Talent for Meritocracy

This is the second of a two-part article on meritocracy. You can read the first part here:
On Meritocracy.

Talent for meritocracy is at a premium, particularly when people may be more experienced with autocratic cultures. To develop a meritocratic culture, those at the top demonstrate “real leadership”, with unconditional encouragement, fairness and appreciation for all stakeholders. Mission matters more than office politics, and the conscious inquiry with stakeholders is, “How can we do this better?” This correlates purpose and strategy, creating extraordinary emphasis on attracting, recruiting and retaining meritocratic talent.

Attracting Meritocratic Talent
Fundamental to attracting talent inclined toward meritocracy is being transparent and communicating about the business model in its various perspectives. Examples are the strategic plan, the compensation/reward system, the talent recruitment/tasking/training/development system, the corporate social intention, the selected core human values, and specifications about the particular culture of meritocracy that is core to all of this operating appropriately.

These attractive communications are consciously and thoughtfully articulated in written corporate messages (e.g., website, brochures, correspondence) and in stories told among employees, to the press, to audiences at speeches, and to recruits. Just as leadership training deserves to be articulated by emulative leaders, the degree of meritocracy in the culture can be gauged by the conversation in lunch rooms and coffee shops. Meritocratic culture is often discussed with genuine appreciation, warm smiles and rich humor. Meritocracy calls out to the meritorious. An energetic signal is broadcast, attracting those inclined toward core human values and accountability. Among those attracted are social researchers and business journalists keen about cultural trends and happenings.

Recruiting Meritocratic Talent
When shaping and advancing a culture of meritocracy, the goal for the design of the recruiting process is to maximize the probability of sorting between talent candidates who do and do not flourish with meritocracy. Past history is an indicator of future actions, so interview questions that sample the candidate’s past experience with meritocracy are particularly helpful. I recommend asking broad, open-probes, taking care to not lead the candidate to any particular answer. As in all interviewing, what the respondent says and does not say, and how they say what they say, are all data. In fact, I would not use the words autocracy or meritocracy during the first or second interview. Here are a few questions that can prove useful:

  • Business organizations are rewarded for superior performance. What are some of the keys to performance excellence? Examples from your experience?
  • Within a high performing project team or business unit, how does authority operate?
  • Who is responsible for the team’s performance? Examples from your experience?
  • What is the importance of company or team culture on the organization’s business performance?
  • What are key elements of organizational culture? Examples from your experience?

Retaining Meritocratic Talent
The decision to remain in an organization is an individual one for each person. This is especially so for meritocratic achievers, who do not suffer what is perceived as disrespect, easily. So the retention strategy must include researching personally with each achiever, to determine their level of happiness and their assessment of the “BS-Level” in the culture. There is a pervasive and ever-present danger for greed, superficiality and self-absorption to eclipse a culture of meritocracy. Key to success are workplace experiences that reward constructive impertinence and refreshing forms of initiative-taking, where being at work is a very positive, generative experience.

Does your culture attract eminent talent? Do you retain eminence and generate brilliance in your unexceptional day? Does your leadership nurture meritocracy?