It seems we were on to something in our last posting. We read in the latest New Scientist that highly credible, peer-reviewed research backs our hunch that companies inadvertently undermine their talent.
According to research findings, more stumbled upon than planned, by André Spicer, from Cass Business School, London, working with Mats Alvesson from Lund University, Sweden, organisations engage in inadvertent practices with regard to their new talent amounting to what they call ‘functional stupidity’.
According to their research, published in the Journal of Management Studies, (Vol. 49, p1194) this functional stupidity was a direct contributor to the financial crisis in 2008:
“They all knew that there were problems with mortgage-backed securities and structured commodities”. But not only was it no one’s problem to look at them: the employees faced discipline if they raised concerns, perhaps because they seemed to be undermining those with greater authority. The result is that potentially brilliant employees left logic at the office door.” (Quoted in New Scientist, 30/3/13, p33)
So this is a social process that has multiple components: lack of accountability, abusive hierarchies, risk aversion (ironic in these circumstances, if you consider what the consequences were for these banks), and competition between generations and levels of authority.
What is also interesting about Spicer and Alvessons’ research is how it shows that critical thinking – the ability to challenge basic assumptions and question assumed truths – is blunted by this phenomenon. But isn’t that what youth is for? So again, perhaps it comes down to the fact that, whatever the conscious good intentions about embracing youth and new talent, we are somehow hard-wired to reject their questioning of the status quo.
Only a deliberate, wilful intent to overcome our unconscious antipathy of being challenged will give talent a true chance. How many leaders have this quality?