Sunday, 5 October 2014

Who to value the most: past achievers or potential future performers?

Employers at large tend to appreciate, recognize and ultimately reward individuals either for their past achievements or their future potential. This preference is typically reflected in an organization culture and its practices; in particular in the recruitment and selection, retention and reward policies.
Recruitment and Selection
Offering the right position to the most suitable candidate definitely represents the main objective every recruiter aims at attaining. Despite the desired final end of the procedure is sorely clear, it might not invariably appear to be equally obvious which the most suitable means to achieve the intended purpose is.
Recruiters habitually assess applicants and candidates for any given post on the basis of their CVs. Numberless anecdotes are constantly unveiled and recounted by recruiters about what people include in their résumés and about how self-explanatory this information may prove to be in many cases. The hardest problem with CVs, nonetheless, is associated with the reliability and trustworthiness of the information contained in this significant document. More often than not, applicants tend to inflate the content of their CVs, either overstating the positions these have actually covered or listing qualifications these have never gained and do not hence possess; never mind the inclusion of practical results these have never actually achieved. Inasmuch as identifying the right person for the right position definitely represents a difficult feat to perform, having to deal with altered and craftily devised CVs can just contribute to make the recruiters’ task even trickier. The best and most effective method recruiters should adopt to perform the task is that to practically assess individual knowledge, skills and expertise, but according to the circumstances this activity could prove to be particularly difficult to perform in practice, especially when the recruitment and selection process has to be completed to a tight deadline.
During this delicate and important process, also in those cases in which the CVs of the applicants for any given post properly and genuinely reflect the candidates’ previous experience and background, employers, or rather, recruiters on their behalf in order to identify the most suitable candidate for the current vacancy aim at scrutinizing individual past experiences, that is, past achievements and at reading between the lines, based on CVs and interviews, whether these, albeit not having the desired experience, have the qualities and skills to yield outstanding results in the not-too-distant future.
The fact that an individual has attained impressive results in the past, according to the existing circumstances and context, does not indeed necessarily imply that this will be able to yield the same outstanding results in the future. On the other hand, whether a person has been able to provide evidence of his/her past achievements, this should entail that this has the experience and qualities to potentially re-achieve those results, which should coincide with the feats the employer is expected the selected candidate to perform.

Many newly graduates and brilliant candidates who just have never previously had the chance to cover determined roles, nonetheless, may prove to be outstanding achievers whether offered the chance to show their abilities and capabilities in practice. As long as these individuals will not be offered the opportunity to perform and demonstrate what they are capable and keen to yield, these people will invariably remain overshadowed by those people who can boast a previous, specific experience. This practice can prove to be particularly detrimental for new graduates, who very often find it frustrating, after years of hard study, not to be offered a position potentially compatible with their knowledge and skills for lack of practical experience. It should not hence come as a surprise that many young people prefer approaching the world of work rather than the academic one.

This practice, however, could reveal to be counterproductive for employers too in that it may cause in the mid- to long-term a widespread general shortage of talent. Yet, people who have gained a previous experience of performing a determined task may tend to approach it routinely, without making any valuable contribution in terms of innovation and originality. In some cases, merely repeating what one is used to do may also account for introducing or implementing a solution not necessarily fully meeting the employer requirements and expectations.

It clearly depends on the circumstances; for certain types of jobs requiring a high degree of autonomy and assertiveness, a previous specific experience may be justified but this is not necessarily invariably the case.

Recruitment specialists and professionals should hence try and identify, and hence agree with the relevant managers, when some specific experience for any given post can be “sacrificed” or otherwise for future potential.

Retention practices

Employers’ preference for past achievers or future potential performers is also certainly reflected in the business retention policies. Opportunities for growth, training, teamwork, increased autonomy and responsibility, involvement and participation and pay increases, just to cite some examples, will be offered only to those employees who have attained the pre-agreed results or to those individuals who have shown to have the capabilities to obtain outstanding results in the future, whether the employer is willing and keen to bet on these, accordingly.
Despite the sorting effect is habitually associated with the pressure which the pay increases granted to some individuals can put on the others as regards their decision to stay or leave the company, the initiatives listed above can actually support and complement the sorting effect provoked by reward practices. Individuals who are not offered opportunities for growth and development in fact might find it more appropriate to leave the organization. Even more so when the lack of prospects is coupled with a lack of pay increases, whereas other colleagues are offered and benefit of both of these types of advantages.

Reward practices

As it is usually said money talks so that employer preference for past achievers or future potential performers is likely to emerge from their reward practices, too.

Organizations aiming at rewarding past achievements and outstanding or above-the-average performance have typically recourse to contingent, variable pay arrangements. Pay increases are linked to past results and performance and are offered as long as these are sustained over time, and eventually consolidated into base pay after these have been repeated for a given number of consecutive years. The cash supplement is in this case considered as pay at risk or pay which needs to be re-earned to be repeated.

Employers valuing future potential performers are most likely to introduce competency-related schemes, which place emphasis in development and future accomplishments, rather than in past achievements. Pay supplements are hence granted to individuals based on the assumption that their increased competencies will enable these to regularly achieve better results in the future.

Employer preference for past achievers or future potential performers may also be associated with the individual experience in and acquaintance with the job. Individuals should first and foremost have a future potential, this being the case after a while these have covered a given post or role these will certainly become also past achievers. 
The two features are not indeed mutually exclusive, but do not either necessarily coexist. As discussed earlier, the concept of past achiever could be merely associated with an individual ability to repeat a given level of performance or achievements based on his/her past experience. In contrast, a future potential performer, whose status could also coincide with that of a past achiever, is a person who, albeit capable to re-achieve any given result, can also extend and expand further his/her capabilities, reach higher level of performance and regularly yield even more satisfactory, impressive results in the future. Employers aiming at fostering both aspects usually have recourse to contribution-related pay approaches, which are intended to favour employee development and growth, whereas rewarding individuals for the results these have yielded in the past.

It can be contended that in general past achievers are not necessarily potential future performers, whereas potential future performers can easily evolve into past achievers, still preserving their potential to grow and develop further in the future and consequently continuing to produce dramatic and impressive results over time.

Longo, R., (2014), Who to value the most: past achievers or potential future performers?; Milan: HR Professionals [online].