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Talent Management: Try Something Novel

Ever since Bloomberg bought Business Week, the change in content has been significant.  The April 16th – 22nd issue contained articles that addressed talent management from two successful managers, Reed Hastings of NetFlix and Angela Ahrendts of Burberry, who have very novel ideas about how to get the best from your staff .  What drew my attention to write about them was their unusual perspectives, not what you’d typically hear from most people managers.

Mr. Hastings wrote about ‘a sense of responsibility where people care about the enterprise.’  He credits a culture of responsibility for NetFlix’s ability to endure its new pricing policy, set in 2011 to fits from subscribers.  At that time, NetFlix separated its DVD delivery and streaming services, allowing subscribers to bundle or unbundle, with many opting for the latter and dropping streaming, slamming its earning.  “When we moved too quickly for our customers and the backlash hit, there was a lot of strength and resilience on the management team.”

What surprised me even more were these beliefs, which I wish more companies would adopt:

  • Great work is what matters most, not hard work or long hours.
  • Top talent is attracted by ‘top-of-the-market compensation.’  Neither stock vesting nor delayed compensation are offered, nor are bonuses or stock grants.  Yet, that doesn’t seem to prevent them from finding extraordinary people.
  • Employees can take as much vacation as they want.  Mr. Hastings himself makes sure he takes a lot of vacation, during which time he does some of his most creative thinking.

People work at NetFlix because they are ‘well paid, challenged and excited.’  Creative talent management allowed NetFlix to weather bad times.

Ms. Ahrendts is perhaps in an even more creative business, designing and retailing high-end clothes and image creation.  Thus, ‘hiring and retaining great creative talent is a priority.’  She strives to find executives who ‘have a balance between right-brain inventiveness and left-brain analysis.’  Often she mixes left-brain and right-brain executives to see how they relate to each other — if not, they won’t fit Burberry’s culture.  “You have to build a team that respects the value that both sides bring to each new challenge.”

Like Mr. Hastings, she too has different beliefs about managing talent:

  • Feelings are valued as much as knowledge to encourage creativity.
  • “The right physical environment also creates energy.”
  • Providing free lunch to everyone in Burberry’s London headquarters has a quick ROI by ‘bringing people together and encouraging communication beyond their team or their floor.’
  • People are allowed to dream.  In fact, they established an innovation council chaired by their chief creative officer.  The remit is ‘simply, to dream.  It allows young voices to be heard.  It also helps enlighten our more seasoned executives.”

Linear thinking — which you won’t find at NetFlix or Burberry’s — is so common that when we read articles like these two, we stop and wonder why such appealing solutions are not more prevalent.  It just takes a bit of creativity.