Monday, September 8, 2008

Talent does not always have a specific degree

In an earlier post I had written that talent has no gender . According to some companies talent comes with specific educational degrees (only). Anyone without those degrees is deemed unsuitable .

Picture this – a fashion clothing manufacturer which insists on hiring only engineers with a MBA  degree for customer service and sales positions . Not only are the recruitment criteria irrelevant . They are sometimes counter productive for the business .

To succeed in customer service/sales in the fashion business one must have an eye for detail , understand the product in detail , seek to innovate , have an interest in fashion , be people centric , willingness to learn , willingness to work on the shop floor / with the artisans (if not all then at least some of this attributes in varying degrees ). Does an engineering degree ensure these traits ?

Since the creation of SoulQuest I have had the opportunity to work with a very diverse group of people and companies across India . Talent abounds in the most unexpected places .

The dedicated sales girl in a handloom store who in a few visits understood our requirements and created relevant sample ranges on her own . Built a strong rapport to an extent where my colleagues go an extra mile to develop business to place to her . It was incredibly touching to see her follow up to service some enquiries (which she knew were important for us) while on her maternity leave . This is service that can’t be taught or forced.

An entrepreneur who (works with artisans) provides consistently high levels of quality and personalized service.

    A young girl with Higher Secondary Education who today effectively manages the administration of a start-up software company . She made the effort to learn whatever was needed , asked for additional responsibilities . Of course the organization supported her . But without her initiative it would not have been possible.

The examples could fill a book . The point is not that engineering or certain degrees are of no value . An arts graduate may be able to bring immense value to a software company and a biotech graduate may make a terrific designer. The point is that talent does not always come only with a uniform package of specific degrees.

This is even more relevant in a country like India where the educational system is quite rigid. Add to it the fact that career choices get determined at an age when (in most cases) the person makes choices from a limited understanding of possibilities . For many certain educational options are not available due to monetary constraints . But they have the attitude , talent and willingness to learn .Given this background - ill conceived recruitment criteria are a disservice to the business and every stake holder involved.

Oddly companies seem to look at non-linear profiles to recruit only when faced with a crisis of shortage of ‘suitable’ candidates .  It’s a reaction rather than a pro-active strategy .

Large corporates  tend to seek homogeneity of sorts – within a function , across the organization . In some it takes the form of documented recruitment criteria , in some it is informal e.g hire people who are likely to be in sync with the culture of not questioning the hierarchy etc . The end result is a group with an alarming resemblance to the agents in the Matrix movies .

To navigate through today’s world new (relevant) skills are vital – to understand the changing business landscape , innovate continuously and to build strong relationships.

It takes self-confident and strong leaders to redefine the business and invite the (relevant) diverse group of people on-board .

p.s - The very existence , shape and form of organizations is undergoing scrutiny and change in a world where groups come together and create something that would have been impossible for an organization to do / do at a comparable cost e.g Wikipedia , Flickr . More on that in a later post…

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