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7 Key Learnings on Leadership and Talent Development from the HSM Conference

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

The 25th and 26th of October 2010 the 6th edition of the HSM Global Forum of the Management of People took place in Barcelona. Foundum had the pleasure of being present at this event and listen to some engaging and insightful input that thought leaders had to share. The main theme of the conference was about the nurturing, motivation and management of talent and leadership.  All the speakers had very interesting points to make and this article will highlight the top 7 lessons that Entrepreneurial companies should keep in mind in their various phases of development:

  1. Work doesn’t get done through the HierarchiesPeter Senge, professor at MIT, spoke about studies that have been made regarding how work gets done in companies. The results demonstrated that collaboration within groups of peers in different business functions around the company was how work was being done; therefore laterally and not vertically within the organizational tree. So as a company expands, adding hierarchy doesn’t necessarily create more job being done or efficiency. Creating dynamic teams, workgroups and flexible positions with a flat structure on the other hand could work as it does in Gore.
  2. Leadership development must have a Head, Body & LegsNigel Nicholson, professor at London Business School, went into a deep analysis of leadership development in companies and clearly stated that leadership must be an integral part of the firm. Leadership development should be present in the strategic priority of the company (Head). HR should build in the systems of the company leadership development (Body). Finally managers and executives should “live” the idea and embrace leadership development to seek and improve talent (Legs).
  3. Developing Leadership in a high growth company – A very interesting question was raised to Nigel Nicholson regarding the problem of staying focused on leadership while there is a massive inflow of new talent. The answer was a simple one but hard to implement. In such situations the culture needs to be highly enforced and embraced by the people of the company. In this way, if leadership development is in the “Head” of the company it will stay. According to Nicholson the culture of a firm is the Unique Selling Point to clients, employees and prospective talent.
  4. The importance of Mentors – Nicholson also talked about the three spheres of influence that people within a company have. The company culture, the people around them and the third are the external sources. Nicholson argues that for personal and professional development it is crucial to have someone in the external sphere as a mentor. Mentorship is not only beneficial for the young and upcoming talent, but it can also work in reverse where the pupil mentors the eldest (reverse mentorship).
  5. Ask the right questions – A point that the speakers seemed to have shared was the idea of being able to teach talent how to ask the right questions. Instead of being able to give a good answer, asking the right questions seems to be more important. It is through the right question that solutions are created and problems are solved.
  6. Enabling Imagination – Sir Ken Robinson talked about the importance of imagination and enabling this skill that our mind has. This is what distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom, being able to imagine concepts and things that we cannot feel with our senses. This is what enables vision of the future and development of innovation.
  7. If the conditions are right life is inevitable – Sir Ken Robinson also spoke about the importance of creating the right conditions. The example that was given was about Death Valley in Nevada, USA. Before 2005 this valley was without any form of life, but in 2005 it rained enough to transform the deserted view into a valley of flora. This metaphor was used to explain how important it is for companies to create the right conditions in order to grow talents and leaders and unleash their ideas.

Developing leadership and talent is hard enough in established and well-managed companies, it is even harder in start-ups and companies that are growing quickly from zero. The importance of the people working in the company must not be forgotten; they are the present and the future of the firm.