
will be greatly enhanced and they will gain the vital ability to apply new
skills. For HR and training departments, this means an increased uptake in
e-learning materials and a better-skilled workforce but perhaps most
significantly, a sure fire way of realising the benefits from the e-learning

Brian Sutton
Chief educator, QA

The men in white coats are waiting

Terry Lunn filled me with dismay and concern (Letters, 19 August). His
little rant seems incompatible with his membership of the professional body for
people he refers to as ‘unsavoury HR accomplices’.

I see he is an independent consultant – many might hope he is not holding
his breath waiting for new business, because few potential clients will beat a
path to his door when they see what he thinks of corporations and HR people.
Some also might feel he ought worry more about the men in white coats, rather
than fixate on his obsession about black bags.

Roger Loughney
HR director, Corporate details supplied

Read the smallprint or prepare to pay up

Over a long period I was forced to buy an HR product (originally about £400
which, with negotiation was reduced to £200) by a company that was constantly
abusive and harassing over the phone and by letter.

My only fault was that I did not return the trial document within the
company’s designated timescale.

There are definitely some sharp practitioners and practices out there (News,
5 August). You need to read the small print especially if they are lesser known

On the other hand, people like Croners appreciate the busy lives we lead and
a phone call is all that is needed to extend a product trail. That sort of
understanding is invaluable to people like myself who hardly have time to read
the post let alone review a new product.

Sue Smith
HR director, Bowlplex plc

Skills divide at the top is breachable

I was not at all taken aback to see that research released this month found
that just one in five senior managers throughout FTSE100 companies have a
technical background, whereas 90 per cent of chief executives are degree

At a time when boardroom diversity is under the spotlight, particularly
following the publication of the Higgs Report (News, 5 August), this survey
highlights the great extent of the skills divide at the top.

This should come as no surprise to HR practitioners, who for decades have
been considered secondary to other disciplines when it comes to board

While the situation has improved to a great extent in recent years, the
value that a strategically focused HR practitioner can add to a business has
yet to be realised by many senior management teams. Given that technology and
people form the backbone of almost every organisation, it does confound that
such little emphasis is placed upon their management at the highest level. It
appears short-sighted and stagnant that British business has failed to
transform the make-up of management in accordance with changing business

Some may argue that technically-minded professionals and HR practitioners do
not have the skills necessary to ascend to the board. However, while there is a
need for an understanding of the intricacies of the corporate world, of equal
importance is the sheer wealth of knowledge and ability to manage complex
processes and issues that they bring.

Certainly, I wouldn’t suggest that all management professionals be
superceded by IT and HR specialists, but in light of the present imbalance
change does need to occur.

Balance sheets, profit and loss and financial reporting are essential to the
continuation of a business, but equally important are the people that make it

Ian Sharland
Managing director, LogicaCMG Enterprise Services

Wear their’s a spell cheque the CVs err…

In his article on writing a perfect CV cover letter (Careerwise, 16
September) Scott Beagrie quite rightly advises readers not to rely on their own
proof-reading abilities, but to involve a friend or colleague.

From experience, I would add another warning: don’t rely on your computer’s
spell checker to correct things for you.

I’ve seen too many applications which include correctly-spelled words – but
they are the wrong words! For example, ‘there’ and ‘their’ are both spelled
correctly, but they are not interchangeable – spell- check with great caution.

Tim Wells
Senior analyst, Nationwide Building Society

Comments are closed.