Irish nature

It’s a given that organisations need to develop leaders, teams and individuals that can adapt to today’s environment of continuous change and disruption. So it’s no surprise that the Henley Business School’s Corporate Learning Survey 2016 predicts the greatest challenges for organisations over the next three years will be leadership capability and the effectiveness of management teams. As well as creating competitive advantage, it’s widely recognised that exceptional talent at any level in an organisation contributes a disproportionate amount of value. And it’s important to remember that they also tend to be the people that find it easier to source opportunities elsewhere. Ultimately, it’s a costly mistake if you fail to nurture and retain key talent.

To address this, my approach with clients centres around ‘focusing on the extraordinary’. Within all organisations there are people who have untapped potential that needs to be discovered, embraced and nurtured. Every person has something great to contribute now – it just needs to be recognised and developed. Managing people through this lens is positive, empowering, encouraging and engaging for all. I believe it gives a sense of being special. And by focusing on being – or how to become – extraordinary at what they do, people accept that there’s potential to be even better than they are right now.

In performance appraisals, employee development and in general management, the emphasis is traditionally and predominantly on areas for improvement. ‘Top talent’ is defined as the people who achieve the highest performance appraisal scores; but these may not always be the people with the attributes most valuable to a company. What if we shift our focus from filling the gaps in skill-sets or knowledge to building on an individual’s or team’s extraordinary potential and area of talent? Using the lens of focusing on the extraordinary, organisations can turn this on its head. I find it allows people to become the best they can be in one, or even multiple, areas.

It all boils down to the right fit for the right role. What if a new Project Manager does not have the strongest aptitude for finance, but has a great capacity for relationship building? Why not focus on developing the skills that will make that person an extraordinary people manager? With those skills, he or she will be adept at managing the people in their team that perform the finance function, without needing to become an expert themselves. I believe that it is not always necessary to know the detail of an area if you develop the right skills to manage and lead the people that do.

What makes someone exceptional will be defined differently in every organisation and it will also depend on what position they hold in the company. Someone who doesn’t accept the status quo, constantly challenges themselves and must see results could be well suited to developing organisational innovation. An employee fascinated by people and a talented communicator could excel in a learning and development role, while a passionate team member who is self-motivated could be ideal for new business development. It’s about putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

If we look at an airline, a pilot makes decisions based on facts and experience following a specific process where the situation is analysed, options evaluated and then the most appropriate option selected and acted on. For the most part, the decision-making process when operating an aircraft is black and white: there isn’t much grey. This analytical thinking is entirely essential for that role. In the same airline, people in other roles who make an equal contribution to the success of the operation will need to approach decision-making in a different way – maybe more collaborative, inclusive or consultative, which requires a different skill-set. It’s essential that we recruit and nurture the people with the skills that a specific role needs. Every single person has an extraordinary skill that makes up the entire picture: from baggage handlers to flight attendants. When we look at great teams, it’s the combination of diverse qualities that helps drive innovation and improve performance. Every company is different, so it’s important to identify the characteristics that reflect high performance behaviours in your company. On an individual level, leaders need to identify intrinsically motivated people and make sure they have positive career maps open to them to ensure a broad experience that achieves growth and facilitates retention.

I see the benefits of this way of thinking in practice increasingly during my day-to-day work. It not only creates a highly motivated and cohesive workforce, attracts high calibre candidates for vacancies, and encourages innovative problem solving, but is also provides a return on Learning and Development investment, promotes loyalty, contributes to lower attrition rates, supports internal branding and creates a positive working environment. What’s more, employees feel a real sense of job satisfaction, of belonging, of accountability for their own personal growth and greater self-esteem. Team performance increases, with lower stress levels and the increased motivation that stems from knowing where they add value, having a common purpose and shared values.

Saying that, I’m not advocating completely ignoring areas where people are less strong, because that may mean it reduces their ability to make the most of their strengths. What we should do is take a more balanced approach to developing areas where people excel. Senior managers need to remember that the best resource they have is their people – and nurturing and developing people is not only the right thing to do, it will be the best thing for their business. Companies invest in expensive hardware and software and further invest in support and upgrades – why would they not do the same for their human resources? Senior Managers should have a clear strategy on how to develop people from the day they join the company. Whether it is one-to-one coaching, mentoring, or participating in development programmes, potential can be unlocked, as well highlighting how self-imposed limitations can be overcome.

For anyone managing people, it’s vital to address this need with credible and highly effective learning and development plans – of which middle managers are now a focus, as well as senior and executive management. I often work with managers to identify what the missing piece is – helping them to recognise the talent already present within their teams.

Clearly, in order to succeed and be continually innovative, organisations need to focus on taking good leaders and teams and making them great… maybe even extraordinary!

In our next blog we’ll look at top tips on identifying the extraordinary in your team.