John Buni – ‘Should you nurture talent or hire ready-made?’

"How you answer this question says a lot about your philosophy" - John Buni, CEO of CleanCloud

IT’S ONE OF the truisms of business that it’s hard to find good people. Indeed references to ‘the talent problem’ abound, be they in the media, at conferences or elsewhere.

Part of the reason for this perceived difficulty in hiring great employees might have to do with the nature of recruitment itself. Famously, Leonardo da Vinci wrote the first CV, in which he talked up his ability to build ‘unattackable’ chariots, and sent it off to Ludovico Sforza, who later became the Duke of Milan. Some will tell you that after 500 years, the CV-and-interview format might need a rethink.

That’s possible. But there are other, more pressing considerations when it comes to growing your team. One of these is what you might call the hiring manager’s dilemma: do you look for the finished article or the hot prospect? In other words, should you nurture talent or hire ready-made?

How you answer this question says a lot about your philosophy. No way is inherently superior to the other; there are advantages and disadvantages to both. The decision you take, then, should reflect the values and culture of your company. But, just as football managers tend to lean either towards integrating talented youth or spending on established players, the decision is often personal, too.

Younger employees are malleable. With any luck they’re also enthusiastic and energetic. Through good management, you can slowly give young employees more responsibility and opportunities to expand their skill set.

It’s rare that a new hire has precisely the skills needed for the role, whereas you can cultivate the relevant skills in younger workers so they suit a role perfectly. What’s more, those younger employees, having spent time in the company, can proactively seek out the skills the company might need and in doing so define their own role in a way that benefits everyone.

It’s important not to throw these younger employees in at the deep end, however. Happy employees are 12% more productive, after all, and the well-being of younger staff should be seen as desirable for commercial reasons, as well as personal and cultural ones.

Nurturing talent also plays a part in retention. If employees believe there is room for personal growth, as well as opportunities to climb the ladder in a growing company, they’ll likely stay. But those that feel (rightly or wrongly) that they’ve hit a ceiling, or otherwise come to an obstacle that would take years to circumvent, will start to get itchy feet.

It’s a commonplace that to move up swiftly in business you might just have to move sideways; if development and progression take too long, too, then a talented employee may move on.

If you hire ready-made, this isn’t something you have to worry too much about. Of course there should be room for progression in any company, but in certain circumstances making that clear and easy to understand for the workforce may be allowed to slip further down your priority list.

There are high-growth and high-intensity industries and business types in which this is the case. And you could make the argument that a truly impressive and hungry employee will seek out the information she or he needs about development rather than wait to be told about it.

There are other reasons to hire from outside. Potential is a nebulous thing. There is no way of knowing precisely how much potential someone has and whether they have the tools necessary to fulfil it.

There are indications, of course—a positive attitude and conscientious personality being classic examples—but even those cannot tell you whether a given employee might one day be able to take a leading role in strategy or creative problem-solving, for instance.

When you hire from outside, you can identify what you need and then find a person who can accommodate that need.

At CleanCloud, we’ve always tended to prioritise homegrown talent over outside recruits. It’s my instinct that this is best for my company. But the truth is that even if you lean towards one philosophy, all companies require balance. They need the ready-made and the developing talent.

Outside hires fill critical skill gaps, and often benefit from a wider variety of experience in different sectors and companies. But existing talented employees contribute to the company’s culture and its social cohesion, as well as intuit areas of need and grow to fill them.

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