Grooming talent rests with senior management

CONVENTIONAL wisdom dictates that good staff are a coveted commodity, so hiring based on merit is a given ("'Hire bankers on merit, not nationality'"; Monday).

This is not peculiar to the financial industry but is the case across all industries.

How do we develop a workforce that can stand up to competition from foreigners? How do we grow our own timber?

Having spent 37 years in corporate life, with 22 years in senior management, I feel qualified to comment.

In most organisations, the chief executive is too busy with setting visions and strategies for the viability and sustainability of the business that he is inevitably detached from the day-to-day operational aspects, including staff development and retention.

Staff development, talent spotting, grooming and retention should rest with senior management, who are closer to the ground.

However, in many cases, senior managers - particularly those responsible for revenue generation - are so preoccupied with the top line that their role in staff development is compromised.

The tendency is to accord too much credence to the senior staff who bring in the revenue, given their tenure in the organisation and relationships with clients, even though some may lack the potential for development.

Additionally, for their own comfort and assurance, senior management may deem it prudent to confine the more lucrative clients to such staff, knowing that if they were to leave to join the competition, their ability to take the clients with them is limited.

It is common, therefore, for the younger, high-potential staff to be undermined by their seniors who feel threatened.

Hence, senior managers must have the ability to spot high-potential staff, mentor and groom them, and provide opportunities and latitude for them to develop and grow in their jobs.

They must also possess the courage to face opposition from senior staff who feel threatened.

Ultimately, how successfully new staff are groomed depends very much on the culture of the organisation. And this is the job of the chief executive.

Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2015, with the headline 'Grooming talent rests with senior management'. Print Edition | Subscribe