The other day I had a conversation with a friend of mine, Jack, on the west coast. For fourteen years he worked in various capacities for a Fortune 500 corporation, but never advanced much through the ranks. Jack was liked by many and his knowledge base was phenomenal, but somehow his bosses never recognized it. As a result, he leveled off in promotions.
Then about two years ago, the CEO of a company who supplied products for this Fortune 500 company met Jack. Not too long later, after getting to know Jack and seeing his potential, this CEO offered him a job. It was a tough decision for Jack, but with a healthy salary being offered, plus the fact that someone was finally recognizing his talents, he made the switch. And, he’s been happy ever since.
Then, the other day, the same Fortune 500 company for which Jack used to work called his current employer and asked if Jack could fly to the East Coast and oversee the installation of a new system. They asked for Jack specifically—and they were willing to pay a steep price to get him. Jack was a little flattered, but he was also slightly confused. “How is it that for fourteen years they didn’t see that I had this knowledge, but now they value it so much that they’re willing to pay such a high fee?” Jack asked.
As I pondered Jack’s question, I thought of a couple of factors, but most of all I thought about how sad it is that companies ignore so much of the talent they have on their payroll. Too many managers and executives work to keep their workforce “stable, or “in their place.” To me, that’s code for “under control.” It’s also a huge waste.
Most likely, keeping the workforce “under control” is a mindset effected by insecurity. I imagine the thought process goes something like this: “What if someone below me on the corporate ladder comes up with a great idea that’s directly related to my work? My boss might wonder why I didn’t think of it, and I might get a lousy review … or worse, be let go.”
Fear can be a great motivator for dangerous situations, but it tends to have a negative ripple-effect in day-to-day operations.
If you’re a manager, I suggest taking time to think about the people working in your department. They’re not mechanical drones: They’re real people with real thoughts and ideas about how things can be made better. Why not ask them their thoughts on how to improve things? I strongly believe that people want to be heard. Give them an audience (you) and not only will you get good input, but they will have one of their needs met—feeling valued—which leads to greater commitment on their part (Caution: you MUST be sincere).
David Ogilvie, co-founder of the famous advertising agency Ogilvie and Mather, once said that “If we hire people better than us, we become a company of giants. If we hire people inferior to us, we become a company of dwarfs.” The key to success in that idea, of course, is to continue getting input from those who we hire! If we hire great people and never allow their perspectives to become part of our corporate culture, we stifle growth – and commitment – and productivity.
That Fortune 500 company lost a great investment by ignoring the talents of my friend, Jack. How many Jacks are at your company, ripe with knowledge or great ideas, but not being encouraged, or perhaps even allowed, to contribute? Don’t be afraid of asking for (and publicly recognizing) their input. My guess is your own boss will look favorably on you—that you’re capitalizing on your ability to lead people—if you give your people lots of opportunities to shine.