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Talent Discovery

Written by: Ralph Twombly
Published: July 2012

The fourth of July is upon us and, while my mind is on sailing and family, I'd like to share an interesting and recent discovery. Lately we have been finding an abundance of talent that may be getting overlooked. Because we happen to be seeing a lot of talented, yet undiscovered people in their organizations, I thought it might be time to look at why it is so hard to find talented people when they are right in front of us.

A Moment of Honesty - It wasn't that long ago that I was telling someone about all the successful people that had worked for or with me years ago that I didn't think had the "IT" factor. Many of them went on to prove me wrong and the only explanation I have is, that I didn't recognize the talent around me because I may have been blinded by my own biases. Yes, blinded. There is no other explanation for me not seeing that one of my employees would go on to take a prominent role in a Fortune 500 company or that years later some people I thought would only have mediocre careers would be hiring Priority Learning to help their companies. So, on top of my own confession you can add that the people I have seen recently emerge from the corporate scrap pile have made me think again about talent.

In May I finished up a series for those entrepreneurs focused on knowing, showing and growing your product. If you haven't had a chance to read these articles, click here.

Inadequate Systems of Discovery - Something may be wrong with the way we look or notice the talent in people. Many organizations seem to be in the "search cycle" for all things broken. While you and your people do things right, the vast majority of the time it is astounding how much time and effort is put into fixing things that are broken. Boldly, I would estimate that eighty percent of organizational time is spent in pursuit of bad behavior, broken systems and moment to moment problems. Based on that eighty percent, it is easy to think that your organization is a problem to be solved and that applies to your people. Because we don't live in your organizations, it is revealing when we get a participant in a series ( ) who has been labeled as a problem employee, bad actor, disgruntled, or under achieving. Over time they begin to show their organization what they can truly do. Of course, we would like to take the credit for this transformation, but in the interest of a clear conscience we have to say that most of these people simply needed a chance to excel and our lack of bias here helped them to do just that. In other words, the talent has always been there waiting to be discovered.

We love the success stories, and one such story is about the difficult IT/IS person who, given a little bit of a chance, stands up and tells her organization that she is going to reinvent IT/IS to be the most user friendly part of the organization and she did it...the positive feedback tells it all. How about this one...the aspiring yet labeled as underachieving manager, who emerges as a dominant quiet leader with unique skills and abilities, or the top manager who had to adjust their thinking to truly embrace the work of involvement and walks away as changed and then becomes the dynamic leader that was always hidden just below the surface.

So we had to ask what it was that was different here than back on the job for these folks. Are we better at giving people meaningful work? I have to bet that we aren't. Are we better at presenting real examples for people to practice on? Again, I would like to think so, but alas probably not. What is it that makes them excel here?

Building a Better System - Here is what we have concluded...
Leader Bias - I had it and I bet many others are afflicted. This is the bias of thinking we know the limits of people based on whatever limited knowledge we have and applying judgment to that knowledge. Then we make it worse by telling others our biases and because of our influence, we then limit our own people's potential. In a way it is the ultimate form of discrimination and it is scary to think of how many other people I might have missed along the way with my bias. Maybe even scarier is the thought that maybe one of my biases permanently limited the potential of someone else and changed their lives irreversibly.

Worker Bias - Our peers and colleagues have a much bigger impact on our creativity, potential and success than we think. If you are outside of the social circle because of severe introversion, religious or personal obligations or simply because you are &qout;different", it is easy to get a label that is hard to shed. The simple fact is that we need people. We need encouragement, camaraderie, a collegial atmosphere and most of all we need to feel like we are part of a community. I didn't invent the social need in people, but I sure do understand it. Sometimes, we act like adolescents and create these extensions of the high school "in crowd" in the workplace. Some of us were never cool enough to be in that club but have enormous contributions to make.

Low Self-Esteem - Another one I didn't invent but understand too well. We see a lot of low self-esteem here and it is a constant villain in the room during a series. While not an expert on self-esteem solutions, it is clear that the best way to overcome esteem issues is to have success in ways that will build esteem. Small at first and more and more success boldly bring out the person we all want to be and to work with. It is too easy to limit the person with low self-esteem as fatally flawed, critically and painfully shy or even emotionally or intellectually slow. Please don't believe it. There is something just beneath the surface and it is our job to find it.

Self-Motivation - Let's switch the blame a little bit. One of the things we have a hard time doing here is getting people to take chances. We are not talking about jumping out of airplanes. We are talking about getting people to get involved, discuss a new idea that may be controversial, challenge institutional thinking with customers, adopt a project, find a talented person or simply dream of better ways to do things. Fearing failure seems to be the big problem and yet real success is always about shedding the fear long enough to be great. Anything less leads to mediocrity and low self-esteem and cycle begins again.

What can you do? Here is the easy and least controversial thing you will read all day. If you are in charge...Create an atmosphere free of bias. Please don't let people talk behind other's backs, perpetuate rumors, find flaws in others and degrade people because of their uniqueness. Ask questions like; What is it that Hellen is great at or that promotional project was done very well or, How did Mike accomplish it? Help other leaders ensure that they are not perpetuating the problem. Make a list of all the people you have working for you and the known talents they bring. Share the list with them and with other leaders. Add to the list and keep it up to date. People will look at you like you have two heads. Good!

If you are the talent undiscovered...Let someone know you have more to offer. Volunteer for a committee and give it your all. Take interest in your leader, other departments, and your community. Ask questions and find a sponsor, coach or mentor. Get involved and take safe chances at first. You will get bolder with success. Don't stop until your potential is within sight and then push a little harder.

I will be back next month to share what is new or respond to something you ask for, so please let us know what you think.

Best to all,

Ralph Twombly

Ralph Twombly

In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.