A few years back I was working on an assignment for a Belgian company whose slogan was ‘Mine Your Own Business’. I always found it a great slogan as it related directly to their product, catching attention while doing so. The point the company was making was that their tools could help exploit the data within a business. They took product and marketing data and automatically generated, product brochures, price lists, catalogues and other media sets and published them to websites, print ready formats, and CDRoms etc.. It was a great product and they had some impressive clients. But despite all their best efforts, persuading new customers to purchase their licences proved incredibly hard.

There are some things in life I find difficult to understand and one of them is the slow take up of proven technologies that so obviously benefit both business and society (a typical example of this is the incredible length of time it took for the building industry to adapt to using Gyproc plasterboard on a generic scale). I digress…

The point is that this week, while being interviewed in connection with my book, which is only five days away from launch, a red thread emerged that passed through the interviews on how exactly do I make a difference? And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that apart from the structured methods and all the tips and trick I suggest in ‘Making a Difference’, it largely comes down to mining the talent at ones disposal.

Far too often I see companies recruit brilliant performers, only to see that within a few months (sometimes even weeks) of their being recruited, they are not deployed for what they were recruited but are pointed in a different direction. Consequently, their real talents gradually become buried, along with their promising CV, deep down in the bottom of the bottom drawer of their bosses filing cabinet.

For example: A young marketing executive, is recruited for their originality, passion and clear thought. Two weeks into their new job their N+2 urgently needs some product sales figures analyzed and put in a presentation which he will give to his board. Because the new recruit is available, she is given the task. She does a really great job, crunching the numbers and displaying them in exactly the way her N+2 wants. She surprises him by the speed of her result and the original way she displays the information, emphasizing the strong points and burying the less attractive ones. Instead of asking himself ‘what else can this person do?’, from that day on, she is seen as the Queen of MS Excel and analytics. Ten months later, when the novelty has worn off, she feels under valued and is looking for a new opportunity.

Successful sports coaches, are forever tweaking their teams, and having them change positions, sometimes playing in one position, sometimes playing in another. They make a mockery of the idiotic saying ‘never change a winning team’. They like to dig out and encourage every piece of hidden talent and build on it. Professional sports players don’t come cheap and nor do the human resources in our businesses.

When I am on an assignment, I am always trying to find the extra depth in people. I try to encourage them to step forward and utilize their skills and ideas. If they don’t fit where they are, I try and move them to somewhere where they do. This is particularly important in Belgium, because the cost of ‘letting people go’ is so hideously expensive that there is no fluidity in the HR market, except for interims and consultants, but they should not be seen as the foundation of a business, or should they?

The company I was referring to in the beginning of this piece was MediaMine nv. Times have changed, and so have they, but you can find out more about them on their website: MediaMine.com