How to unlock your company’s hidden growth engine

In part one of this series, we’ll explore structuring work differently in our new reality.

Today, much is being discussed about how work must change, partially triggered by the pandemic, but also due to other evolving realities such as generational preferences, work life balance concerns and the desire for purpose and diversity. However, little has been done to provide any kind of blueprint to make concrete progress in creating ways to accomplish this objective. While everyone now knows the structure of work must change, it’s a daunting task, and one that requires more than random or knee-jerk reactions. One model may help to shine a light on this challenge.  

A lesson from the past

Rewind to the 16th century: The Renaissance. One of the most celebrated artists in recorded history, Michelangelo Buonarroti, is purported to have once said that he did not “create” sculptures, rather, he merely “removed what was on the surface to reveal what was hidden underneath.” 

To extend the metaphor, perhaps a new way to think about talent strategies is to approach it the way Michelangelo probably approached his craft. To produce his most majestic works, he had to first believe there was something beneath the surface, something worth uncovering. With that mindset as his internal canvas, he then had to systematically remove everything that was preventing what was hidden to become visible. Finally, through deliberate, sometimes gentle, sometimes more forceful actions, he enabled the finished product to be revealed. 

In almost all sectors of life, this metaphor for revealing the hidden potential of talent is applicable. As mentors, coaches, bosses and teachers, we should constantly be asking ourselves questions that increase the impact of our work. What can I do to uncover the untapped potential in those I influence? What guidance can I offer? What questions can I pose? What experiences can I provide to help to uncover each person’s true talent? 

The current state of talent strategies

Talent strategies are now the current buzz. Start-up companies are springing up with powerful technology solutions. Recruiters are utilizing social media to find new sources of talent. Mature companies are revisiting their compensation packages trying to entice employees to stay put, and most companies now have senior level positions dedicated exclusively to the task of talent acquisition and development.

Further, recent survey data from multiple sources suggest that somewhere between 35 percent and 40 percent of U.S. employees are engaged with their jobs and a high percentage of employees would leave their jobs for what they perceive are better ones. This presents companies with a complex challenge; improving productivity and engagement levels by matching skills against business requirements, thus enabling employees to tap their greatest talent passions and capabilities.

The challenge today requires using intelligent methods to match and deploy available talent to business requirements. On one level, it’s supply vs demand. On a deeper level however, the question becomes: “How do we tap into the vast, untapped potential inherent in our workforces?” Indeed, how do we help to uncover the deeply held passions, energy and commitment levels of the talent that surrounds us?

A lesson from science

Science has taught us that our biological DNA is a blueprint of possibilities, and that this blueprint contains all the foundational elements necessary to produce extraordinary outcomes.

Much like biological DNA, what we can call“Workforce DNA”also contains the foundational elements necessary to produce extraordinary outcomes that are possible, but only if we create the circumstances that will enable them to occur.

Foundational elements of Workforce DNA

Like its biological counterpart, Workforce DNA consists of two, highly inter-connected elements: performance and motivation, each consisting of vast amounts of untapped potential.

Behavioral scientists have told us for decades…

  1. There is vast, untapped potential within every person.
  2. There is an unmistakable connection between performance and motivation.
  3. Extrinsic factors such as money, working conditions or job clarityhave little to do with high levels of performance or motivation.
  4. Intrinsic factors such as doing work that aligns with a deeply held purpose, developing personal competence or making a difference create deep levels of energy, passion and commitment.

What does untapped performance and motivation potential look like?

  • Individuals and teams that function at only acceptable or marginal levels of performance, but are unable to reach true, high performance levels.
  • The inability of companies to provide work experiences that inspire people and surface their deepest levels of passion and commitment.
  • Continuously increasing the number of urgent actions without a process that matches performance and motivation potential with the activities resulting in the highest ROI.
  • Individuals unable or unwilling to tap into their own deepest levels of passion and engagement for the work they do.

What people say they want in their jobs and what science tells us motivates them:

Excerpts from the book, Bury My Heart in Conference Room B, by Stanley Slapp (what people say they want in their jobs):

“I want to have an impact.”

“I want the work I do to make a difference.”

“I want to live my most important personal beliefs at work.”

Excerpts from the book, Drive, by Daniel Pink (when work requires more than basic skills, what motivates people is):

Autonomy: the sense of being self-directed, being in charge of my own work.

Mastery: the desire to continue to get better at what I do

Purpose: feeling and believing that the work I do truly matters.

What thought leaders tell us about tapping untapped talent:

Excerpts from business school professors and strategy gurus, Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad: 

“The traditional resource allocation task of top management has received too much attention when compared to the task of resource leverage. Instead of achieving linear growth by adding new resources, companies should more efficiently extract the capability of people and watch growth skyrocket.”

What people want most in their jobs is: to do the kind of work and work for the kind of company where they can be passionate and committed about what they do. Passion and commitment are inter-connected with performance and motivation.

If you had a way to unlock even a small amount of the untapped performance and motivation potential of your workforce, what would the impact be to your business? Imagining this possibility requires a set of assumptions. Read part two of this series here.