Are You Using Up Your Talent?

Share This
January 25, 2012 | Joy Kosta, MSWP, MHCS, HRBP | HCI
Used-up Talent

If you heard President Obama’s State of the Union address, there was an overarching message of helping America thrive. Several references were made to creating success in the workplace: “An economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country…. Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many jobs as people who know how to do the jobs… to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier.”

We can assume that the nature of business is to strive for success, but tunnel vision on achieving a bottom line for the current quarter can result in shooting ourselves in the foot. For example, Obama referenced how many businesses moved jobs out of the country for cheaper labor actually hurt the US economy. America gave up educating people to do the jobs that needed to be done if they could be off-shored more cheaply. Obama implored business to create jobs that add value. Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, in The Coming Jobs War says the leaders who create the most value-adding jobs will position their country’s share of the world’s GDP. Value-adding jobs is a two-way street; the jobs have to have value to customers who will pay for the related product or service, and the job has to have value to the persons doing the job.

In the Industrial Age, machines were valued more than people, and machines and the people who operated those machines were run until they wore out. As leaders in a Talent Economy,  we have an ethical and fiduciary responsibility to not wear out our talent. Talent is a renewable resource, if we’re intentional about talent engagement. An Accenture report, “What Executives Really Need to Know About Employee Engagement” says, “A highly engaged workforce is one that will drive the gains in profitability and productivity that are critical to business success in a competitive global environment.” There are management styles and behaviors that create an engaged workforce; it comes down to engaging one person at a time.  This means being knowledgeable about each person’s experience in contributing to their own growth as well as the company’s goals.

In HBR article, "Being More Productive," David Allen and Tony Schwartz say, “…of all the things that can boost motivation… during the workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.”  What if you asked each person on your team to make three lists: a list of what takes most of their time, a list of what matters most to customers, and a list of what matters most to them personally. If there is no or little overlap on these lists, it’s a clear heads up that both productivity and engagement are suffering. In HBR article, "Creating Sustainable Performance" authors Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath say, “It might seem obvious that you should give employees more meaningful assignments or enrich their jobs. But unless you also figure out what work can “go away” – what work doesn’t create value for the organization - it won’t help.”

There is a lot of talk about people having a line of sight to company goals; leaders who oversimplify this misunderstand that reiterating the company goals over and over is enough. There is something unique in each person (that is the heart of their personal renewable energy)... when a person is asked first what s/he aspires to do, a discussion about that is a powerful springboard to create a line of sight to company goals. This practice truly makes your organization's competitive advantage unique.

In the book Workforce of One, Susan Cantrell and David Smith explain the pay-off of “paths [that] customize work experiences, so that jobs offer variety, a chance to exert influence, and an opportunity to make a difference...capitalizing on difference becomes so embedded into an organization and its everyday operations… aligning people practices with strategy and with individual needs; [is] about achieving superior business performance through achieving superior individual performance. It is a win-win mentality where employees and their needs are not sacrificed at the expense of the needs of the business.”

Are you using up your talent in pre-defined jobs, or tapping your talent in customized jobs? In a forthcoming article in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, authors Berg, Wrzesniewski, and Sutton say, "Consider a job crafting exercise so people view their job in a new way — as a flexible set of building blocks rather than a fixed list of duties." Having rigid job descriptions and rigid company goals is like forcing “round peg” individuals into square holes; we miss the opportunity and insight that each individual can bring to our team. So when HR wants you to check the boxes in your performance management system, have a conversation about customizing the job someone does instead. 

What can this all mean on a large scale? HBR article, “The Economics of Happiness” discusses an effort underway to modify the GDP with a Human Development Index-  a measure for our times.

photo courtesy of Agitproper