Nature or nurture?


by Richard Wright

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 12:12


Those of you as old as me may remember the Eddie Murphy movie, Trading Places, where two wealthy businessmen have a bet over whether a man’s achievements were due to his DNA (nature) or the environment in which he was brought up (nurture). As well as forming the basis for a great Eddie Murphy movie, this question is also an important one to ask when building a company of highly talented people.

The nature approach says that you should seek out the most highly talented recruits on the belief that it is better to bring in greatness. The nurture approach supports looking internally and being 100% confident that you can grow your own talent. There are many examples in the sporting world where each approach has been applied with equal success.

Take the 2018-19 Manchester City Premiership winning football team. Less than 30% of their title-winning team were with the club before their 21st birthday. Their talent management approach was to go out and buy the best. Some might question the commercial sustainability of this model but no one can argue that this club has had massive success.

Then take the Saracens 2018-19 rugby team who won the European Cup. They built their team around its academy and the philosophy of creating an amazing culture of togetherness. Over 60% of the squad that played in the final had joined the club before their 21st birthday. Interestingly, similar questions have been raised about the commercial viability of this model, because the wages paid to retain the talent became a challenge.


Quote image


Two very different approaches, both delivering unrivalled results. But we’re talking about a talent model here, not a commercial one. So, which approach is best – nature or nurture? Neither approach on its own is necessarily right or wrong. Each has its pros and cons. By always recruiting new talent in a nature-approach, you have an increased risk of personality clashes and conflict. There may be power struggles and it could prove difficult to build a positive, identifiable culture in the business. When this happens, your people become transient with little loyalty, and retention becomes an issue (although, in a pure nature approach, high staff attrition rates are not an issue as the business always wants to bring in fresh talent).

By contrast, in an organisation that has a purely nurture-based talent management plan the challenges are very different. In a company that only develops from within you generally find a lack of fresh ideas, where the processes and practices have not evolved over the years. The ‘product’ of that organisation is solid and reliable but can lack imagination and innovation.

The industry sector in which you work will be an influence on which approach you take. At Burrows, we adopt a mixed approach. We certainly acknowledge that we must bring in the best talent that we can, but we are also very committed to developing our own talent. One of our strategic goals for the business is ‘to develop, retain and recruit the best talent’. It is deliberately written in this order.

As we work to stay ahead of the innovation curve, we’re investing in our real-time visualisation and cloud-based asset creation by recruiting the best technical minds. These are our Scientists. Because the technologies are very new, these people are often fresh out of education, so we can nurture them and develop their skills. There’s nothing more rewarding than to see someone grow with the business and become the best possible version of themselves. At the same time, we can take people from our more traditional, craft-based teams and encourage them to develop skills in the newer technologies. These are our Artists.

When Art and Science meet, amazing things happen – and that’s what we’re building our business on. By having a talent management approach that combines developing our current talent along with recruiting fresh new talent, Burrows has been able to build a team of the smartest, most driven, and fun bunch of guys and girls I’ve ever worked with!

Richard Wright

Managing Director