Talent Waste

Especially during these times when companies are growing slowly and organically, each person on your team is incredibly important. However, I regularly see leaders shying away from providing the proper feedback and speaking candidly with their people, wasting away potential talent. For an industry obsessed with talking about (tech) debt and who makes sure to maximize their finances, how about leveraging the talent you’ve already brought into the company?

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The Lost Years

Here’s a story about someone I personally know. Let’s call her Lilly. She was sure she was doing well for years under the same person. When I happened to see her in action, I noticed some “low-hanging fruit” style of feedback that she eagerly acted on immediately. Someone who embraces feedback so much can usually grow and improve much faster than she was demonstrating, which tingled my spidey sense. Digging in, it turned out she wasn’t getting any real coaching because her leader had decided she would just not be one of the “stars” and essentially let her while away time as long as she wasn’t complaining.

When Lilly eventually realized that she would not be getting promoted anytime soon—if ever—because she wasn’t viewed seriously, it broke her spirits. The decision (whether conscious or not) to not give her any attention and let her keep on going as long as she was pleased was actively harmful. Whereas the leadership probably considered this as being “kind” and not “hurting” her, Lilly realized she had lost years where she could’ve improved and grown but hadn’t. That’s time that’ll be almost impossible to recoup in that team. She decided to leave.

Starry Night

One way companies waste talent is by missing the opportunity to get more out of the people they’ve already got. However, there are even more ways to do so, which might be intertwined. For example, a client recently told me about someone who wasn’t star material and that, obviously, not everyone can be a star, and that’s fine. I definitely agree with the latter, but even then, you have to do things correctly to avoid wasting and hurting others.

Say the words: If you genuinely think someone has reached a “ceiling” in your organization, be frank. I’m not saying that you necessarily should show up one morning with, “Hey Joe, just by the way, you’re never going to get a promotion here.” However, what most leaders tend to do in these situations is blatantly lie or gaslight people who think they’re doing fine and performing well. Don’t be that leader.

Takes two to tango: Deciding for someone that they aren’t “star material” without ever having given them the opportunity, feedback, and coaching to grow properly is essentially deciding for them. As in Lilly’s story, when you reach that conclusion because people didn’t spontaneously perform like you wanted, you lose out on anyone who doesn’t naturally fit perfectly into your organization from day one. Having seen so many people shine in one position after being so-so in a previous one, I know firsthand that it’s rare that one person is “broken” and more likely that they didn’t get the right conditions.

Opportunity cost: It might be that a non-star person is good enough for a certain role, and you’re completely fine with that. However, we often convince ourselves that is the case because it’s easier. I want you to make an explicit decision: is this the right person in that position, or are you missing out on what could’ve been achieved had you put someone better there? There’s an opportunity cost of replacing someone, but there’s also the cost of letting someone mediocre lead an area for too long.