In 2005, I told my boss that I could put together a marketing and strategy training program in the company. The company was (still is) a Fortune 200 company, but appreciated engineering skills more than marketing and strategy. Much more. At the time, I served on the board of the Association for Strategic Planning, and was invited to speak at their national conference. However, my boss thought it was a waste of my time that would not add any value to the company. Besides, I already had a "day job" that I needed to perform.
That didn't stop me, and I started looking for a champion who would listen. I eventually found it in the company's organizational development manager, who was willing to help me put together such a training program, which we called "The Competitive Toolkit." 7 lectures later, and more than 500 company employees who went through it (after their business units transferred funds to my business unit for the training), the program was a success. The lectures were well attended at the company's auditorium, were streamed to multiple locations, and were downloaded to be watched by those who couldn't (or wouldn't) attend in person.
However, every day Corporate America misses talent that exists right under its nose. This talent might be yours. As a result, special skills and talent go untapped. Why?
Reasons why skills and talent go untapped:
1. The hiring process focuses on specific technical skills, and doesn't discover additional talents and skills. Companies hire people based on what they need right now.
2. You must focus on your day job. Companies are pressured to do "more with less." People are overworked, and often burnt-out by doing their "day job." You may not have the time to perform an extra duty, but your boss certainly can't afford for you to.
3. Using your untapped skills might threaten someone. Your boss (or someone else in the company) would not want you to get "too powerful" or "too influential" in the company. They would like to keep you "in check" and underneath them. They might lose you if that other skill or talent you have gets exposed.
4. You are already paid for. Our brains are wired to "you get what you paid for," and if the company doesn't have to pay you extra for your untapped talent, it probably isn't worth much. After all, if this talent was not what you were hired for, why should the company value it?
5. The company doesn't want you to start an uncontrollable movement. If the company lets you use your hidden talent it could start an uncontrollable movement of everyone wanting to use their untapped talent, which would likely lead to chaos. Companies don't like chaos. They like control.
6. Companies prefer outsiders. They respect outsiders more than they respect the people they know. Companies would rather hire a speaker that charges $5,000 to give a talk, even if they had someone inside the organization that knows more and is a better speaker.
7. Your boss doesn't know. If you are asking to use talents in an area that your boss is not familiar with, and he/she may not really know of a need for. They may be willing to help you, and the company. They just don't know how.
What should you do about it?
1. Develop that skill. It is not enough for you to believe that you have a valuable skill. You have to continuously develop it to the level of outsiders that the company may hire from time to time.
2. Promise that it wouldn't take away from your day job. If the biggest fear your boss has is that you will use your untapped talent at the expense of your "day job", promise that you wouldn't. Promise to meet all your milestones and performance metrics.
3. Ask someone else. Maybe your boss isn't the right person to appreciate this untapped skill of yours. Find the person in the company that would, and ask them.
4. Don't ask permission. Just do it. Make sure you don't do it at the expense of your day job, even though you didn't make that promise. Let the organization benefit from your untapped talent.
5. Get another job. Maybe your untapped talent is so strong that you should be doing something else in the company, or even outside. That is a decision that only you can and must make.
What should the company do about it?
1. Enhance the hiring and professional development processes. Make sure they identify skills unrelated to the position for which the company is hiring. Make sure you track those talents and develop them over time. What do you have to lose?
2. Ask the "volunteer" to guarantee completing his/her day job. If your biggest worry is that your employee pursues that untapped talent (for the benefit of the company, I must remind you!) at the expense of the job for which you, as the boss, are measured--ask them to guarantee it would not come at that expense. You will be surprised how people would be willing to go above and beyond their job for the benefit of your company, without sacrificing their obligations. Make them promise, and hold them to it.
3. Think of the savings compared to hiring an outsider. I can't begin to tell you how much money did companies I worked for saved when I facilitated strategy planning workshops and gave lectures on various topics, instead of hiring external facilitators. I can imagine that it was a good high six-digit figure. I took nothing beyond my salary. And, being an insider, I knew more about our business than an outsider, which resulted in a better outcome.
4. Provide constructive feedback. You may believe that the employee is not as talented as he may think. He is obviously passionate about it. Provide constructive feedback. Let him know that once that talent can compete with talent you typically hire outside--you will use them. Give them hope!
5. Keep an open mind, be willing to make changes. Using untapped talent in the company can add tremendous value, and save costs.