5 Steps To Nurture Talents And Mastery At Work

Written by in Practices
- 6 min read

Traditional organizations tend to distribute activities via job descriptions that are out-of-date the moment they are crafted. Moreover, this process ensures that most employees do not apply their full talents. What a waste!

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Job descriptions not only limit talent, they also demotivate. As Dan Pink told us, the ability to use your strengths is highly motivating. Sadly, many organisations aren’t aware they are holding back a huge reservoir of untapped potential.

The old-fashioned habits

Traditional organisations are known for their flawed promotion policies based on complicated titles and tedious job descriptions. To enjoy a ‘real’ career in these companies, employees are expected to ‘climb’ the career ladder.

Whether you actually want to be a manager or not, it is the normal path you are expected to take. Are you good at selling? Become a sales manager. Have excellent development skills? Call the shots for a group of software developers. Skilled in nursing? Manage a group of nurses.

Even though it doesn’t make sense, this is the default path. The old-fashioned ritual of awarding of job titles and descriptions is the perfect way to dampen motivation and commitment for many. It forces people to do things they are supposed to do, but not necessarily disposed to do.

The Rebel Idea

People prefer to work on tasks they like—ones that match their talents and strengths. And doing what you are good at increases motivation and engagement. It shouldn’t be surprising that the 100+ progressive firms we visited around the globe are constantly looking for ways to take advantage of the wealth of talent at their disposal.

The world’s most progressive organisations break with childish traditions. Instead of focusing on fixed job descriptions and useless titles, they focus on finding and developing employee skills.

They are aware that, insofar as employee talents are used to their fullest, everyone reaps the benefits: employees, their colleagues and the organisation they work for. Progressive organizations leverage this dynamic.

They make use of the diverse talents present in the whole organization. They offer people the freedom to choose tasks and responsibilities. In progressive organizations, employees ‘sculpt’ their jobs, based on their interest, talents and strengths.

Rebel Idea in practice

But how do you nurture talents and mastery at work? What should you think about? How do you change the way you work?

Pioneers answer these questions with practices we can learn from. We start simply and work up to the more rebellious options.

1. Identify talents

The first step, and an important one, is to identify every team member’s core talents. This is often overlooked. But it serves as the perfect starting point.

An effective but simple way to do this is for all to complete a survey to uncover their talents. The next step is to share these results with your team. (Survey templates can be found online, via a simple Google search.)

Such a survey not only encourages reflection, it also gives insight into whether the current distribution of tasks is the most effective—given the talents now revealed.

Next, it’s time to share these in a team session. Write the details on post-its, stick them all around the room, and then discuss so everyone understands the team’s complete spectrum of talents.

2. Unlimited training

Next step, let employees choose for themselves which training programs or conferences they wish to attend. Employees often know what they want to develop, and can be trusted to make good choices.

At Johnsonville Sausage and the Spanish Cyberclick, for example, they set aside money for each person to spend any way they wish on their development.

They might pay for surfing lessons as well as calculus instruction! Training is training. That’s how they view it. They believe that learning the discipline of surfing carries over into the making of better sausages or writing better code.

Everyone sets personal development plans, discusses them with their teammates, and publishes them for everyone to see. They believe training courses benefit employees, and therefore the company.

3. Self-selected mentors

Encourage employees to choose a mentor. A mentor is a coach who helps employees to do their best and to continue their development.

People are automatically attracted to those they believe are most suitable to help—which makes this approach particularly effective. People develop better when surrounded by people they trust, rather than those they are forced to work with.

4. Job crafting by combining roles

A more advanced step? Allow employees to craft their own jobs by choosing and combining different roles. They then create a job uniquely tailored for themselves. The following is important:

  • First create an list of all the activities and tasks a team needs to carry out. This will be different for each team. Record these on post-it notes and display around the office.
  • Merge any group of activities that appear similar or closely related into one role. For example, posting social media messages, sending newsletters, and posting blogs are all similar tasks. By merging them, you propose a new ‘marketing role’.
  • Then let employees select the roles that appeal to them. Make sure managers do not force them into certain roles. Let role distribution be based on intrinsic motivation. A proper understanding of everyone’s talent is vital here.

What about the roles nobody shows interest in? People often ask us this. One solution we particularly like: get rid of these roles! Simply stop assigning them. Then, two things can happen. One is that nothing happens, which is a good thing. You eliminated a role that was not important!

The other option is some problems emerge. This is proof the role is important. The solution? Start looking for alternatives. Create a priority for your next recruitment. Select someone who truly enjoys the role.

Alternatively, outsource the role. Or find someone in a different team who enjoys the role. In short, be creative. There will always be someone who is interested.

5. Internal project marketplace

The most rebellious step is to establish a so-called ‘internal project marketplace’. Here the activity list is transferred from team level to organisation level. In this approach, every task within a company becomes a project, even tasks that are fairly common.

Then, employees are invited to participate in, or contribute to, one or more projects of their choosing. Employees can take on as many projects as they want—based on their interests. No one should be assigned a project. This allows staff themselves to determine how they can best contribute to the company.

Similar to less appealing roles, less appealing projects are often not important enough to do. They may be eliminated entirely, new people may be hired to execute them, or, if absolutely necessary, they can be outsourced.

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