It starts like this. You realize that you have a talent or skill that is not directly related to your job. You go to your boss, excited, and suggests to use it for the company's benefit. You are not suggesting to do that at the expense of your "day job," yet your boss says NO. Absolutely not. Likely scenario? Has it ever happened to you? Well, 85% of you said it did.
Over the past month I conducted my own study of this phenomenon, after hearing complaints from so many people in response to an article I wrote about the topic. People related to what I wrote, and shared their stories. So, based on my doctoral research training, I developed a survey, and floated it over all social networks and my own mailing list. Here is a snap-shot of the results.
First, the demographics were quite diverse. 33% of the participants work for large companies with more than 1,000 employees, 23% work for mid-size companies with 101 to 1,000 employees, 19% work for small companies with 11 - 100 employees, 10% work for small businesses with 10 employees or less, and 15% work alone as sole proprietors. I eliminated the answers of the last group, as they didn't have anyone to ask about their talents. The majority (75%) were between the ages 41 and 65, with the rest between 21 and 40 (17%) or over 65 (9%). Not too many millennials participated. 27% of participants held executive positions in their organizations, 29% were middle-level managers, and 39% were line employees or individual contributors. 15% worked in their companies for less than one year, 29% worked there between one and three years, 32% worked there between four and ten years, and 27% worked in their companies for more than ten year.
Do you have a talent?
72% answered the question "Do you have a talent or skill that can help your company, but that is not a clear part of your job description?" positively. 18% were not sure. Only 10% didn't believe they had a talent outside of their current job description, or that their talent could help the company in any way. 52% believe the level of their talent is "best in company," and 25% believe it is at a national level or world-class. You have some great talent, there! The survey asked participants to describe their hidden talents and skills. Approximately half were technical skills, for the most part related to the company's line of business, but also extending to training, project management, and other skills normally important to those companies. The other half referred to "soft" skills, from the ability to work across silos, cross-functional and cross-disciplinary capabilities, as well as thought leadership and more. Reviewing this long list of talents and skills, I had to wonder how the performance of those companies would be enhanced if those skills were utilized.
Did you propose using it?
88% of those who believe they have a talent that could be used for the benefit of the company, and that is above average level shared that fact with people in the company, whether their boss, peer, or executives. In fact, 80% offered to actually use that talent for the benefit of the company. You were definitely not shy about it.
Here comes the disappointment. Of those who proposed to use their talent for the benefit of their companies, 85% were declined. For every question, I separated the answers to the different sizes of companies, and for the most part, the results were consistent, except for this one. You have a 62% higher probability of your offer to use your special talent being rejected in a large company than in any other size company. Large companies seem to have a stronger allergic reaction to employees offering to use their talents and skills, even thought it is for the benefit of the company. Henry Ford was famously quoted saying "Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?" When participants were asked to guess why did managers decline their offers to use those talents, the responses varied from structure, reporting lines, "it's not your job," to over-inflated egos, "patriarch culture," to silos, micro-management styles, "cubicle politics," maintain the status quo, and lack of funding. The majority of the reasons cited to why management declined to use those talents or skills focused on corporate culture and management politics.
The Silver Lining
When I worked at Texas Instruments, back in 2005, one of our engineers came to me and told me he proposed many ideas to his management, but his management shot them all down. "What did you do next?" I asked, and he seemed puzzled and answered "Nothing. What could I do?" And here lies the problem: you can do something about it. First of all--don't ever take NO as a final answer. If I did, we would not have more than 2 billion USB 3 ports shipping every year. But, for the most part, you didn't really take NO as an answer. Although 85% of you were told NO when you proposed to use your "extra" talent or skill for the benefit of the company (90% in large companies), 81% of you used it anyway.
Do what makes you happy
So why are you doing it? Why do 80% of you propose to use your skills for the benefit of the company, even though 85% of you will be declined? And even more--why would 81% of you use your talents even after your offer was declined? It's simple--you are motivated intrinsically more than extrinsically. What makes you tick is the satisfaction of doing the right thing, and you will continue to do that in spite of your management. Or, you can leave the company and find a job where your special skills and talents are appreciated and needed.