Anyone can hire top talent, but creating a work environment that makes them want to stick around? That's a bit trickier. Even the most experienced team members can fall short of expectations or grow bored when not given the proper outlet or projects, making it essential for leadership to provide ways to challenge team members to tap into their most valuable skills.
By nurturing your top talent, you're ensuring your team stays engaged while fostering their potential to grow within the company. Plus, when you encourage your employees to show you just how innovative and talented they can be, your team is bound to generate out-of-the-box ideas to help propel the brand forward.
Curious about how to do just that? I talked with five executives to explore how they tap into their employees' hidden talents, and their go-to tips are below.
1. Create innovation incubators.
"Mix up team members and create groups that are tasked specifically with coming up with new innovative ideas," says Shelly Sun, founder and CEO of BrightStar Care.
"You are giving your employees the opportunity to think of nontraditional projects, and that might often not be in their day-to-day scope of work," adds Sun. This will encourage employees to stay on their toes, and continually surprise management with what they're capable of.
2. Focus on what people do as well as how they think.
Leaders often concentrate on the outcome or result and seldom think about how a team or team member approached the strategy or idea that lead to its success. Behind every accomplishment is a way of thinking, particular to an individual or group, that made the success possible.
"Help individuals understand how they approach critical thinking, and identify other projects to challenge and grow this muscle," advises Tony Libardi, president of Marco's Pizza. "This will show your employees that you truly value their minds and motivate them to use their unique approach to problem-solving."
3. Ax the org chart.
Titles and boxes place limitations on both you and your team members, and can ultimately discourage opportunities to showcase talent. When you create a collaborative work environment where team members are empowered to share ideas, it's likely expertise will emerge that you didn't even know was there.
"When we're trying to move the needle in our business, we build 'functional work groups' tasked with tackling specific projects," said Ken Hutcheson, president of U.S. Lawns.
"These groups are made up of team members from a variety of experience levels and departments to add value and fresh perspectives to the project at hand," explains Hutcheson. The key is to make it known that titles are left at the door, which encourages team members to show off their otherwise hidden talents.
4. Trade fear for freedom.
The idea of allowing team members some freedom and autonomy to resolve their challenges within a certain framework can help employees learn quickly and educate themselves faster through experience.
"As a leader, get comfortable with the idea of allowing your staff to make mistakes to ensure they have the opportunity to learn from those mistakes," said David Mesa, chief development officer of PJ's Coffee.
"It's about guiding your employees through a process that allows them to learn faster and become more vested in the tasks and company as a result," adds Mesa. All the while, this creates a culture of psychological safety that allows plenty of room for free thinkers.
5. Get your team outside of their comfort zone.
It's essential to encourage your employees to go beyond their comfort zone by pushing them to take on challenges that involve different skill sets. "Start them off with tasks that may not have as much pressure as others, and be sure to keep track of your teammates' process while providing guidance whenever needed," explains John Patinella, the CEO and president of Money Mailer.
"As your teammates become more comfortable with these tasks and also more confident in their abilities, have them take on projects requiring higher degrees of ownership," Patinella said. Over time, he noted, the ongoing process will help your team discover and master a set of skills they didn't realize they had.
With engagement being a driving factor of employee performance and satisfaction, executives have the opportunity to not only hire top talent but to retain it by offering ways for employees to tap into and use their talents.