Renegade Manager: can being good at your job be a talent killer?

iTunes (available from 27 Sept, 2016)


Can being good at your job be a talent killer?

This week we talk about the problems created by having talent. The extra hours. The pressure to collaborate. The pressure to solve problems for others. We ask, do you truly value your talent? Could you put a value on the extra hours put in by your staff?

This is about managing talent – where talent is a mix of the three Cs (competence, competency and capability).

Zoe, our resident accidental manager, gives her opinion and explains what happens when organisations don’t value the time gifted by talented employees.

In the show, we make reference to research into two UK pharmaceutical companies. For those interested, the findings are set out below – this was presented at UFHRD 2016bin Manchester and we hope to move to a full publication later this year:

1. According to your last appraisal, how did you perform: fall below/meet/exceed expectation.

This data was collected to explore the relationship between performance, additional time given to a role and in itself is not significant.

2. Typically, how many hours do you need to work, beyond what you consider being your contracted hours, to fulfil the weekly tasks associated with your role?

The median number of hours reported by project staff in organisation AB was 6.25 (rounded to the nearest quarter hour), while Organisation XY reported 4.75. We did not identify any potential correlation between performance and the number of additional hours worked. However, when isolating responses for staff with 5 or more years experience, the median increased by 1 hour in both organisations. This could suggest that more experienced staff have a higher workload, which supports Cross et al.’s (2015) findings, where more experienced workers can find their time taxed due to their level of experience and the need of others to collaborate with them to solve problems. Regardless of how we analysed the data, additional hours reported by respondents fell below those reported by the Office of National Statistics (2014), introduced earlier. This could be seen as a positive, in terms of the way in which the organisations value their employee’s time, and could arguably be reported as such via the IRF (IIRC, 2014).

The median additional hours of all project staff result in £5,705 of additional work being gifted on a weekly basis in Organisation AB or £285,250 per annum (based on 50 operational weeks). In Organisation XY this translated to a gift of £3,157 per week or £157,850 per annum. This data is from a single location within a multinational organisation, which limits the findings, For example, Organisation AB employs a total of over 500 project staff globally, which, if our findings are consistent across locations, results in a weekly gift of £35,218 or £1,760,937 per annum. We argue this to be significant and, therefore, variables that influence the giving of such value creation should be considered worthy of ongoing monitoring and measurement.

Of interest, managers in both organisations estimated that, in general, project staff were only gifting 2 hours a week. This gap demonstrates a significant lack of awareness in relation to the contribution of  their staff to organisational outputs. Line manager perception of value creation in Organisation AB at £1825 per week or £91,250 per annum, a perception gap of £194,000. This is significant which, if consistent across the organisation, results in line managers undervaluing the contribution of project staff by £1,197,437.  Reflecting upon our VAM, such findings lead us to consider Organisation AB to be “Unconsciously Blind”. >>the implications being – in relation to accounting & IRF<<

We expected to see a bias toward a higher contribution of additional hours from new employees with little experience in the sector. But, when isolating the data for respondents aged 21-25, time in post under 2 years and industry experience under 2 years, we could not find any data to support such assumptions. We also looked for indicators that linked additional hours to performance appraisal; for example high performers giving more time to an organisation or low performers giving less time to an organisation. However, the data did not present a relationship between additional hours worked and performance.

3. In general, taking into account a typical week, how efficient are you at completing the tasks expected of you (in other words, how good are you at managing your own time)? 

Project staff in both organisations generally considered themselves to be “efficient” or “very efficient” (83% in Organisation AB and 84% in Organisation XY). We again looked for a potential relationship between performance and efficiency but have nothing significant to report. There was agreement with managers in both organisations, who, without exception, stated that their staff, in general, were “neither efficient or inefficient”, “efficient” or “very efficient”.  This suggests that, in general, any additional hours required to fulfil tasks within a given role are required to achieve agreed outcomes and are not being driven by staff inefficiency. Our assumption being that the agreement between staff and managers as to the level of efficiency suggests that, in the main, additional working hours are being gifted to the organisation (i.e. they are not due to personal inefficiencies, where tasks could be completed in less time). We argue, where such circumstances exist, that this constitutes an added value contribution on the part of the staff member. Furthermore, we argue that wider awareness of such added value needs to be enhanced by quantifying, reporting and recognising the contribution of staff, which, in turn, can be reported as a HC contribution to market value. By engaging employees in this process we believe it to be possible to sense the level of volunteered human will and its impact on the organisation’s ability to continuously adapt in a VUCA environment, as set out in our Accounting Proposition of the Minimum. Such data could also be used to better anticipate performance related issues, as well as improving talent management systems and processes, which, in turn, contributes amplifies HC, IC and SC in the organisation (IIRC, 2014).

4. What is the single most significant thing (e.g. a person/structure/process) that negatively impacts your efficiency?

Both organisations use the same Information Technology system, supplied by one of the world’s leading providers. In Organisation AB 44 of 60 staff cited technology as a barrier to efficiency, for example: “you just can’t find anything” (respondent AB5) and “you have to contact the person who [files] the information to find out where it is…that slows me down” (respondent AB11). In organisation XY 36 of 48 staff reported technology as a barrier to efficiency. In a talent-led Knowledge Economy, it seems logical to consider that organisations must be interested in their IT infrastructure and how such infrastructure impacts staff productivity. Our research did not ask how much time was being lost to such barriers. Therefore, we can only speculate as to the positive impact IT improvements might have upon the release of time, and the potential for ensuring that voluntary actions do not become involuntary. For example, a one hour saving per week, less 30 days (6 weeks) annual leave, results in a saving of 46 hours; this is almost two full days across the course of a year.

5. In general, do you volunteer any time you identified in Q. 2 (it is something you do of your own free will) or do you feel compelled to give this time (it is something expected of you, something that you have to do)?

Within Organisation AB 50 of 60, with 100% of respondents aged 21-25, felt “compelled” or “highly compelled” to give extra time to the organisation. It was a similar situation in Organisation XY with 41 of 48 respondents, and 100% of respondents aged 21-25, stating the same feelings. While we cannot comment on why other staff do not feel compelled to give time to the organisation, we do note that these respondents were all staff with higher levels of experience (five years or more in their role). What is worthy of further enquiry is the link between the additional time given to an organisation, the feeling of being compelled to give time, and the apparent negative feeling toward existing IT provision. There could be benefit here in conducting a cost/benefit analysis that probes the investment required to improve the efficiency/effectiveness of the IT infrastructure against data related to retention rates and recruitment and selection costs. Such an enquiry could be expanded to consider Anderson’s (2014) assertion that the cost to the business created by disaffected employees far surpasses the cost of remedial action, in this case potentially influenced with frustrations with IT infrastructure.

5a. What is the value of any additional time identified in Q2; please explain and quantify your response? [open question for managers]

No line manager level respondents provided a quantifiable response and text responses indicate a gap between base level contribution of time by hourly rate, and manager level appreciation of the value of such time. “I haven’t thought about this. It’s part of doing the job really, isn’t it” (Respondent ABM3); “Not much” (Respondent XYM7); “The actual time isn’t that high. I would expect the actual value to be negligible” (Respondent XYM1); “not sure” (Respondent ABM4). Such responses are concerning, given the value of the time identified earlier in this section. This also reinforces our assertion that such an organisation, according to our VAM, is “Unconsciously Blind” and, as such, vulnerable to talent loss, which could impact market value, as per the IRF (IIRC, 2014).

6. Do you feel that any extra time you give to the organisation is valued?

In Organisation AB 4 of 5 staff reported that the organisation “highly undervalued” or “somewhat undervalued” the additional hours they contributed, none (zero) reported feeling such time was “highly valued”. In Organisation XY this number dropped to 3 in 5 feeling “highly undervalued” or “somewhat undervalued”, but 6, all with five years or more experience in their role, reported feeling as though the additional hours were “highly valued”. The concerning statistic here is that between the two organisations, 97 of 108 project staff feel that the additional hours they contribute to their organisations is undervalued. Given the gap reported between line manager perception of value and the actual value of project staff contributions reported in this analysis, we believe it reasonable to state that such organisations are vulnerable to talent loss.

7. Do you feel resentment (strong negative feelings) towards the organisation as a result of any additional hours you work?

In Organisation AB 36 of 60 project staff stated that they felt “resentful” or “somewhat resentful” toward the organisation. Considering that 48 reported that their additional contribution of hours was “highly undervalued” it would appear that some staff are gifting their time voluntarily. Again, in Organisation XY 29 of 48 project staff reported feeling “resentful” or “somewhat resentful” toward the organisation. Such data has to be of interest and concern to HR professionals interested in talent retention in Knowledge Economy. In such circumstances, our Talent Proposition of the Minimum becomes important, where, if the HR team is not scanning the environment, as seems to be the case here, the organisation is vulnerable to resources being scarce at the time they are needed most when sensing and reacting to change in VUCA environments. This could impact an organisation’s adaptive capability and, therefore, it’s ability to develop sustain competitive position.

8. How happy are you in your role?

What is interesting, and something that we cannot explain is that 28 of the 36 respondents from Organisation AB and 22 of the 29 respondents from Organisation XY, who stated that they felt undervalued, stated that they were either “happy” or “very happy” in their role.  Therefore the general feeling of being undervalued did not translate to a feeling of unhappiness with the work role. We found this confusing and requires further research in order to better understand the divergence between a feeling of being undervalued and the level of happiness within the role. We can speculate as to potential reasons, such as the level of alignment with the organisation’s purpose and values. Nevertheless, we do not believe such speculation to be helpful to this discussion.

9. What impact do the additional hours you work (identified in Qx) have upon your level of happiness? 

Compounding the confusion brought about by responses to the previous question, of the 28 project staff who felt undervalued, but happy, in Organisation AB, 26 stated that the additional hours they work have a “negative” or “very negative” impact on their happiness. Similarly, in Organisation XY, of the 22 project staff who felt undervalued, but happy, 18 stated that the additional hours they work have a “negative” or “very negative” impact on their level of happiness. It is n out possible  to explain from our data the extent to which people feel undervalued, while also feeling happy and, at the same time, feeling their level of happiness is negatively impacted by the number of additional hours they work. We also did not gather data to explore the impact from any negative feeling (e.g. implications for cost, quality or time in relation to role outputs). What we can suggest is that there is an issue with the way in which such time is valued within these organisations and staff feel that such conditions have a negative impact in a role within which they are generally happy.

We recognise the limitations of our research, where the enquiry is limited to a project management function within only two organisations within the United Kingdom. There are also issues in identifying confounding factors, such as management structure, Information Technology provision, culture, operating conditions, the influence of external conditions (e.g. operations within a liberal market economy) and labour market conditions. This leads us to conclude that, though the data is compelling, there is a need to gather more data to increase the depth of understanding and emergent concepts related to this theme.

This said these descriptive findings appear to suggest that there is potentially a problem in recognising the value of talent in organisations, from the perspective of the added value contributed through additional hours worked, whether voluntary or involuntary. There appears to be organisational blindness when it comes to the value that such hours create, which supports the findings of Hesketh (2014), in that organisations struggle to value their talent. Such blindness leaves the organisation vulnerable to unintended consequences, such as poor service delivery (Anderson, 2014) in relation to time, cost, quality and/or innovation, or work that impinges too heavily upon people’s personal lives (Colby, 2016). Such blindness can also have a negative impact on an organisation’s market value, where talent loss, or lack of alignment with purpose, can reduce adaptive capability and, therefore sustainable competitive advantage (IIRC). This leads us to conclude the the Value Awareness Matrix (VAM), in conjunction with the proposition of the minimum, could be deployed to raise awareness of such problems within the HR function. With this being the case, we will continue to test our VAM and proposition of the minimum in a variety of contexts, as well as developing research to better explore causal relationships between voluntary/involuntary actions and value creation in organisations.


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