Sep 14 2015
When I began my first career, I found myself in what may have been the most fortunate situation I could have wished for – working in a place where, if you wanted and could do a job, you deserved to be given that job. Yet there was a catalyst.
The top executive enjoyed spotting talent. He actively looked for it. He felt that people who were guided into the things they did best – because they enjoyed doing them – were certain to exceed the company’s expectations...and their own.
So, as I got better at what I did – by adding new skills that complemented the ones I had or acquired (and made all of the skills more rewarding) – I paid close attention to the people around me. I was looking both for the under-appreciated and for those who seemed miserable for a more challenging reason – lacking a basic affinity for the job they performed.
Two Forms of Recognition
Boosting the morale of people who weren’t being recognized was easy. I made sure they knew that someone saw how good they were. When I acknowledged them as a colleague, it was flattering. When I did it as a manager, it was like giving them a dose of adrenalin, boosting their endorphins, and pinning a star on their chest.
The ones who were stuck in jobs they didn’t like required more effort. I had to determine what they really liked to do, what natural inclinations they possessed, what avocations they had. But those casual discussions helped me recognize their natural affinities and put them in positions they would thrive in – positions that leveraged their inherent talent and gave them the satisfaction of doing exemplary work.
I’ve done this many times, but my favorite involved an administrative assistant who, every week, had to combine information from sales, marketing, and research to report on what deals had (or hadn’t) closed and why, which campaigns were working (or falling short), and how the targeted buyers varied from one organization to the next. Rather than typing out a litany of facts or creating a spreadsheet with entries forced to fit a fixed range of possibilities, she turned each situation into a story – how the company got the lead, how it was handled, how long it had taken to close or be lost, and who was involved in the purchase.
Her work was more useful than a fill-in-the-blanks report, and I asked whether she’d ever considered being a writer. She hadn’t. So I offered to help her find writing courses, be a sounding board when she needed it, and start her off with junior assignments.
She became one of the top two writers in the department, then took an interest in computer graphics, and asked whether she could spend lunch hours with the head of that group to learn the software. Soon, she was the only person in the group – other than me – who combined visual and verbal capabilities and added scriptwriting to her growing list of talents.
Long after we had both left the company, I was speaking with her husband on the phone (we’d done business together at one point), and he told me that his wife wanted to thank me. It had been ten years since we’d worked together, and I asked, “Thank me for what?”
“She feels that, if you hadn’t seen something special in her and encouraged her to develop it, she wouldn’t have attended graduation last weekend to pick up her diploma for her Ph.D.”
If I’d assumed this woman wanted to spend her life as a secretary and was only qualified to be a secretary, and if I’d wanted to avoid the cost of training and of hiring a replacement, the department would have lost a valuable asset, and she might have taken a lot longer to discover what she was really meant to do.
You’re sure to have people like this on your staff (or maybe you’re one of those staffers). If you can help them be their best, it will help you look your best because you either found the right person for each job or created the right job for each person.