Tapping the Full Potential of Top Talent

More than one of our clients in the last year has asked the question: “Are we maximizing the contribution or optimizing the potential of our technical employees?” “How do we know if the performance of our R&D; pipeline indeed reflects the full potential of the top talent in our labs?”

While looking for a response to that question may be useful, any answer to it is inherently “political”. Why? First, because the criteria for “performance” are not widely understood and accepted the deeper one goes in most R&D; organizations. There is often substantial disagreement about how “performance” is recognized and rewarded (and not much dialogue about what performance really means to the professional at the bench). Secondly, human potential cannot be captured by any metric. There is always more potential.

The answer will always be political; the inquiry, however, is essential.

When asked about employee potential, THE most frequent indicator that management points to is the “engagement survey” conducted by corporate HR or global shared services. I was recently sitting in a break-out group with a 10-12 scientists from the R&D; function. We were asked to work on the low scores on an “engagement survey” related to “working with the customer”. The entire 90 minutes was spent debating what “customer” means for the R&D; group. The group virtually discounted the value of the entire survey because of lack of shared understanding – not just related to ”customer” but other aspects as well for those completing it.

Trying to decode corporate surveys is no substitute for being engaged oneself.