Dare to be different

Many of us were left aghast at a keynote speech by the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg earlier this year when he proposed a push for changes in taxation to encourage companies to follow the model of John Lewis, the UK department store group, which is ‘owned’ by its employees and distributes its profits between them. In his speech he claimed that businesses owned by their staff are more dynamic and have higher morale.

Share ownership can have a very positive effect on businesses, but this is nothing new and it provides no guarantee that businesses will grow, let alone survive in times of economic decline. Additionally, it provides no guarantee of employment security and little to offer in the recruitment of new staff. It’s not that I’m against employees owning a part of their company through shares or share options—it was the very idea of yet another business model.

For years, business schools and management training programmes have actively encouraged managers to adopt the same processes and procedures as the ‘best-in-class’. Even today, business gurus and industry commentators all play a role in peddling the same formulae from one organisation to another and from one industry to another. Now the politicians are getting in on the act! Compliance and standardisation of corporate messaging have driven out differentiation.

If one was to learn from previous mistakes then now is possibly a good time to act on a little hindsight. In the past, a well-known concept adopted by management was that companies could turn to core competencies to attain competitive advantage. They began to embrace the notion that by benchmarking and imitating the best practices of other companies they could develop the required core competencies in their own organisation. The problem with this concept was that management often failed to address whether the practices that worked well for other companies would fit equally well in their own organisations and provide similar benefits.

Too often, recruitment practices produce more of the same: the emphasis is on ticking the right competency boxes—yesterday’s competency boxes at that—rather than finding the people who can add value tomorrow. During the interview process the recruiting officer will often ask “What makes you the ideal candidate for this position?”. This encourages candidates to apply the same solutions they had applied to issues in their previous roles to similar ones in their new organisation.

Recruitment is a process which is frequently handled without proper consideration: there are numerous cases where it is undertaken without an in-depth understanding of the drivers behind the role or the personal attributes required to achieve success in the role.

While driving change tends to be something that comes from the top of an organisation, the ‘dare to do it differently’ mentality should be encouraged from the shop floor to the boardroom. If an organisation embraces a clear desire to undertake roles in a way in which they can achieve spectacular results, then the recruitment process is the point at which to start. Without innovation in human resources a true step change in innovation throughout the organisation becomes more difficult to achieve and business failures will increase as a result. Employee share ownership is not the solution.