When it comes to bringing out the best in employees, most companies take precisely the wrong path.
The second that management assumes responsibility for developing and managing talent, they virtually guarantee their efforts will be lacklustre at best, and pathetic at worst.
Everyone should be responsible for bringing out the talent in others.
Programmers, accountants, the newest intern, art directors, customer service representatives and even CEOs can bring out talent (BOT).
BOT is not a management function!
The moment an organization makes BOT a management function; it stops every single employee from assuming that role. The presence of a leadership or management training program says the only people who help employees become managers are the people who run this program, or maybe HR.
One of my goals in life is to banish the implicit sense of superiority from the notion of bringing out the talent in others. This sense exists because in most cases, managers try to BOT their team members. For example, if I start talking about the time I brought out a talent in my company, you will probably assume I’m talking about my subordinates.
Vast numbers of people have the instinct to help others. At home, my neighbours and friends are always offering to help me carry firewood or load my kayak onto my car. However, at work, these instincts get buried because leadership teams inadvertently send the message: this is not your job.
Paradoxically, leadership teams can simultaneously send mixed messages. The existence of talent development efforts discourages employees from helping each other, even as firms put up posters and send out newsletters about teamwork and collaboration. But most people don’t want to overstep their bounds or appear obnoxious. They don’t want to “manage” their friends.
Does this mean that firms should jettison their talent management programs? Jettison, no? Fundamentally change, yes.
By using the acronym BOT, I’m trying to democratize how we all encourage each other to unleash our talents. Formal programs should do the same. For example, if I were launching a BOT-inspired workshop at a company, I’d make it open to every employee, not just the ones in management or “with management potential”. I’d celebrate every employee who develops the BOT habit, not just the ones who make more than $75,000 a year.
Such programs need to shift away from unintentionally stigmatizing BOT. Instead, they need to approach this challenge with more of a crowdsourcing perspective: anyone can put forward great ideas, anyone can serve as a role model, anyone can help others.
I can’t wait to witness a 21-year-old new employee give a tip to her company’s CEO… and have the CEO welcome her guidance.
The sad reality is that very few of us fully leverage our talents. This is one of the great tragedies of the human race that so many people go through life without making as much of a positive impact as was possible. Your company – and our civilization – is not going to solve this problem by holding three workshops a year. We can’t solve it with a few more Powerpoint presentations.
The only way to foster talent is to unleash BOT so that everyone takes responsibility for it.