Thursday, 14 March 2013

Making best use of our talent?

Working with exceptional people in industry, academia and government has made me aware of one startling truth, we really do not know how to manage outstanding people within large organisations. We talk a great story about 'talent management' and helping people to 'maximise their potential' but the truth is that many of our best people feel frustrated that they are not able to use their skills fully.

The issue with managing really exceptional people is that they just don't fit into the 'boxes' that organisations like to create for them.  For example if organisations are lucky enough to recruit an outstanding younger person they often put them on development programmes where they cannot have any immediate impact. They do this because they have come to believe that you must have an in-depth understanding of an organisation before you can add any significant value, something which just is not true and leads to boredom and frustration in the individual.

I discussed the issues with a colleague who had experienced many of the same problems I had seen and together we wrote a paper on the subject during 2012. One of the outputs of our work is a list of 'attributes' for people who can quickly have a positive, measurable and sustainable impact on an organisation, we called these people game-changers.

Here is our list of attributes:

1. Fast Thinking, Fast Acting: Game-changers often won’t spend a long time thinking about a problem before they act because they can quickly relate it to something they have experience with and prefer to test ideas quickly and refine them rather than perfecting them first.

2. Independent: Game-changers don’t follow the crowd, but they know how to blend in or play along when it is to their benefit. They have their own direction and thinking but are smart enough to only expose part of it.

3. Conscientious: Game-changers possess a strong sense of purpose, obligation and persistence.

4. Driven and competitive: Game-changers are very ambitious and competitive but can still benefit from an external sense of direction and purpose. They are constantly in need of a challenge and can easily become bored or impatient if they are not involved in problem solving.

5. Self-starting: Game-changers want to make a difference quickly. They need to be challenged and feel productive immediately, and they and their potential are easily lost if they are made to spend time waiting for interesting, challenging, or high-profile work.

6. Not intellectually bounded: People put things in mental boxes to make them easier to process and understand. Game-changers do not do this nearly as much. They do not see the natural boundaries between things that others do, allowing them to form connections more easily. When they do mentally put things in boxes, they are aware that the box is there and can consciously remove it if necessary.

7. Visionary: Game-changers are able to envision complex concepts and ideas easily and share their vision effectively with others.

8. Leaders: Game-changers do not necessarily make great managers. They can and will, however, lead a company or department through a problem and enable and inspire the people working on a solution. Their talent is not in working on the solution implementation; they are best used showing others and then moving on to the next problem as their primary skill is in starting things by planting seeds and enabling new ideas.

9. Honest and straightforward: If you make it clear that you value honesty, a game-changer will give you an honest and insightful answer to any question you ask. Just be sure you are listening with an open mind.

10. A Wow Factor: Game-changers are passionate people, and this passion often extends to hobbies or extracurricular pursuits.

If you would like to read more about our research the full paper is here

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