SIMPLE TRUTH #7: People want to use their talents in challenging work

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In a recent survey, I asked 200 employees their thoughts about several subjects I write about in this blog.  One question was: “What advice would you give your CEO that you think he/she needs to ‘GET’ about what’s needed in your company?”

The following is a response from an employee that, in my experience, is representative of one who could be in ANY company. “They (Executives) should walk a day or two in each job under their management. Then they should ‘interview’ each employee holding that position to learn about the job responsibilities, their individual skills and experience — and their untapped talent.” I have heard the spirit of the underlying message here in different ways hundreds of times in my career.  SIMPLE TRUTH #7: People want to use their talents in challenging work.

Suppose for moment, that each individual who works in your company wants to live their life purpose by using their core talents. Now, multiply this example by the number of employees you have. That number is the amount of people who come to work – every day – wanting to use what they know.  People are yearning to contribute, to bring their whole person (e.g. the cumulative of their experiences) to their work and apply it, yet many managers ignore, or overlook many of the talents their people have.

I have listened to hundreds of departing employees as they exit the companies I’ve worked for. They described how their manager was too busy to meet with them. They were miserable in their jobs and had decided to leave because they felt underutilized or misunderstood (because their job duties weren’t in line with their talent), while others were just flat out, intellectually BORED.

Here one cause of how this happens.  A job becomes vacant, the manager pulls a job description of last employee in the job.  They mentally scan their team thinking about the jobs and skills they have and assume no one is qualified for the role, so they post the ‘old’ job.  They proceed to hire a new person, expecting them to perform according to the job description – nothing more, nothing less. The new hire is put in an imaginary “job box” and any skills he/she has beyond that are wasted.

At one tech start-up I worked in, the executive team was going out for its third round of financing.  Ten of the first thirty employees had previously owned businesses and most of those ten had experience raising millions of dollars from investors.  Even though the company employed people with direct experience raising large amounts of capital, the CEO and other executives never asked for input from their employees.  The team assumed they didn’t have the talent they needed and hired an expensive consulting firm instead.

“Why didn’t they use the talent they had right there in the company” you ask?  Because THEY DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS THERE!  Every day, this scenario happens in companies and I believe they are missing out on huge opportunities because they don’t know the full scope of the talents and experiences they have within.  And while there are currently no effective management tools that enable managers and companies to comprehensively inventory their employees’ talents – EVERY company should take time to solicit this valuable information.

I have seen companies attempt to collect information about their talent by pulling resumes from their ATS (applicant tracking systems) into their performance management systems and having employees add their education and training to a profile of some kind.  But, resume databases are worthless.  Resumes are marketing tools.  They do not reflect the sum total of a person’s talent, skills and experiences.  And the data in resumes is not always factually accurate.

What I am talking about, is the fact that managers need to take the time to create a comprehensive inventory of each employee’s work history, experience, skills and education.  In addition, pull the results of any pre-employment psychological assessment taken by the employee that provide a picture of disposition, personality strengths and weaknesses. And until the day comes when this type of knowledge management technology exists, I recommend managers do yourself a favor.  Simply: Get to know your people.  Although you hire from a resume and interview notes, you do not know what someone knows when you hire them.  Unless you spend time asking your people about their work (and life) experiences, and the skills they have and would like to use – you waste a decent percentage of what you are paying for in the talent you hire.

People want to work for managers who show interest in them and who help them use more of their talents in their work.  When that doesn’t happen, engagement declines and talented people withdraw.  They eventually do just enough to appear they are doing their job while they look for a new one, or they buy time until they retire.  Your company has been losing hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of dollars a year paying employee salaries while using only a fraction of their talent.  Knowing your people and using ALL their talents is a WIN-WIN.  People Matter in Business.

Cindy Goyette, SPHR – Maximizing Human Capital, Inc. 2014

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