Tapping into the Hidden Talent in Your Office

originally posted on Concept Hub

In November 2005 I wrote, “In the Spirit of Leonardo Da Vinci.”

I explored the idea that what made Leonardo Da Vinci such a genius ahead of his time was that he was able to explore a variety of disciplines and discover how they are all connected.

I stated that

Technology has made tapping into the spirit of Leonardo Da Vinci possible for anyone who has the desire to do so. Leonardo said that “the desire to know is natural to good men,” and “the knowledge of all things is possible.”

I also questioned why we segment different roles and departments within our corporations.

If the marketing department is not aware of the information that the salespeople are receiving, how do they know how to target their campaign? If salespeople do not get to experience the issues coming through customer service, how do they know what problems to solve? How can PR respond to the public without being in the trenches with the public? How do executives keep fresh and innovative ideas without a constant interaction with the the new hires that are coming in, full of hope, enthusiasm and innovative ideas?

The past few years, we have seen accelerated competition, global competition as well as competition from resourceful entrepreneur’s shaking up the business world as we have known it. We have also seen an acceleration in the competition to find talent. People now have an abundance of opportunities; from innovative companies, to contract/consulting work, to go off on their own. In the late nineties, we witnessed a high demand for talent based on the innovations and opportunities that were being explored on the Internet. That was a decade ago. The Internet has matured and has become a part of our lives as well as a portal to unlimited choices and opportunities for the top talent within the workforce.

For a company to thrive, or even survive, it is vital that they attract, retain, train, motivate, and inspire the right talent for the right job. Companies spend an enormous amount of their profit margin for such efforts. Yet due to an outdated process of segmenting roles and departments and lack of cross-pollination of ideas and open collaboration, many organizations miss the hidden talent that they currently have within. Or worse, they lose that talent when the individual is recruited away or steps out on their own to explore the talents that they were not given the opportunity to express at their current organization.

Many organizations are still operating with policies and procedures that were created for the industrial age. Procedures that give everyone a specific task within the “assembly line” of a hierarchal model.

This month’s Wired Magazine has a very relevant article about another “genius” that we need to look to in order to achieve a competitive advantage. In “The World Needs More Rebels Like Einstein” Walter Isaacson states;

At a time when the US, worried about competition from China, is again emphasizing math and science education, Einstein’s genius reminds us that a society’s competitive advantage comes not from teaching the multiplication or periodic tables but from nurturing rebels. Grinds have their place, but unruly geeks change the world. And, as recent research into Einstein’s personal papers shows, there’s no better glimpse into his offbeat creativity than the way he puzzled out the special theory of relativity.

See, Einstein did not follow the rules and do what he was told, he mapped out his own path, which changed the world.

The book Wikinomics provides numerous examples of how R&D departments are looking to retired Scientists and hobbyists to solve complex problems. Many solutions are actually coming from hobbyists because they have a diverse amount knowledge and skills enabling them to see connections that the scientist who are focused on the problems miss.

So, what changes can an organization make which would enable them to tap into the hidden talent that might exist within their own walls and shift from operating under the industrial model to the digital model?

They can start by allowing employees to feel involved in the decision making and direction of the company. Let them know that their ideas and opinions are being heard and be sure that the organization is capturing that information.

We all learned new ways to communicate in the late 90’s with email, Intranets, and databases. These new forms of communication were an improvement to former ways of communicating (paper memos, meetings that were missed…) However they still have their downfalls of being silos of information, or lost information, or worse, an overload of information that is ignored or inaccurate. Social media has provided the next new wave of communicating and collaborating.

Through RSS feeds, employees are able to “opt-in” to ongoing and evolving information/conversations that they are interested in, whether it is within their department or another area that they choose to explore. Departmental blogs allow for an ongoing conversation that enables different people from different departments to collaborate on ideas and explore opportunities or threats. Wikis enable companies to capture the collective intelligence of the team as it grows and evolves. Social Bookmarking enables team members to share and discover new resources and information. Podcasts and interactive videos from the executive team provides a personal touch and community building from the top.

The shift from a rigid industrial model to a collaborative digital organization reduces the loss of both information and talent. When people feel involved and valued, they experience a sense of pride and ownership and are therefore motivated and inspired to share their untapped talents, innovations, knowledge, and skills. Such an organization will reap the competitive advantage for talent as well as market-share within their industry.