· News

"There's only one thing worse than an idiot and that's an engaged and motivated idiot"

The employee engagement "industry" is based on an untested concept and suffers from a lack of rigour, according to a prominent HRD.

Vance Kearney, HR Director of Europe, the Middle East and Africa for computer technology company Oracle, made the comments at a keynote panel debate during the HR Directors Business Summit in Birmingham on Monday.

In a session chaired by author Chester Elton, Kearney said that engagement should be viewed as an output, not an input.

"For me employee engagement has spawned a whole industry," Kearney said. "What I’m interested in is talent that provides a competitive advantage. There’s only one thing worse than an idiot and that’s an engaged and motivated idiot.

"There is something here in basic skill and competence. Start with intelligence. Hire someone that has the biggest brain you can find. Smart goes a long way.

"The world of work has changed. But people still want the same things, they want fascinating work, intelligent colleagues and to play on a team. But the context has changed.

"I like employees to be engaged and motivated. I like them to be dead and not dead. I don’t think anyone’s ever tested it. There is a lack of rigour around the subject."

Kearney was named 13th most influential HR practitioner in HR’s rankings last year.

Earlier in the session, fellow panellist Lynne Weedall, the group HR director of The Carphone Warehouse, had discussed her perceptions over the problems surrounding talent management.

"We sometimes take so long talking about competencies and the systems required that once managers get through it they’ve lost the will to live," Weedall said. "We’d prefer a flawed diamond than a polished pebble.

"There’s a double edged sword to talent. Probably the troublemaker could be a future star. HR professionals should be bold; whenever you are thinking someone isn’t ready, that maybe they need another six months, that’s the time to give them the new job."

Kearney, Elton and Weedall were joined during the discussion by fellow panellist Lynda Graton, professor of management practice at London Business School.