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Keeping talented employees interested


If you hadn’t noticed already, Euro 2016 is very much in full swing. You will likely know this because you are either sleep-deprived from too many late-night, must-see fixtures, or because your friends and colleagues have started relentlessly analysing these same games each and every morning, apparently not deterred by their own evident lack of sleep.


By the time any football tournament reaches this stage, a regular talking point is the seemingly habitual tinkering with squads which many international managers feel inclined to engage in. Faced with the possibility of elimination, many managers will start making radical changes. Dropping a full-back here; tagging in a new unproven midfielder there.


An established star will likely lose their starting place, and discussion will turn to the impact this will have on their motivation over the rest of the competition. Will this be a terminal knock to their confidence? Is this just the wake-up call they needed? How can they recover the form that got them selected in the first place?


As a spectator, it is perhaps difficult to comprehend how a well-compensated player who is currently enjoying the great honour of playing for their country might struggle for motivation. Nevertheless, past tournaments have nearly always had at least one example of a player who has got on the plane with the highest of expectations and been rather a disappointment in return.


It might be less glamorous, but the challenge of motivating individuals possessed of high-potential is also a recurring theme for many organisations’ HR departments. Indeed, to read the past few years of business stories on the subject, there appears to be something of a sea change in thinking on the subject underway in certain quarters.


You have, for example, Netflix’s well-documented introduction of a whopping 12 months of parental leave for its salaried employees. Or Richard Branson’s very public praise for that same company’s much-envied unlimited leave policy, which he subsequently adopted for his own Virgin Group. We have also seen major companies like Accenture and Microsoft announce that they will replace the traditional annual performance appraisal with more proactive – and supposedly more effective - coaching-led systems of talent management.


Then there is the very recent announcement from General Electric that the firm is looking to shun the tradition of an annual pay rise in favour of a more flexible, individually-tailored approach to compensation. GE’s status as one of the mainstays of US corporate life, of course, means this announcement is likely to be watched closely by other companies around the world. In the same way, in fact, that the company’s move away from its annual employee ranking system towards an app that allows employees to regularly rate both managers and subordinates has already garnered a great deal of interest at other firms.


Organisations obviously have a great many more levers they can pull than the average international football manager, yet the challenge remains largely the same. Keeping talented people motivated and engaged is not as simple as intermittently patting them on the back and paying them more. Many of these recent corporate initiatives have been driven by the realisation that employees these days stay at companies for less time; move countries and continents more readily; and don’t even necessarily plan to stay in the same industry for any great stretch. Keeping them interested, the theory goes, therefore requires broader thinking.


The upshot is that every employee at a company can benefit from these innovations. Just as dropping a superstar might inspire a spirited performance from a player not considered a starter, the impact of a different approach to rewards and performance management will be felt by the whole employee-base, not simply the vaunted top performers. Potentially, then, the reward for greater flexibility and more responsive feedback systems is a more general up-turn in performance and engagement throughout the entire business. The average manager at the Euros can likely only dream of such a boost.


Ahmad Badr is Chief Executive Officer of Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group (ADUKG).


Reference: The National