10 ways to get untapped talent in your organization to contribute

Create a culture that motivates talented individuals to partner with you to create long-term success for your organization.

By Pamela Rucker
February 19, 2020

Every day, leaders actively look for ways to use their employees’ capabilities, but as they do this, research indicates that the bulk of organizational talent still goes untapped. This could occur for a myriad of reasons. Perhaps:

  • You don’t recognize the value of talent that exists in your current workforce. The people are there, but you don’t see them.
  • Your workers don’t recognize the value of their talent as it relates to your strategy. The opportunity is there, but they don’t see it.
  • Your workers haven’t been sufficiently trained to reach their highest levels of potential when performing their work. They don’t know how to turn raw talent into a competitive capability.
  • Your workers haven’t been sufficiently inspired to bring their best talents to work with you, so they are offering them to another organization. In today’s gig economy, that could be devastating for you. That means your people are learning, but you aren’t leveraging them, so someone else is reaping the reward as they grow.

A big part of your leadership success is understanding how to reimagine the way you operate in your own role so that you focus on the organization’s biggest priorities. That will help you know what power to unleash for yourself and what capabilities to foster in others. A good rule of thumb is for you to find the right mix of:

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  • Teaching: coaching and mentoring your people on strategic priorities and using their capabilities correctly
  • Telling: sharing stories, statistics, and strategies about where you’re going, what’s expected, and what’s worked in the past
  • Trusting: delegating work to others so you’ll have time to be far more strategic in your own work efforts
  • Trying: exploring new innovation opportunities as you look for new ways to grow the business or become more efficient

In order to get untapped talent in your organization to contribute, consider helping your people with 10 key things:

  1. Understanding that you value many different types of talentMany organizations struggle with identifying and using the talents of their people, so they often don’t know when to use what they have in-house versus investing in outside resources. Before you launch on a large reskilling or outsourcing campaign, start by communicating the value you see in people having a variety of different talents. For instance, instead of focusing on purely technical or business roles, start looking for those people who are great collaborators, those who are great negotiators or deal brokers, those who can visualize enterprise or societal problems, those who are great visionaries, and those who are great orchestrators. You will start to see multiple people step up to new opportunities if you focus on getting the right fit for a person who’s already in your organization. Remember: just because a person can do a role (which is about capability) doesn’t mean that’s what that person should be doing now (which is about fit). Look at people’s experiences, competencies, capabilities, and interests as they all relate to your current business needs. Then validate various types of talent so you can draw on all of them to fulfill your strategic priorities.
  2. Accurately assessing their potentialOrganizations can sometimes struggle with two distinct types of people. One group is full of very talented individuals, but they do not understand how and why their talent is valuable to the organization’s strategy. They know how to fulfill the requirements of their job description, but they are unable to connect their work back to the broader success of the business. The second group is also comprised of talented individuals, but in this case, they know their experiences and capabilities, and they’re able to make connections to creative opportunities for their talent in countless ways. Their challenge lies in the fact that you don’t see their potential. You’re so accustomed to seeing people one way that you can’t see the forest for the trees. Learn to be more intentional and inclusionary in the way you assess team members and apply their skills to your overall goals.
  3. Using multiple approaches to match talent to workTypically, organizations look at their strategy first and then try to find the talent and capabilities that give them a competitive advantage. One alternative is to assess the existing talent you have in your organization, and then, given that talent, ask yourself what you might be able to produce. Consider case #1, where you might contemplate building a new system. You identify a need for new architects, coders, infrastructure team members, etc. Now consider case #2, where you still evaluate your entire team, but find that in addition to architects, coders, and infrastructure team members, you have artists, communicators, historians, security experts, gamers, and even digital laggards. Given your team makeup and your customers’ needs, ask yourself what kind of solutions you could offer if you have all of those skills at your disposal. There is a vast array of offerings waiting to be exposed by the untapped capabilities of your team.
  4. Making it exciting to do something differentYour people have taken a long time to build their reputations, so occasionally you may find that some of them are reluctant to step out into a new role. In order to help them take the risk to use hidden talents in new ways, generate some energy around the effort you’re offering. Create a buzz in the office that makes this a hot opportunity, one that everyone wants to be involved in. By promoting the project and whipping up enthusiasm both inside and outside your team, you can emphasize cool new opportunities and roles that those who sign on will be building something bigger than themselves, a project so rewarding they won’t want to miss out.
  5. Branding their work in new waysStart to think about your work more abstractly, and teach your direct reports to think that way as well. For instance, instead of looking at your group as an infrastructure team responsible for setting up servers, give your team a tagline that brands their efforts in an abstract, yet inventive way. For instance, migrate their thinking about their job from pure infrastructure work to “helping the organization move at the speed of light.” This becomes a simple, yet powerful reminder that you are no longer doing business as usual, and new skills are required to help you be successful. People will naturally start to determine ways they can use their hidden talent to help the organization move faster, they’ll start to have different conversations with their colleagues, and you will see innovative solutions that wouldn’t occur with your normal modes of working.
  6. Creating multiple ways to become a rock starRecognize that most people won’t move on to lead departments or huge numbers of people. Create paths where talent can grow and be recognized because of their deep knowledge and collaborative efforts, even if they don’t request or receive a promotion. Develop “Unsung Hero” awards for those who work behind the scenes to make everything run smoothly. Recognize individual players who develop solutions as well as those who have become the glue that holds everything together, and recognize those who develop ideas on the fringe to help you work through a really tough delivery.
  7. Creating a culture where it’s easy for people to speak upWe often ask people to speak up, but then force them to work in cultures where it’s virtually impossible for them to actually do it. That creates an environment where most of your employees are not their best versions of themselves every day. They’ve learned that it’s smart to be quiet, even when they have knowledge that might help you win. People may see opportunities you can capitalize on, capabilities they could offer, or competitive advantage they could create, but because of the way your culture works, they’ve learned to be quiet. They cage those thoughts within because they do not have a voice, or they are not allowed to have vision on your team. Demonstrate the value of every person’s contribution by intentionally creating space (in meetings, in email, at the watercooler, etc.) for everyone to develop influence on the team.
  8. Making it easy and okay for people to build coalitions of supportAllow team members to reach out to others in the company who think and act like them, or who are interested in the same subject matters. Provide an autonomous environment where they can pursue their ambitions with others. These places can serve as incubators for ideas and sandboxes for new innovation. You’ll see new opportunities emerge as people collaborate to solve problems, or start to recognize commonality in roles and processes. Instead of stifling these conversations, encourage them, because they are a sign that a coalition is forming and your productivity could soon be rising.
  9. Bringing a strategic focus to their workRather than focusing on a job description, help team members understand the real job to be done, and recognize that their future work might be performed in a different way than their work is completed today. Give them a mission, a vision, a way to fit in to the overall strategic priorities of the business. Help them find a dream that is strong enough for them to take ownership of known and unknown tasks and want to individually push them forward. Give them time to develop capabilities today that you know you’ll need tomorrow. But then stick to your word. Often, people are promised the moon when they take on a job and then find themselves stuck working in the basement. This can lead to enormous levels of disengagement because, while employees still have to do the work, they have no real outlet for their innovation. That will force them to look elsewhere to solve their problem.
  10. Rethinking your own work and ways of workingGo back to the drawing board for your own role. Understand what your real work is. Often, as people stay with an organization, the work changes, but they don’t change the way they work. You might be doing different work today than you did a few years ago, but your thought processes and work patterns can be essentially the same. Step back and take a look at your current role. What you are trying to accomplish, and who will you need for support in that effort? Are you doing the right work? Are you intentional about the way you use the time you spend with your leaders, peers, and directs? How do you use the mix of your time? How do you use their time?

By using these 10 techniques, you will be able to harness the power of your organization’s untapped talent, capitalize on your people’s capabilities, and create a culture that motivates them to partner with you to create long-term success for your organization.

Post topics: Future of the Firm
Post tags: Deep Dive, Your Company's Talent

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