Monday, 1 August 2011

“Don’t pigeonhole talent but take more risks with your people”, says former Virgin CEO

Companies are failing to make best use of their talent because they still ‘pigeonhole’ people on the basis of their age and experience. That’s the message from Simon Wright, former CEO of Virgin Entertainment and now a US based consultant to fast growing companies.

“In some instances experience can actually get in the way of solving problems, because of the preconceptions it can engender,” say Wright. “There’s a strong argument for approaching challenges with a ‘beginner’s mind’. But achieving this means putting people in place who combine a commercial mindset with the ability to adapt and use common sense.”

Wright cites instances at Virgin where individuals were ‘parachuted’ into areas where they had little or no directly obvious experience. “One woman, for example, went from store manager to IT director to very successful managing director of a new acquisition within three years because of his excellent people management skills.”

According to Wright, who will be delivering a lecture on the theme at the Ochre House Symposium at Wentworth on 14th September, the reason why so many organisations shy away from this approach is a lack of imagination coupled with fear of the consequences. “Businesses of all sizes need to trust in their instincts and take more risks with people if they are going to manage their talent in a truly effective way,” he says.

(EDITOR: But is Wright right in all instances? Because conversely, it has proven sadly easy for someone with the gift of the gab -aka 'people skills'- to be over-promoted over more deserving candidates until the fact that their abilities are more apparent than real is only to be discovered at the point where they have created real damage to the business.

It is all very well parachuting people in to jobs for which they have little or no experience. But if their parachute fails to open, their impact is purely negative. But this is often overlooked when senior managers have convinced themselves that the idea of promoting empty heads over experienced minds is always a good idea.)

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