1994 - Promoting employee creativity
Stories that cast doubts on the
value of the most thorough processes of recruitment
should be treated with caution, but they are very
tempting to relate nevertheless. This one I am
told is true and I have a name for the man involved,
Dante Montalbetti, a former head of Eurobond trading
in the UK at Merrill Lynch, the US securities
The story goes that, impressed
by his mental agility at calculating the weekly
quota, Montalbetti hired a milkman to work as
a trader around the time of Big Bang in the mid
1980s. The milkman enthusiastically swapped his
electric milk float and a modest wage for a telephone-digit
salary and a Porsche. Then came the 1987 crash
and he was made redundant in one of the clear-outs.
Today he has returned to his Surrey milk round
where the only traded options are whether his
customers order one pint or two.
The story sounds too good to
be true and certainly Merrill Lynch was unable
to provide any supporting evidence, so it may
have to be discarded into the apocryphal bin.
But what is to be learned from it anyway? Does
it mean that milkmen make good bond traders or
that bond traders make good milkmen?
Its main point here is to demonstrate
that there will always be cases of the individual
whose career path has wavered from conventional
routes. Surely this reflects the diversity of
backgrounds that many employers would wish to
encourage. Not so, apparently. A contributor at
a recent business forum spoke of an Oxford college
tutor seeking placements for four of his graduates
taking degrees in music, history, Latin and geography.
The qualifications were dismissed as useless by
a company recruiter who was only interested in
business studies degrees.
Such attitudes are not unique.
Further evidence of a polarity of approach was
volunteered by a headhunter who said that one
securities company in the US designed a psychometric
test to search for the principal personality traits
exhibited by its most successful trader. The very
idea of such vocational cloning might seem like
kindling for a bonfire of vanities to some but
it has attracted interest, particularly in sales
Less finely tailored selective
recruitment procedures, using structured interviews
instead of pencil and paper tests to sift out
desired personality traits, are available and
used in the UK. B&Q, the UK do-it-yourself
chain has started using them and Joshua Tetley,
the Leeds brewer, has used them in its selection
of public house managers.
The kind of structured interviews
that can find successful sales people can also
single out innovators, says Terry Lunn, managing
director of Talent Plus (UK), a company that administers
structured interviews. But some occupational psychologists
believe that creative people are being neglected
by recruiters and managers.
A new report from the British
Psychological Society says that if we really want
innovators in our organisations, we are going
the wrong way about encouraging them. The authors
say that modern performance-orientated incentives
threaten to suffocate the individuality and creativeness
which once made British industry the envy of the
Kay's Flying shuttle, Arkwright's
loom, Hargreaves' Spinning Jenny and Crompton's
mule all played their part in revolutionising
the textile industry upon which much of the UK's
19th century wealth was founded. Where are their
equivalents now and would we value them in our
workplaces if we could find them?
Michael West, an occupational
psychologist at Sheffield University and one of
the report's authors, believes that innovators
today are getting a raw deal. In many organisations
their potential is stifled by performance appraisal
and targeting, he argues. They need to be identified,
nurtured, and given the time and space they need
to make things happen.
He points to 3M, which gives
each of its research and development staff the
option to spend 15 per cent of their time at work
to use as they wish in their own projects and
experiments. This may help account for the fact
that 30 per cent of the company's turnover is
from products introduced in the last four years.
'If the project fails then their job is not on
the line,' said West.
With co-authors Professor Clive
Fletcher, of Goldsmith's College, University of
London, and John Toplis of the Post office training
and development group, West has written a paper
entitled 'Fostering Innovation'*, demanding greater
emphasis on identifying and encouraging innovators.
It is true, say the authors,
that innovators can be unconventional people,
unattracted by routine work requiring attention
to detail. Their thinking may challenge orthodoxy,
threaten general managers and be impractical.
'However, organisations also have to recognise
that the complete exclusion of such people could
lead to stagnation,' they warn.
Much of their argument reflects
a growing dissatisfaction among many employers
with performance-related pay. Up to now one of
the main objections to PRP has been that it is
divisive. Some have argued additionally that it
can be demotivating. This new paper goes further,
suggesting that it can actually stultify the natural
creativity of individuals.
Fletcher says: 'When you look
at all those companies in the private sector which
have gone through downsizing and de-layering and
introduced performance management practices, performance-related
pay and appraisal systems, it has led to leaner
fitter organisations . . . The cost has been to
their capacity to innovate.'
'As you make increased demands
on each individual the pressure increases and
it becomes difficult to get the time to reflect
on what you are doing.'
The trend in many organisations,
he argues, has been to place too strong an emphasis
on short-term business goals that provide the
reward, with redundancy or dismissal often the
price of failure.
Fletcher suggests that too much
emphasis on PRP tends to shift people's focus
away from the task and on to the money they receive
for its accomplishment. 'A manager of a clearing
bank told me: 'People here never used to think
about money. Now they think of nothing else.''
'People need to be encouraged
to feel confident. Managements should get rid
of PRP. It has not been an effective motivator.
We have to start rewarding innovation and put
it on the agenda.' Fletcher's comments would suggest
that while performance-related pay is by no means
dead as a form of reward, it is clear that some
are already digging its grave.
The report also seeks to promote
the potential of teams built of diverse skills.
It draws on a footballing analogy to make the
point that a team will be ineffective if comprised
solely of attacking players or conversely of defensive
players. It needs a balance. This same observation
has been made during a research programme at Roffey
Park Management Institute focusing on the management
of creative individuals in areas like music, theatre,
sport, and corporate research and development.
Joanna Howard, director of research
notes that while the idiosyncrasies and insecurities
of creative people can be taxing on managers,
the reward in terms of innovation for those that
persevere can be incalculable. But she also warns
that matching their abilities with equally spectacular
financial rewards is not necessarily motivating.
'Putting extrinsic rewards to things that people
do for their intrinsic love of it can be terribly
damaging,' she says.
*Fostering Innovation: A Psychological Perspective,
The British Psychological Society.
© 1994 The Financial Times Ltd. All rights
as a pdf file