Top talent alone won't guarantee success

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Humility and continual evaluation are vital to organisational success, said Matthew Syed at TREC 2017

Organisations must realise the importance of combining top talent with humility and growth mindsets, rather than fixed mindsets, according to journalist and author of Black Box Thinking Matthew Syed, speaking at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation’s (REC) Talent, Recruitment & Employment Conference (TREC) 2017.

Syed used his keynote speech to explore the misguided nature of the assumption, still made by many, that recruiting the best talent possible is the main or even only factor in ensuring strong organisational performance. Instead, to survive in an increasingly complex world, organisations must become alive to the “idea that talent is only one critical element that affects success,” he said.

Syed highlighted the difference between two similarly highly safety-oriented sectors: aviation and healthcare. While aviation has recognised the need to constantly scrutinise performance to achieve safety improvements, healthcare is still often held back by “justification and obfuscation”, said Syed.

“There’s a negative correlation between talent and seniority, and creative justification when people are in the wrong mindset,” he added.

Syed emphasised the need for growth rather than fixed mindsets in an ever-more complex, uncertain world. “I’m arguing for intellectual humility,” he said. “No-one in this room is intelligent enough to know what strategies will get you the best performance – not because you’re not clever enough, but because the world is complex.

“High performance is not about telling ourselves how good we are,” he added. “It’s finding out what we don't know. Because in a complex world there’s a lot even experts don’t know.”

Syed caveated, however, that leaders still need to execute tasks with purpose. “When you’re executing you want confidence, you need to get the team on board,” he said, using the example of a surgeon wielding a scalpel. “But when you’re evaluating you must have humility.”

Also delivering a keynote at the event was Dave Coplin, principal tech evangelist at Microsoft UK. His presentation emphasised the importance of using technology to achieve competitive advantage, rather than to simply automate processes and jobs.

“This is not The Terminator; we are not in a world of humans versus machines, this is a world of humans plus machines,” he said.

He pointed out the considerable way to go for many organisations in making technology truly work for them. “We live in a world of amazing technology but all we use it for is to work in the way we always have,” he said, adding: “You are never going to be transformational over email, so we need to look to a new generation of workplace tools.”

Coplin highlighted “three key core skills the machines won’t be able to do” in the foreseeable future: empathy, creativity and accountability.

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