Why organisations should not be prioritising experience over potential

Openly greeting a job recruiter with a firm handshake, recruitment industry, new role, work experience

Article provided by Dr Riitta Lumme-Tuomala, Head of Growth at Aalto University Executive Education

What if we want to change roles or move into a new sector with little to no experience in it? Many people would advise against it – but what if someone has great potential? What’s that really worth?

In an ever-changing business environment, this is exactly what organisations should be prioritising – the value of an individual’s potential.

This is particularly relevant for managers. Today, new ways of working require leadership skills that are more important than experience, and organisations in rapidly expanding sectors are still wrongly appointing and promoting managers purely based on their experience.

Historically, managers within Non-Governmental Organisations, and indeed other industries, have typically spent their entire career working within their organisation, spending years working their way up to more senior positions.

However, as sectors expand and more people are subsequently employed within these companies, these long-standing employees continue to be deployed to increasingly complex operations and senior positions despite the influx of new talent – and this can be detrimental.

But why is this a problem? Well, as sectors expand and businesses develop, they require managers that are open-minded, agile, and can adapt to new ways of working. Yet managers who are appointed based on the amount of time they have spent within the organisation, rather than their potential to move the company forward, have traditionally been known to operate with a paternalistic management style, which can disengage other members of the team and ultimately hold an organisation back.

Of course, there is no doubt that many leaders of this type do tend to demonstrate drive and commitment, as well as an ability to mobilise people and resources, but they can also dominate organisations, be unaccountable, and fail to adapt their ways of working to changing requirements of their sectors.

Therefore, leadership roles are changing, and the skills and competencies which guaranteed success in the past are not always sufficient today. Rather, management styles now require leaders to demonstrate soft skills such as emotional intelligence, including self-awareness, self-regulation and high levels of influencing skills. This is predominantly so that they can drive the organisation forward effectively, along with their team’s commitment and support. Someone with these qualities could be much more effective than the obvious candidate with the most years of experience in the company.

This is where talent management becomes very important within organisations. At its core, talent management means ensuring that the right people are in the right position or place at the right time, by looking at a number of factors – particularly potential.

With this in mind, organisations across all sectors should implement talent management initiatives that prioritise problem-solving, strategic decision-making, goal and direction-setting, and understanding operational context when placing managers, rather than basing their decisions on an individual’s high levels of – often outdated – experience.


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