Do you have someone on your payroll with untapped skills? Most managers do, and they don’t even know it.
Take Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks sensational point guard. Due to injuries and the poor performance of other players, he was thrust into the starting line-up and became a star almost overnight.
Lin did well playing high school basketball in Palo Alto, California, but couldn’t garner any athletic scholarships from the California colleges he wanted to attend, so he walked on at Harvard. Then he was undrafted by the NBA. He was eventually signed and cut by two teams when the Knicks claimed him off waivers. The Knicks were about to let him go when they decided to give him one more chance. He had a big game, and then another big game, and then another big game, and his career took off.
How could someone go unnoticed for so long, and in such a visible sport like professional basketball?
When Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant was asked this question, he said: “Players playing that well don't usually come out of nowhere… his skill level was possibly there from the beginning. It probably just wasn't noticed.”
How many people on your payroll have undetected talents?
Now, I’m not talking about discovering who’s the best bowler for the company team, or the best face to feature on the company website. No, the mother lode is the employee whose résumé was great on its own but much more humble than the candidate proved to be.
Finding that talent is a challenge, but there are some steps you can take to encourage your superstars. Try these ideas:
Pay closer attention to performance reviews.
Be on the lookout for special abilities or exceptional initiative. In addition, ask employees to rate their own performance and explain what areas they are especially interested in developing.
Reinstate the good ol’ suggestion box.
The employees who share innovative ideas may also be the folks who have some hidden talents that would help incorporate their suggestions. Reward the best ideas, and recognize them publicly so that others will be encouraged to share their skills.
Ask for volunteers.
When a new project comes along, instead of just making assignments, invite employees to step up and take on the tasks that suit their interests and skills. Perhaps you’ve seen the video of the Southwest Airlines flight attendant who found a way to ensure passengers would really pay attention to the typical pre-flight instructions. He decided to use his rap skills to make the announcement. The passengers will always remember where the exit rows are now, and the airline continues to bolster its reputation for making mundane travel fun.
Don’t overlook less obvious advantages.
A department assistant at an urban university liked to knit on her lunch hour. Soon other employees brought their yarn and needles, and they gathered one day each week over lunch to make caps for newborns at the children’s hospital. They hadn’t known each other well before that, but as they became better acquainted, the interdepartmental cooperation burgeoned. And the university enjoyed some very positive community reaction as well.
Mackay’s Moral: Hidden talents don’t have to be huge, but the results can be.