Taking Time With Talent

Our bass player struggles at times. There; I said it.

He still sometimes refers to fret number instead of note (“do I play a 3 or a 5 there?”) and gets flustered occasionally when we speed up past about 120 beats per minute. It’s perfectly normal. You see, he’s only been playing for a year and a half, and in the band we play in, no one else has less than a decade on his instrument. I’ve got two decades; our drummer, almost three.  Jay’s got a ton of natural talent, strong hands, and a terrific work ethic.  He’s going to be a great bassist. We all know it.

All he’s missing is time on the instrument, and there’s no shortcut for that.

What I’ve noticed about Jay in the past two years are the phenomenal strides he’s made as a musician in a supportive environment. It’s easy to forget at times that the “big chunks of getting better” come early, not late, in our careers, and they come only when we feel like we’re in an environment in which mistakes get made and can be safely corrected.  Jay’s gotten better – a lot better – since his first tentative steps jamming in my basement studio, in part because of a clear message the rest of us have sent him.  What we’ve told him, in essence, is “you’re new to this; you’re important to us; we’re going to wait for you and be there for you.”

He knows that we’re going to raise our expectations as we go – but there’s no point in starting off with those expectations. All they’re going to do is frustrate him, discourage his continuing efforts to practice and improve, and ultimately cost us a good guy. We didn’t try and do a stage show for almost a year after we began; it just wasn’t the right setting for him. Letting him slowly come along in basement jam sessions was a better environment for him to learn his craft. But once he gained his confidence, and improved his performance, he’s been fantastic in live shows.

Making Music at Work

I see this same concept executed well – and, sometimes, executed poorly – at the leading organizations I consult with as a solution delivery executive with Aristeia. Companies recruit top talent from prestigious universities around the country, but all too often forget who they’re bringing on board: kids. They’ve done it all, on paper – but never when it mattered. Do we need new collegiate-age hires to come up the curve quickly? Yes. Do we also need to be patient with them as those “big chunks of better” manifest themselves? Yes.

We also need to recognize the moments when they’re ready to take a step, and allow them to take it safely.

I’ve brought this idea to a number of client organizations, where our engagement team has worked with HR to institute ‘jam sessions’ for new hires. They’re provided with a forum of mentor executives within the organization and encouraged to research and present a topic of potential interest to the organization – a new product concept, an assessment of a key competitor, an overview of an existing process with recommendations for improvement. They’re then given the floor to make their presentation with all the accoutrements; often, the boardroom is scheduled for the event, and lunch is provided. The only rules are that criticism can only be constructive, and anything that needs to be discussed in greater depth is done offline. It’s a safe environment.

The results for our clients have been fantastic. Everyone wins; young employees get valuable face time with senior execs, and they’re less nervous about presenting ‘for real’ down the line if they’ve seen those executives and answered their questions in a less formal setting several times before. Execs get to meet some of the company’s brightest young stars early in their career and develop mentoring relationships with them. And, every now and again, a presentation that was supposed to be a ‘trial run’ turns out to be something of real interest and importance to the organization – a product idea gets enacted, a process gets re-engineered, et cetera.

Practice Makes Perfect-ish

The presenter is almost always asked to be  a part of that team working on the project, in a ‘safe’ role. The time involved in preparing a presentation is minimal in the scope of the employee’s week, generally just a few hours’ time scheduled out to work on it, and the process also encourages new hires to meet and interact with other members of the organization in different operational areas.

Talent grows and flowers; it evolves, breathes, and expands. It’s not a shrink-wrapped commodity that’s switched on at a certain point in our lives and remains at a steady state. Carl Jung wrote that “…great talents are the most lovely and often the most dangerous fruits on the tree of humanity. They hang upon the most slender twigs that are easily snapped off.” As we recruit and hire new employees for our organizations, these are important concepts to keep in mind. Rush a new hire along too quickly in the never-ending quest for productivity and improvement, and we risk gaining nothing from his or her tenure. Carefully managing our new human resources and bringing them along at a comfortable pace, however, ensures years – perhaps decades – of productive, creative service.

What steps are you taking in your organization to ensure that your young recruits are protected from harsh elements in the beginning stages of employment? How are you mentoring them with a sense of safety and encouragement? What else is needed to insure that your organization is providing the proper environment for professional and personal growth? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Dave Mayer is EVP & Executive Director of Aristeia, Inc.
He can be reached at david.mayer@aristeia-corp.com

Image Source: alispagnola.com, riversidemusic.com


~ by Dave Mayer on December 1, 2009.

2 Responses to “Taking Time With Talent”

  1. Bravo…
    This is all very well done.

  2. […] This post was Twitted by PattiBreckenrdg […]

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