CXO

Find the hidden talent in your organization

Hidden talent is the ultimate organizational resource. It's already present in your organization, doesn't require any procurement, and can be exploited without incurring any significant cost increase.

At a past client, I was tasked with traveling the country to their various regional offices, most located in rural areas and, as one might expect, staffed with more pragmatically oriented people than those in distant headquarters.

At one location, I discovered a woman who had built all manner of fairly complex Excel spreadsheets to do everything from making up for shortcomings in corporate systems, to consolidating and tracking information to make data entry easier. Her energy was high and her outlook positive, despite a barrage of new systems whose implementation had gone rather poorly.

Her appetite for learning was insatiable, and she was amazingly grateful when I spent a few minutes showing her some Excel tricks, and apologetic about her limited knowledge. She mentioned that she'd asked for approval to purchase an "Excel for Dummies"-type book, but that her request had been denied and the best resource she had was a copy from the local library, a version prior to the rather significant changes to the Excel user interface.

After returning to my office, I sprung for a copy of a well-regarded Excel book and had Amazon ship it to her office. A few days later our team received a warm email, and she was truly touched and mentioned already learning some new tricks to make her job easier, all for less than 30 bucks.

The moral of this story is not that everyone needs a book about Excel, or that draconian purchasing and procurement policies can often be unhelpful, but that there is likely a great deal of potential in your employee pool that's trapped behind an inane roadblock.

In this case, that roadblock was a policy or uncaring manager who wouldn't spend the a few dollars to allow an employee to be more productive, and generate a massive return on that investment. In other cases, it might be an adept technician unhappily trapped in a management role since it's the only way to advance, or a young upstart whose ideas and enthusiasm are browbeaten into submission by "that will never work here" or "you're too new to understand."

Finding hidden talent

Hidden talent exists in all levels of most organizations. The Excel-wielding person I mentioned earlier was the equivalent of an admin. While certainly not ready for CEO, she clearly was capable of far more than answering phones and data entry. Look for people whose name is frequently attached to problem solving. The third or fourth time you hear "Oh, Mike came up with this" it's probably worth finding Mike and determining how to capitalize on his talent and maintain his motivation.

It need not cost a dime

When managers consider how to develop their people, in large organizations that train of thought quickly turns to training, HR initiatives, incentive packages, and other costly ventures. However, there are myriad ways to move your talented individuals forward. A few minutes of an executive's time to recognize the individual and hear their thoughts can literally change someone's career, just as removing procedural roadblocks can increase that person's output and productivity.

Even independent research can help unlock hidden talent, provide business benefit, and be essentially cost-free. A CIO I worked with allowed high-performing employees to experiment with integrating mobile devices with corporate services, then presenting their findings. The employees spent time that would have likely been lost to useless web trolling with activities they perceived as fun, and also developed their executive presentation skills while informing company leadership.

Hidden talent is the ultimate organizational resource. It's already present in your organization, doesn't require any procurement, and can be exploited without incurring any significant cost increase. You're frankly doing your company and your team a disservice by letting this resource languish behind administrivia, ignorance, or sheer managerial laziness.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

5 comments
kwickset
kwickset

and this ambitious lady's experience is just so incredibly common and in keeping with my own experiences when working for any company. Initiative is definitely a big No-No. It means that you are implying to know better than your "Superior?/Manager?/CEO?". Even if you prove them wrong to their benefit you are a marked target for future reprisals. Every now and then I do some contract work for the odd company and one thing I never ever do is deviate from their proposal with any kind of improvement. Saves my nerves and I sleep extremely well. Apart from that I have not been called an arrogant "know it all" in many many years. The other risk of offering a better solution is that there usually is no one in the company who can understand let alone implement the "novel?" idea even if there is generally nothing novel about it.

the-dream
the-dream

I was the beneficiary of such consideration. Several years ago, I was working for a textile complany working in a non-technical area. But I had been working with computers for years and had a lot of hands on hardware and software computer skills. I was able to put these abilities on display for a project that my team was involved in at the time. I was able to produce a few graphs and some other documentaion as part of our presentation. This ability was noted and opened the door to additional opportunities in that company which included providing some technical assistance to supervisors and and filling in for management and others in this company. This experience eventually led to me landing my first real IT job, when then led to another IT Job and so on . . . So I went from being a factory laborer in a dying industry (in the US anyway) to working very steady in the IT field for the past 7+ years all because someone took the time to notice me and develop my skills. So it does work.

eldergabriel
eldergabriel

Thank you for this daily serving of common sense.

pgray
pgray

This is a great story, thanks for sharing!

the-dream
the-dream

Glad to share my small story.