In Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World- Class Performers From Everybody Else, the author, Geoff Colvin, tackles the question of where great performance comes from

His conclusion is that it comes from neither hard work nor people’s innate qualities (what we typically call talent). Instead, he suggests that it comes from “deliberate performance” i.e. intense, focused and systematic effort to master a skill or subject.

The concept of deliberate practice was pioneered by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of Psychology at Florida State University. In a seminal 1993 paper titled “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” Ericsson argued that:

“People believe that because expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance, the expert performers must be endowed with characteristics qualitatively different from those of normal adults. This view has discouraged scientists from systematically examining expert performers and accounting for their performance in terms of the laws and principles of general psychology.”

Ericsson further stated that he and his colleagues agreed that:

“Expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance and even that expert performers have characteristics and abilities that are qualitatively different from or at least outside the range of those of normal adults. However, we deny that these differences are immutable, that is due to innate talent. Only a few exceptions, most notably height are genetically prescribed. Instead, we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”

Ericsson’s research identified four essential components of deliberate practice that when met, help to improve accuracy and speed of performance on cognitive, perceptual and other tasks:

  1. You must be motivated to attend to the task and exert effort to improve your performance.
  1. Each task should be designed to take into account your pre-existing knowledge. This will ensure the task is correctly understood after a relatively brief period of instruction.
  1. You should receive immediate informative feedback and knowledge of results of your performance.
  1. The same or similar tasks should be performed repeatedly.

Much of the argument by the proponents of deliberate practice reinforces with my own observations over the years. I’ve certainly come across many hardworking people whose applications and efforts simply did not translate into superior performance, I also agree with Colvin’s assertion that ascribing great performance to innate ability or talent alone simply allows too many people to find an easy excuse for their lack of achievement.

On the other hand, I wonder if deliberate practice by itself can explain all cases of superior performance. I’ve met more than my fair share of top performers whose achievements could hardly be ascribed to anything remotely resembling deliberate practice.

Clearly, the debate over where superior performance in the workplace comes from is one that isn’t going to be decided anytime soon. Nature versus nurture: which side are you on?


I’ve just finished reading Turn the Ship Around! by Captain L. David Marquet, a former U.S. Navy submarine commander. The book chronicles Marquet’s successful efforts to turn the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear- powered submarine from worst to first in the fleet.

It is a remarkable account, not least because Captain Marquet found himself having to challenge nearly all the Navy’s traditional leadership principles as he struggled to build a high-performing team out of the chronically under-performing crew he inherited when he assumed command.

Working with a very tight deadline to meet exacting combat readiness standards, Marquet knew he had to quickly find a way to move the crew away from the Navy’s traditional “leader-follower” leadership paradigm. In its place, he would seek to establish a “leader-leader” approach that would shift his middle-level managers out of their comfort zone or “position of privilege” as he calls it towards one in which they actively sought out and accepted increasing levels of accountability, responsibility and work.

As he tried to implement this new approach, Marquet often found himself having to make direct contact with people below his immediate reports. In some cases, this was necessary to ensure clarity about how the new approach would work, in others it was to check up to see if the new way of managing was actually working.

Now this is a problem I can readily identify with. As Human Edge has continued to grow and expand, I too have found myself struggling to find the right balance between empowering colleagues who are often assuming managerial responsibilities for the first time and maintaining close contact with their team members in order to monitor work output and quality.

Like Marquet, I have been accused by managers of undermining their authority by not demonstrating sufficient trust in their managerial abilities. However, until I read Marquet’s book, I could never quite respond to such accusations the way I really wanted. I do trust them, but perhaps not quite in the way they expect.

Fortunately, Marquet manages to hit the nail on the head when he explains that “Trust means this: when you report that we should position the ship in a certain position, you believe that we should position the ship as you indicated. Not trusting you would mean that I thought you might be saying one thing while actually believing something else. Trust is purely a characteristic of the human relationship. Now, whether the position you indicate is actually the best tactical position for Santa Fe is a totally different issue, one of physics, time, distance and the movements of the enemy. These are characteristics of the physical world and have nothing to do with trust.”

And that, I guess, is the real point. As managers we have a duty to obtain the facts about a given situation. This may require us to check up on the handling of a situation by whatever means necessary, including the questioning of people closest to the action.

Turn the Ship AroundMany managers see this as an issue of exercising legitimate control and not a question of trust. But with hindsight, perhaps it is a question of trust. Our reports must “trust” us enough to believe that we will not intentionally seek to undermine their authority with team members.

Needless to say, achieving such high levels of trust requires considerable hard work. In particular, attention must be paid to ensuring that people are clear about their individual roles and responsibilities.

Once people understand what an organization is trying to achieve and how they can contribute to its success, most of the unproductive second guessing and mistrust gradually fades away.

In my previous post, I examined the relationship between an organization’s brand promise and the brand experience produced by customer interaction with its workforce.

In this post, Mr. Folu Adeyeye, a creative strategist with a leading Lagos-based strategy and innovation firm shares his views on how to ensure that an organization’s employees deliver its brand promise to customers.


Folu Adeyeye

Winning with People by Folu Adeyeye

Your organization is only as good as its people. No matter how cliché this proposition has become, it still holds immense truth especially for businesses in the 21st century that are serious about catalyzing business growth based on consistent brand delivery. Just as your organization is only as good as its people, this group of people are also only as impactful as the creed that binds and guides them. This notion, perhaps, best underscores the importance of “branded behavior” in creating the right corporate culture that will guarantee effective delivery of your brand’s promise.

More often than not, business owners go about setting up their businesses without giving consideration to the kind of environment the business will sport or the kind of people that will best deliver the business’ value proposition. Ultimately, the employees of such businesses get the front row seat in defining what culture will pervade the business – more often than not, this culture is not very enabling.

Your people continue to be a major pillar in your business strategy, but now more than ever before, these people must become the key drivers and builders of your brand. If the people that represent you to your customers and your market do not understand your brand, then it would be near impossible to deliver that brand. While marketing communications play a vital role in the brand building process, it is people who deliver the vital brand experiences and encounters that reinforce your values and fulfil your promise.

A classic example of this would be most Nigerian banks. Very often does a bank communicate to the public their utmost commitment to service, creating some anticipation of almost celestial encounters when you do business with them. However, one cannot help but notice the sharp contrast during actual physical transaction with staff of that bank. The sad result is that the millions on Naira spent on marketing communications have gone to waste because disappointed customers will not only withdraw patronage, they will also become negative advocates for your brand.

The global business landscape, over the last decade has witnessed immense changes; so much more than the preceding century. The most obvious consequence of these changes is the transfer of power to the customer within transactional relationships. After years of empty talk, the customer is now truly king. They have developed an ever evolving taste, they have access to lots more information and now seek to be more included within the realities of business owners. They want more.

These customers, however, are people; people who still need other people to interact with in the course of their lives. The implication for your business within this new paradigm is that you have to “humanize” your brand and distil all that you stand for into personal interactions. This is where your people come in. Customers do not interact with your brand in a vacuum. They interact with you through your people and if these people do not effectively portray what your business stands for, then that sharp contrast which I referred to earlier will mark off a dangerous slide for your business.

So how do you ensure that your people effectively deliver your brand? It’s simple really. Over the last few years of working at Headstart Consulting, a strategy and innovation firm, we have developed comprehensive branBrandingd acculturation program which we call “Living the Brand*”. This program employs a comprehensive and systematic way of entrenching an organization’s values, ideals and aspirations and creating a pervasive a corporate culture that is aligned with corporate objectives. The format for the program shows clearly the steps for taking your staff through that transformational process: from employees to brand champions. Here are four steps to achieve this:

Understanding the Brand

The first thing to do is create a pervasive understanding of the key elements of your organization’s brand. These include a clear definition of why you exist as a business, the value proposition on offer to your customers, specific character traits of your brand and a sturdy position you intend to occupy in the mind of your customers. These elements make up your brand platform and when effectively applied, can be a viable springboard for effective brand delivery.

Living the Brand

This stage is called the “Baptismal Stage”. After ensuring a clear understanding of your brand across your business, the next step will be to cascade this knowledge into your corporate culture. This means that in re-writing your culture book or HR manual, you must take account of the kinds of behavioral characteristics and personality attributes that your people need to foster in order to fully take on your brand image.

Delivering the Brand

At this phase, your people are ready to begin the process of delivering your brand. However, you need to ensure that their knowledge of your brand is matched by a comprehensive consideration and understanding of the peculiar need, expectations and aspirations of your public (internal and external). This way they can be sure to create consistently delightful brand experiences.

Championing the Brand

Finally, you need to ensure that you entrench a deep sense of pride, ownership and responsibility amongst your employees as they take on the role of brand ambassadors.  You can achieve this by not only identifying but by also rewarding brand-centric behaviors and actions.

It is important to note that to realize your true potentials as a business, you need to effectively and efficiently tackle cultural misalignments and deficiencies by entrenching a culture that reinforces corporate aspirations and a workforce who’s collective and individual behaviors support corporate values and ideals.

*Living the Brand is a proprietary brand acculturation program of Headstart Consulting Limited

Brand building is all the rage these days. Perhaps that’s not as big a surprise as one might think. After all, a growing glut of look-alike products and sbrand buildingervices is making it increasingly difficult for organizations to differentiate themselves to customers and employees alike.

The hope seems to be that a powerful brand can somehow cut through the noise of the marketplace, heighten awareness of our products and services, and shift demand in our favor.

Unfortunately, too many businesses are finding it hard to deliver on their brand promise and the consequences of not being able to do so are easy to see at various points of contact between the customer and the organization.

These are the so-called ‘moments of truth’ that can enhance or erode a brand, heighten or undermine customer loyalty and generally impact on business outcomes for better or for worse.

In recognition of the dangers uncontrolled moments of truth present, businesses are increasingly seeking to create a unique ‘customer experience’. Doing so typically requires every point of customer contact to be carefully aligned with the brand promise.

Although several factors must combine effectively to create a successful customer experience, the behavior of an organization’s workforce is probably the most important. Those moments of truth involving human interaction often have the greatest impact on how a customer feels about the brand.

Taking the right steps to ensure employees continually reinforce the brand through their actions is crucial. Yet, all too often it is quite clear that many organizations have little or no real understanding of what enables or hinders employee effectiveness at the key moments of truth.

As always, a variety of factors combine to undermine an organization’s brand promise. Rarely, is it all about malicious intent or lack of interest on the part of employees.

My personal experience suggests that many employees, particularly, those on the frontline, don’t understand the implications of their organization’s brand promise for their own work situation. Others simply don’t have the wherewithal (training, tools, etc.) to deliver.

In most cases, employees can be just as frustrated as business owners or managers, when faced with the sheer reality of the gaps between what their customers expect and what they are able to for them.

Fortunately, all is not lost as there are a number of steps smart organizations can take to better align their human capital practices and brand investments. These include focusing on the experience and competencies of customer-facing employees, as well as on the work process and organization structure.

Attention must also be paid to the availability and timeliness of critical business information, the way decisions affecting the customer are made, and the reward system the organization uses to motivate people through pay and other incentives.

Not easy, I hear you say. No, but well worth the effort.

I recently turned to LinkedIn to search for candidates for an executive position I was trying to fill. During the process, I observed that a number of potential candidate-nominees could only be sent invitations by people who know their email addresses or who appear in their “Imported Contacts” list.

Now, this might seem like a smart thing to do considering the fact that social networking sites can sometimes attract all kinds of unpleasantries but, securing your profile certainly could hinder your chances of being offered a great opportunity. You know, the kind that comes knocking on your door when you least expect.

Get Out Of Your Way

Think about this for a few seconds and ask yourself why you decided to establish a LinkedIn profile in the first place. If one of your reasons for signing on to LinkedIn is to showcase your talent or career achievements to prospective employers, why would you create a ‘firewall’ to prevent them from connecting with you? What was the purpose of showcasing in the first place? Don’t you think you might be shooting yourself in the foot?

So, here’s a word of advice: Try to avoid getting in your own way.


Chinedu Paul Okafor

Chinedu Paul Okafor

Welcome back, folks.

Looks like we’re on a bit of a roll as we have another great guest blogger for our next post.

Mr. Chinedu Okafor is a human resource analyst with Accenture and he’s got some great views on the importance of taking the “pulse” of your workforce from time to time.




What Is The Pulse Of Your Workforce? by Chinedu Paul Okafor, HRBP

pulseTalent…the right talent which will assist in achieving an organization’s vision is increasingly becoming more difficult to attract. Attracting the right talent is one thing; retaining and fully engaging employees is another.  A fully engaged employee is extremely enthusiastic about the job and the organization and is willing to exceed in ensuring that the organization’s goals are met. A fully engaged employee is distinctively different from a ‘passive’ employee or a disengaged employee; one who just clocks in and out at resumption and closing or employees who might have mentally “shut down”.

In these times where employers scramble from the existing talent pool, keeping employees fully engaged is a good way to ensure employees stay devoted to the organization and are fully aligned and willing to contribute actively to the long term strategy and goals of the organization.

Employers are often of the notion that a ‘robust’ remuneration is synonymous to a fully engaged employee. Though this may be the case for some, it goes beyond remuneration.  The employees’ morale and social fulfillment increasingly have an impact on performance, productivity and retention.

How then can employees be better engaged? This differs from individual to individual and from one organization to another. What remains fundamental across board is aligning the employees’ work experiences with their personal and cultural needs. Work-life balance or better said, work-life integration is progressively gaining more attention. Employers who are able to identify their employees’ needs and make an effort in meeting these needs will invariably increase the morale of the workers.

Organizations provide several benefits in meeting these needs which cuts across strong recognition and awards programs, mentoring and leadership programs, crèche for employees’ kids, gym membership, social interactions outside of working hours (team bonding activities) and so many of such ‘perks’ that will come with working for an organization.

Different engagement practices are peculiar to different organizations, but understanding what motivates your work force to make them high performing and dedicated employees is most crucial. Some may argue that employee engagement is hard to achieve and if not nurtured, may wither. However, identifying that only a motivated and fully engaged workforce can genuinely care about the future of the organization and invest their time, discretionary or otherwise, in achieving the organization’s goals is paramount.  A fully engaged workforce is what I will describe as having a ripple effect in an organization.

Do you know the pulse of your workforce?

Hi folks,

Olabimpe Alabi

Olabimpe Alabi

Today, I have the pleasure of introducing a new guest blogger. Olabimpe Alabi is the newly appointed editor of HEWORLD.COM and has already helped to make the website a must-stop destination for career-minded professionals.

Bimpe is a lawyer by profession, but she clearly has a flair for insightful writing as well. In this post, she highlights the hidden dangers of identity theft on the web.



Guard Your Digital Footprint by Olabimpe Alabi

Digital-FootprintHow often do you keep a close watch on your digital footprint? If you are an individual or a company, what efforts have you made to monitor how you are being represented online and what various onlookers think of you?

Hold the thought for just a few minutes until you read this story:

Late one night, a colleague of mine was surfing the internet and randomly entered our company’s name into Google’s search engine. As usual, what came back was one million search results in x seconds… you get my drift.

Anyway, as he continued to view the search results, something caught his attention. One of the results was for an unknown film critic’s blog. I mean, really… human resource consulting and films don’t quite match, do they? He thought so too and decided to click on the link to find out what it was all about. To his dismay, he discovered that back in September 2012, the author of the blog had dedicated a whole post stating in a nutshell, that Human Edge Limited was a firm of job scammers. He even went further to post images from our company’s address. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he concluded his post with the statement: “They are Nigerian, do I need to say anymore?” 

For the full gist and our response, please visit:

After this experience, we decided it should be one of our major priorities to conduct regular scans of our digital footprint online.

So, back to my earlier questions, just how diligent are you about keeping a close watch on your online profile?

You may be a corporate entity or just a concerned individual, but I think the following tips, borne out of hard-earned experience, may be useful to you:

1.  Take a few minutes each day to check your online profile

Enter your company name into a search engine and scroll through as many pages of results as you can. What should you be looking for? Well, for a start, you should investigate any strange links where you normally would not expect to find your organization referenced. For instance, we were surprised to see a link between Human Edge and a film review blog.

2.  Subscribe to Google Alerts or some other intelligence custom alert system

Google Alerts is a notification service that automatically notifies users when new content about you from the web (e.g. news, blogs or discussion groups) matches a set of search terms selected by the user. The service then issues an alert to you in the form of an email digest to your Gmail account at predefined intervals.

3.  Make it easy for people with concerns to contact your organization

Anyone who feels concerned about an attempted scam and who wishes to confirm the legitimacy of your organization’s involvement must receive a prompt response to his or her enquiry.

4.  Post scam alerts on your website

If you do identify a case of “stolen identity” i.e. someone is engaging in apparently fraudulent behavior in your name, you must quickly issue a scam alert. The alert should describe the nature of the intended fraud, the identity of the scamsters (if you can) and categorically dissociate your organization from the whole event in the strongest terms (see our response in the aforementioned link).