Talented people are usually easy to spot. Gifts like intelligence, curiosity and ambition tend to stand out in a crowd of ordinary (or uninvested) workers. But how do you harness strong potential when you find it? It's much harder to nurture talent than it is to see it. Instead, many promising future leaders are left to muddle along on their own, slowing their growth and impeding the positive impact they could have on others
Dushyant Joshi, founder of Azure Knowledge, knows this firsthand. When he first finished college, he returned to his hometown in India with nothing but his brains and his dreams of growing an international company. But his father had taught him, "If water consistently falls on a stone, it can break that stone."
Joshi had no capital and no business experience, but he knew how to collaborate with and encourage other talented people. So he started out with just 10 people and over three years, grew to 300 people. Today, Joshi's company has more than 750 people serving market research solutions and global data collection services to Fortune 100 companies across 70 countries using more than 23 languages.
Joshi, a member of YPO, believes the key to Azure's success is the organic growth of its leadership team, and their ability to "hold each other's hand," mutually encouraging growth and effort. He shares the lessons he has learned about helping talented people in your organization to "grow better, smarter and faster."
1. Know the difference between will versus skill.
It's one thing to have the ability to do a job and another thing to have the desire. Joshi believes it is easier to provide training where skills are lacking than to create motivation where none exists. He tells a story of a part-time employee who showed a strong ambition to become an entrepreneur. The young man left Joshi's company for a full-time job after finishing an engineering degree, but Joshi didn't forget him. Even though the man had no direct experience in the area, "two years later, I approached him to come back," Joshi said, "this time as a co-founder. He now spearheads the Market Research business, which has grown multifold globally, and the main reason for this is his desire to create something powerful in his professional life."
2. Encourage bravery as well as experience.
In the abstract, most people agree that success is usually proportionate to the risk someone is willing to take. Joshi believes that few companies actually encourage their new leaders to take risks. Azure had a young trainer with a number of fresh ideas and a bold way of stating them. Joshi realized that many managers would have asked the employee to tone it down, but he decided to encourage the behavior. The trainer went on to develop one of the company's most successful product offerings. "It's not only the experience that a person has in his specialization, but his brave mindset, which allows him to think and take actions that most people probably will not."
3. Show your people that you believe in them.
Joshi had a receptionist who asked for an extra assignment to fill her free time. Impressed at her initiative, he assigned her to schedule all of his travel for a month. Once she did that well, he doubled down and asked her to take on a hiring and recruitment project. She found this very intimidating, but Joshi encouraged her: "I expressed my belief in her, because I had seen her do an amazing job." Both his verbal encouragement and the trust represented by the assignment gave the employee a needed boost. Eventually, the receptionist was promoted to run the company's Human Resources department.
4. Give people ownership, not just responsibility.
Joshi sees a difference between delegating tasks versus encouraging ownership. When Azure puts employees in charge of projects, they are encouraged to lead as if they owned that portion of the company. He believes that growing leaders need to see how lives and livelihoods actually depend on the decisions they make. He explains: "We offer tremendous freedom for employees to make decisions, and we then back up right or wrong. At the same time, we allow them to make corrections if their decision proves to be wrong. After all, how will you taste success if you have not tasted failure?"
5. Build experience through individual experimentation.
A promising engineer came to management with an idea for mobile virtual reality. It took quite an investment of time and money, but management gave him the means to execute on the idea. This was no exception; Azure regularly does this for new talent. It does not always reap financial rewards, but the company has its own standard of ROI, Joshi says. "We do not hesitate to let our people experiment. It boosts a culture of creativity within the organization. It gives a employees a free hand to explore their potential." It does sometimes pay in multiple ways; in this case, the mobile virtual reality idea eventually became a multi-million dollar facet of the business.
6. Let small failures lead to bigger success.
Azure teaches employees to accept failure as a natural part of product development and creating new process. "It encourages people to think with courage," Joshi insists, and this in turn empowers people to make more meaningful contributions to the organization.
7. Teach your people the difference between a job and a career.
Joshi asks his key people to decide whether they are at Azure to do a job or build a career. "You can't do both," he says. "I tell them if they want a career, they need to be the entrepreneurs of their departments. That gives them sense of ownership and power. It also makes them more willing to go the extra mile and work harder." Joshi believes this motivates good people to own the business process, and enhances their feelings of freedom and enjoyment. The increased sense of responsibility also frees management and gives them bandwidth to focus on growth areas.
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