Thursday, August 16, 2007

Critical Reaction on "Do Organizations Have the Best People?"

The article, Do Organizations Have the Best People?, is a scathing critique of popularly held assumptions by corporations the world over, even multi-national ones, that hiring the best and the brightest employees would significantly improve the performance of the companies in all aspects in the long term. The article should that such an assumption is only but a myth which ought to be pierced in order to truly develop corporations, ensure organizational learning and deliver results for the company.

At the onset, the article presented premises by which the pervasive view of hiring only the best talents and shunning everyone else has been one of the leading management frameworks in many corporations. The premises were based on the idea that talent was never malleable and fixed, especially in the light of seemingly objective indicators such as IQ tests and set interview questions during the hiring process. Moreover, apologists of such a view surmise that immersing A-grade employees in a pool of similar A-grade employees would ipso facto result in better work outputs compared to a group of C-level employees led by a B-grade leader. Logically, it might seem to be a plausible assumption yet pales in the face of overwhelming evidence that individual capacities do not automatically lead to better results and profits for a company. According to the article, such a mind-set plays blind to many different factors in organizational culture and development such as the systems by which the employees work and the culture that defines and reproduces the kind of work and output employees and their leaders deliver.

As a result, the assumptions that talent is the overarching determinant in organizational success is dismantled and obliterated especially when evidence were presented to show otherwise, especially in the experience of top global corporations, in which a major determinant of success in work has been practice and experience. In one of the studies, there has been a considerable increase in the level of work employees deliver when they are familiar with the persons they are working with and continue to be so in the succeeding span of months and years on end. On the other hand, companies that simply do not employ the best talent defines all approach have shown that their employees actually do become smarter and work better when no management policy like such is employed, that rubs such incapacity of talent to its employees, because companies level the playing field by providing its employees the opportunities it needs to be better and smarter. Under a framework of only securing the best talent, such opportunities for growth is limited and hinders the further development of creativity and talent among its people.

The myth of best talent defines all approach was finally pierced when the article explained that the more pertinent issue to resolve in organizations is whether the management systems employed contributed to the development or further constriction of productivity and work output by the employees as a poor management system would ensure that even the hiring crème dela crème employees with thousands of dollars as signing bonuses would no necessarily lead to the expected results, and might even drag the company further down and the talent that these employees possess. On the other hand, those with brilliant management systems have been proven to transform formerly F-class employees into superstars, as in the case of the takeover of Toyota of an auto plant previously operated by an American corporation. When the American carmaker was operating the plant, productivity was low and professionalism even at its worse. But when Toyota took over, trained the same low-output employees in their training facilities in Japan and deployed them to the same auto plant, the result were very different, with absenteeism at a very low 3-percent, compared to double-digit figures before, notwithstanding achieving productivity and work outputs unseen before. The formerly below-par employees were given a break and they produced immense results! Such an experience, anecdotal as it is, shows that talent is really not the prime determinant nor the decisive factor in the success and failure of a company. Another glaring example of this fact is the sad story of NASA and the explosion of one of its space shuttles. In the investigations on the incident, it was found that the top-heavy structure of NASA is one of the prime culprits in the disaster as the bosses in NASA overruled the technical suggestions of its lower-level employees on the safety of the space shuttle, arguing erroneously that the technical crew must prove convincingly that the shuttle was totally unsafe. Such a management system that hinged on clear-cut and hierarchical power relations among its leaders and employees showed how such mindsets on talent and expertise can sometimes lead to fatal results.

It is important to draw attention to such a management mindset of best talent defines all because it also leads to the glorification of corporate individualism as though sound management systems and organizational culture do not matter in defining the success of the company. In reality, though, such a glorification leads to not-so-good results such as when industry hotshots are pirated from one company to another. A study was undertaken that showed that almost half of investor analysts performed poorly a year after they left their old companies.

Nonetheless, there is a solution to such an impasse but it takes root not on the changing of people for better talent but in a constant rethinking and reinvention of management systems which fit the organizational profile of the company. But prior to that, the stereotypes attached to natural talent must be broken, such as the presumption that talent evidenced by test results and interviews are fixed and unchanging, as everybody in the organization has the propensity to develop their own talent. In many cases, acquisition of higher academic degrees does not automatically result in greater productivity compared to simple college-level employees as the factors for the determination of such productivity do not rest on academic levels alone but on many other things.

In the ultimate analysis, the presumption must be this – bad systems are far worse than having bad people as bad systems drag even the best and the brightest down the quicksand of decreased outputs. In the NASA example, the basic systemic flaw in their management caused the denigration even of the smartest people as the monolithic NASA management system remained unchanged. The most concrete expression of this failure is the repetition of a more than a decade-old mistake in allowing the launching of a technically deficient space shuttle. The article said it best, “it was a system that made it difficult for smart people to do smart things.

Aside from this change in mindset of putting a premium on rethinking the management system rather than talent, it is important to recognize that it is far more important for the company’s employees to have wisdom rather than intelligence. Wisdom here is construed as the intellectual honesty to admit limitations and mistakes and asking help, all in pursuit of improving organizational dynamics. The best example for this has been the study of a group of nurses who had the best leadership and co-worker relationships yet reported more mistakes than all other nursing groups assessed. Such intellectual honesty disdained covering up mistakes as recognition exists that mistakes are all part of the working process, especially in hospital work, and it would be more detrimental for the company make excuses and blame other factors. Such admissions and honesty help in the over-all health of the company and objectively create ways and means to improve efficiency, productivity and work relations. The message here is clear – employee acquiescence totally undermines organizational development.

In all of these, it has been shown that putting the fate of the company on the best talent does not necessarily result in better results for the company, in all aspects. Over and above anything else, a management system that fits the organizational profile of the company must be emphasized rather than the mad dash of getting the best talent. More so, it is important to realize that a company does not need all the intelligence it has if it lacks organizational wisdom even among its present employees. Organizational wisdom ensures the objectivity in running the organization in all its working processes so that managers may best form sound decisions in implementing plans and policies in the company. Talent and intelligence is important, but never the primary determinant of success.


1. Pffefer, J. & Sutton, R. (2006). Do the Best Organizations Have the Best People?, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management (pp.85-106). Boston: Harvard Business School

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