April 26, 2013
Staff Picks: Untapped Talent: Unleashing the Power of the Hidden Workforce
Over the course of my career, I saw hundreds of extremely intelligent, well-credentialed men and women with master's degrees in business, degrees in engineering, math, technology, and liberal arts. They all had a strong desire to succeed in their work, but they all faced unique organizational obstacles. For a variety of reasons, many of which it took me years to uncover and understand, these professionals represented silenced voices in their workplaces. They represented what I've now come to define as "untapped talent"--professionals with relevant skills and abilities who aren't making the most of them.
Before we look at the "variety of reasons" that causes a person to languish in an organization never realizing his or her potential, let's define just who these folks are in context of Monroe's Untapped Talent. "Untapped" doesn't necessarily mean "unsuccessful," at least in the way we recognize. "Ironically, the people who fall short of their potential often appear as if they have achieved the upper-middle-class American dream," Monroe writes, explaining that despite outward appearances, these employees are often just going through the motions, no longer able to engage, not able to move forward. "They aren't just hidden. They are, in a word, unhappy." So this book isn't so much geared toward finding diamonds in the rough; instead, it's about polishing the slowly-tarnishing silver.
The author is careful to acknowledge that it is the responsibility of both the organization and the employee to solve this problem, and emphasizes that both the person and the organization will benefit from solving said problem. "When you find yourself in the hidden workforce," Monroe warns, "...you lose. When that happens with the people on your team, your team and you lose. And your organization loses. And your customers and clients lose. And your community loses." In other words, everyone wins by recognizing untapped talent--even if that person is yourself.
Monroe explains that there are a number of factors that contribute to losing good people within an organization: restricted access to the right people/mentors/resources/feedback, indoctrination or unification, seeing talent as nontransferable to other tasks/projects, promoting without training, assumptions about which people are appropriate for certain roles, exclusion from decision-making, and general passivity. At play here, she says, is an "unconscious bias" that limits our ability to be creative and progressive thinkers.
So how can organizations change? First, address the culture. "[A] culture of talent stewardship begins with the informal practices of its leaders. These leaders take the time to get to know people throughout their organizations, not just those within their immediate sphere of influence." Then, appreciate the importance of soft skills (in addition to intelligence and technical skills.) "The nontangible nature of the skills makes it difficult for some people to recognize their importance in daily operations."
And how can the employees change? Monroe tells us to become "personally sound" which includes self-awareness, confidence, just sort of settled with ourselves, so that we can clearly see what we bring to the table.
Getting to these untapped talents begins with a simple, but often difficult, three-step process. It starts with identifying our crucible moments. Then we must reflect on how those moments shaped us and where they are taking us. Finally we recognize ourselves with who we were, who we are, and who we want to become.
Circling around to how this concentration on the self can help change an organization, Monroe says that after we have achieved a sense of personal soundness that (re)sparks our own engagement, it is important to mentor others. How do you recognize untapped talent in your organization? Typically, Monroe says, these people, no matter what work they currently do, display the 3 R's "resourcefulness, resilience, and resolve" and she closes the book with chapters on each.
Untapped Talent is an efficient book and Monroe doesn't spend a lot of time offering anecdotes or case studies. Instead, she relies on her expertise to lay out this common conundrum and offer pragmatic fixes. But that's not to say the book lacks passion. Clearly Monroe is a champion of the underappreciated and/or the underperforming, and it is clear that helping people find fulfillment and achieve their potential motivates her work. Both leaders and employees can benefit greatly from reading Untapped Talent, in order to recognize that untapped talent within yourself or your organization.
About Sally Haldorson
Sally Haldorson's job as 800-CEO-READ’s General Manager is to make 800-CEO-READ a great place to work for our employees, and a consistently high-performing customer service organization for our clients, authors, and our partners in the publishing industry. In addition to her General Manager duties ensuring collaboration, integration, and quality, she reads, writes, reviews, curates, and edits for the company. Helping craft The 100 Best Business Books of All Time used parts of both skill sets. Outside of work, she is most likely to be found hitting a tennis ball around or hanging out with her boys (husband, child, dog) at home.