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How to Unlock Your Employees' Hidden Potential

Employees who show up and just do their jobs could likely be doing a whole lot more. Here's how to get more out of them.
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You could be getting more creativity and energy from your workforce. That's the argument Dani Monroe, founder of the diversity practice Center Focus International makes in her new book, Untapped Talent: Unleashing the Power of the Hidden Workforce.

"Many people show up and do their job but don't have a more extensive engagement," she says. For whatever reason, their skills aren't fully recognized or put to use by their employers. It's a shame, because that wasted talent makes up a lost resource for your company. But it doesn't have to be that way, she says. There are steps that you can take to access that resource and get more motivation, skills, and innovation from the people who work for you.

1. Do an assessment

Consider if you're getting everything you can from each of your team members. "Ask, yourself, 'Do I have a hunch this person could perform at a higher level?'" Monroe advises. Don't count on your employees themselves to suggest that they may be able to take on more responsibility--some may, but others won't. "There are people who don't ask, they just exist on the team," she says. "Or maybe they've always done one particular job, so everyone assumes that's what they'll always do." If you're seeing someone do their job with a high level of accuracy and performing well, consider that person may have the skills to take on something more challenging.

2. Mix it up

One bank Monroe worked with brought in a new CEO who set out to create a strategic plan for the company. But instead of just consulting with its top executives, the CEO went below the top management level to ask lower-level employees for their ideas and input. "All of a sudden he was getting all kinds of information he didn't have before, merely by inviting a different layer of employees to help with an important project," Monroe says. "And all these people are now engaged, and they keep coming in with new ideas."

You can create the same effect by putting people onto teams or task forces whom you normally wouldn't, Monroe says. Chances are you'll get more new ideas, and more motivated employees in the process.

3. Stretch their boundaries

Consider giving employees jobs for which they're not entirely prepared, Monroe says. "If we create businesses where people are stretched a little bit, and are constantly learning, we'll get a lot of innovation and creativity. That's because their brains will have the opportunity to form a little bit different wiring. If we have to do the same thing year after year, our creativity begins to slow because we move into automatic."

That may mean putting someone into a job who has only 40 percent of the needed skills, she says, especially if he or she has related skills that would transfer well. In that case, she says, "Your role is to help coach them through. Guide them, and be there when they need to run something by you. You understand it's a learning time for that person."

4. Find out what they like

Often, exploring what someone likes to do outside the workplace may help you tap an untapped talent. Monroe tells the story of one manager who asked a programmer working in his company what she liked to do after hours. She said she was a creative writer, so when a job came up in communications, he recommended her for it. It turned out to be a great fit.

5. Find out what they need

Sometimes, accommodating someone's needs, even if it means breaking the rules of your company, can lead to a highly productive--and very devoted--employee. "One woman was going to be let go because she couldn't keep to the company's schedule. She had to leave work at 4:30 to pick up her kids," Monroe says. But a manager, noting that he and his colleagues occasionally left early for golf, decided to accommodate her, and hired her to work with him. She's doing the job very well, Monroe says, "And she's back online working at 7 p.m. every evening."

IMAGE: tawheedmanzoor/Flickr
Last updated: Jun 13, 2013

MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, The Geek Gap

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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