Talent Reality Shows & Organizational Learning

October 26, 2010

Being a music aficionado, I enjoy watching music-based talent reality shows. Apart from enjoying the overdose of music and being amused by some of the occasional drama therein, what I really am in awe of is that most of the participants demonstrate radical improvement and phenomenal growth over a period of few/many months.

I think it’s a great thing to genuinely identify, nurture and showcase talent to the world. It is true that most of the participants are already worth a lot but even diamonds need to be polished! As these thoughts sank in, it suddenly occurred to me that there must be something – actually, a lot – that organizations can learn from these shows about training, learning, induction and ramping up. I am not too familiar with international talent reality shows but I’d like to believe most of these points are universally valid.

I think the top reasons why talent reality shows manage to help their participants achieve exceptional growth are:

1. Mentoring and Training: Most reality shows engage full-time mentors and judges who spend a significant amount of energy on mentoring and training the participants. When organizations hire new employees, how serious are they about assigning appropriate mentors and monitoring their efforts?

2. Regular Practice/Focus (weekly, daily): Most talent shows involve daily or at least weekly practice, rehearsals and live performances which results in obvious improvements in participants’ skill levels. How much of relevant hands on ‘practice’ do new employees get once they join an organization? Are they put on projects immediately? Do they get to work on pilot or internal projects if they are not assigned customer-facing projects?

3. Constant Feedback and Public Recognition: This is very important. I find that most talent shows spend a lot of time in giving the participants immediate, precise and clear feedback, suggestions and recognition. Sometimes this is from the judges and mentors and sometimes from the audience. I think this is an area where organizations don’t do so well. Even the annual appraisals are rarely handled the way they ought to be.

4. All Round Development: In most cases, talent shows are great platforms for the participants to be exposed to various new dimensions of their subject. Even if the participants are only good at one or two aspects of the subject under question, by the time they are through the show, they undoubtedly pick up a lot of new information and learn about other aspects of the subject. For example, in Music reality shows, participants are exposed to all genres of music which improves their confidence and contributes to all round development. How many organizations have a clear and structured plan to ensure that their employees go through projects and experiences that develop them in many spheres of work and life?

5. Inspiration via the Gurus and Achievers: Talent reality show organizers, as far as I’ve observed, make an effort to bring in popular Gurus and achievers occasionally and put the participants in front of them. This may be an effort to improve the TRP of the show, but ignoring their intentions for a moment, it is true that participants find inspiration from such an exercise. Meeting achievers can change lives at one extreme or can at least teach new employees something very critical at the other. How many organizations take this up seriously and facilitate touch-time for new employees with the ‘Stars’ and Leaders of the organization?

6. Support from Family (Boss, colleagues, mentors): Most of the participants who make it to the top are the ones with enormous support from their family. How much of support does an organization provide? What do the new employees’ manager, colleagues and mentors do to make it easy for them? Also, how much of importance is given to the employees’ families and their work-life balance as they struggle to make the transition?

7. Positive Team Dynamics: This is a versatile combination of healthy competition, team camaraderie, mutual support during all phases (low or high) and the very presence of a community of similar Talents. What could organizations do to establish such a beautiful culture and environment?

8. Fun Quotient: Every talent show worth its salt will have a prominent fun quotient. It’s hard to imagine such a show being sober all the time. There is, for example, likely to be a person or two with a sense of humor or someone who imitates others on the show and so on. In the organizational context, teams with such ‘humor glue’ characters may do much better than others.

9. Tangible Rewards or Opportunities: I am not sure if I am underrating this aspect by putting it toward the end of the list. grin I think an underlying growth motivator for most participants (however passionate they are about the skill itself) is the huge reward or promised opportunity at the end of the show. Is it clear or guaranteed in organizations that an employee will get a pay hike or a promotion or a wonderful project opportunity if she puts in her best?

10. Rules: To be more specific, talent shows have clearly defined rules that are however flexible in unique or unforeseen circumstances. The teams largely stick to the rules but the organizers are, I’ve observed, ready to make room for unique situations and bend the rules when required. Do organizations allow for such flexibility?

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