Raw belief, raw talent

Bloggers have a habit of seeing something in life and trying to draw parallels with the world of work, or whatever topic they choose to blog about. I know, I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt, bought the t-shirt company. I’m going to try to avoid that. But being half cut on Night Nurse and paracetamol, who knows….anything could happen.

Last year, after final school reports, I was walking with my daughter in the Ardeche. She had done really well that year, but maths remained an issue for her. Half confidence, half ability. She struggled to perform to the level of her natural intellectual ability. We were hiking a particularly arduous 12 mile route and to keep her mind off the hills, we talked about school and subjects and basically anything to prevent the “are we there yet” syndrome kicking in.

When we got to maths, she was, as usual, self-effacing, honest and humble. “I just don’t understand it” she told me.  “You can understand anything”, I replied rather tritely. “I bet by this time next year, if you really want to, you can be on the top table”. She looked at me and said, “I can’t. I’m not good enough”.

“I can’t do it for you” I replied, “but if you really want it, if you think you can, if you tried hard and if I help you, you will.”

The conversation continued and fast forward 7 months and I am sat in the classroom with her teacher. We start talking about maths and she tells me how she has seen an incredible improvement in my daughter. From being in the bottom group, she is now in the second to top. She explains that she is out performing her ability, because of her desire to learn, to do well and to succeed. “It is truly incredible” she tells me.

So what happened? Well, some of it is about the right moment. Some of it is about the right support. Some of it is about maturity. But as my daughter said to me this evening, “well we said that was what was going to happen”. Some of it was about having a vision of success and the sense of belief that comes from other people sharing that vision.  There was no intellectual or physical reason why she could not achieve this, but there was a psychological block.

Would I have spent the same amount of time and effort with one of my team? With an employee? Probably not and this is a salutary lesson that I need to reflect on a little more. If we are set on getting people to perform to their potential, sometimes that goes beyond training, sometimes it goes beyond structures and job profiles. And it definitely goes beyond the nonsense that is talked about the war for talent, talent communities, talent pipelining etc. etc.

Most of the time, the raw talent is sat just in front of you. With a little bit of personal investment, a bit of belief and, of course, with the right support and instruction. Well, most things are possible. You just need to approach it with the passion and dedication that you would with someone you love.

Time consuming? Yes. A waste of time? No.

And I’ll leave the last word to my daughter, “Well, I’m pleased…….but I’m not on the top table yet. But I have another four months to go…..and I will be there. Because I can.”

UPDATE: The results are in and she has gained four levels this year, from being one behind target to three above. Now that, my friends, is DATA.


  1. Michael Carty · March 14, 2012

    Excellent post, Neil! And congratulations to your daughter, too!

    Maybe you should consider starting a new blog entitled “Alchemist HR”?

    • Neil · April 2, 2012

      Thanks Michael…..Alchemist HR….love it!

  2. martincouzins757 · March 14, 2012

    Spot on, Neil. Great story and what a great result. You must be a proud dad. I’m learning a lot from being a parent – in some senses what is required is as simple as you describe. It may be a big issue for the child but the answer is not necessarily complex, as you explain. A sense of where you are going, support, belief and time can go a long way towards making things happen.

    Then you look at how this kind of stuff is articulated for adults in the workplace and suddenly it is the most complex thing ever. For any employee it isn’t and should never be. Unfortunately we have constructed workplaces and ways of working that have taken our relatively simple needs as people and abstracted them into complex theories and models in which the needs of people get lost.

    • Neil · April 2, 2012

      I couldn’t agree more Martin, with adults we seem to need to place caveats and insurance policies everywhere….and lose the purity and value of the message.

  3. megp · March 14, 2012

    What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing it.

    I know that all the good things I am have been nourished and nurtured by others who believe in me and my potential; much of the important stuff was from my beloved parents and there were significant moments where someone believed “I could” in the workplace that I will never forget.

    At a particularly dark time, someone once told me there is always hope. I would like to see more hope and optimism for and about each other in the workplace – I puzzle over why our most special aspects of humanity are expected to be left behind when we go to work.

    • Neil · April 2, 2012

      Great point Meg….if these are the aspects that are really important to who we are, then why can’t they be present at work?

  4. ThinkingFox · March 14, 2012

    Lovely story and you’re spot on Neil: the raw talent is normally right under our noses just waiting to be helped and supported. Strange therefore how much effort is put into “managing people out of the business” when often with a bit of a non-corporate chat we can get the best out of them.

    Congrats to your daughter too. Maths can be beautifully simple when it finally clicks 🙂

    • Neil · April 2, 2012

      I despair at how many HR functions set up their stall to “manage out” or “prevent”. I read a really chucklesome post the other day that named me and criticised my approach, they said that there was a need to focus on the “divorce” as well as the “marriage”. Really very sad.

  5. This post has provoked a lot of thought for me… I’m left with some fundamental questions about how HRDs fulfil their role. Specifically, do HRDs actually believe it is in their interests to get people to perform to their potential? If so, how do they demonstrate it? How do they walk the talk? Would like to hear your views and experiences!

    • Neil · April 2, 2012

      I think most would say they do believe it is in their interests, but then most of us would also say it was in our best interests to eat our five a day and not drink…..

  6. John Costello · March 21, 2012

    I agree completely with you when you say “you can understand anything” and I think at school children should be encouraged to do well in all subjects. Well done to your daughter, who knows where her new confidence in her maths ability will take her.

    Many organisations advocate developing strengths as opposed to focusing on skill gaps. Your post made me consider whether this depends on career stage? Obviously if your daughter focused on strengths then she might have put her energy into something else and maybe done enough to pass maths (unfortunately an approach taken by many students).

    If the development area is not one where an employee has an interest or ability, i.e. not one of their strengths, is the best approach to make the investment and help them to develop or try to find a role for them where they can better develop in the areas they are strong in?

    • Neil · April 2, 2012

      John, that is a really interesting point on strength based approaches. I don’t know, I need to think about it……

  7. Henry · March 21, 2012

    Good post.
    Can do wins.
    Love it.

    • Neil · April 2, 2012

      And can’t do sucks……!

  8. Doug Shaw · July 13, 2012

    Good work, great to hear about all the progress 🙂 It matters.

  9. Danny Kitchener · May 3, 2013

    We have seen the same results in performance with objective based feedback. Staff take ownership of their development, are motivated to learn, and we see a sharper improvement in performance.

    Well done to your daughter.

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