Engagement

5 tips to unlocking the potential of your employees

By pamela mason davey
cartoon secretary

Half a lifetime ago, I was a receptionist. A reluctant one. I was, however, grateful to have a job at a small advertising agency in Beverly Hills where people brought donuts every day and the owners brought their schnauzer. And here’s the best part, looking back: despite the fact that they’d hired me to answer their phones, the nice folks at Klein/Richardson didn’t see me as a receptionist either. They sent me to night school ad classes to learn how to be a copywriter.

Not only that, they let me play along with the “real” creative teams as they developed ideas for a huge upcoming three-million dollar pitch. And then, they liked some of those ideas well enough to allow me present them to a room full of stunned Japanese gentlemen, after I’d hung up their coats, gotten coffee, and put the phones on auto-answer.

I think we won that account on a strange combination of innocence and audacity.

Well, dear reader, that is how I became a copywriter. But this isn’t about me. It’s about learning to see. And not knowing the rules. And believing in people enough that they become what you believed they could.

So you see, this story is really about you. And the things you can do to unlock potential in employees every day. Here are some things I learned through my experiences:

#1. Get good at envisioning employees beyond their role. What are their gifts? Where do their passions lie? It’s easy to forget, given the wealth of powerful employee recognition solutions available, that nothing replaces a pair of human eyes when it comes to spotting potential.

#2. Support employees with tools and training. Send promising talent to school.  Provide leadership coaching for good managers to get better. Host a class that teaches team building and helps teams to work together more effectively.

#3. Create opportunities for practicing new skills, backed up by good modeling and mentorship.  It doesn’t cost much to let junior people try their hand at senior-level projects. And seeing how others approach these assignments is invaluable.

#4. Reward great work. No matter where it comes from. Especially if it comes from someone unexpected. It’s a good way to assure you’ll get more of it.

#5. Believe all the way. One last thing:  the ideas we presented that day weren’t brilliant.  (In fact, they were pretty terrible.) But we were stunning. Our team of merry innocents was on fire and the clients were blown away. Nobody told us we couldn’t win and so we did.

Categories: Engagement

Steve Newman

Pamela, knowing how talented you are at this point in your career makes me really appreciate the effort and belief that your first employer showed in you as a newbie. Passing it on is all part of the joy. Thanks for the fun story and great learning.

May 11, 2012   |   Reply   |  
Tessa

Pamela, I think these are great tips. Your story of getting a shot at experimenting on senior projects isn’t replicated often enough in our recession ridden economy. I hope employers heed your tips and start taking a risk on visibly talented people. Thanks for sharing!

May 16, 2012   |   Reply   |  
Patrick Phillips

I see something missing which I think is a huge component. That’s the process of empowering your employees for change. Employees who feel they add value to the organization are likely to believe they are valued and consequently will explore their potential. What are your thoughts on employee empowerment?

June 6, 2012   |   Reply   |  
Dave Petersen

You’re right, Patrick, employee empowerment is important. It’s something we practice on our manufacturing lines and all the way up to executive management. We teach our clients to do the same, using recognition and appreciation as tools to empower employees. When leaders appreciate their people, trust strengthens and employees feel empowered to do more, be more and deliver more great work. Harold Simons, our former head of manufacturing, was a champion of employee empowerment. Read his story on our blog archives.

June 12, 2012   |   Reply   |  
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By pamela mason davey

Pamela Mason Davey has red hair and lives in a purple house. She has written extensively for companies that do great work, among them, Starbucks, Frito-Lay, Nordstrom, Windstar, and of course, O.C. Tanner. Before becoming the world's first telecommuter (a quaint term now), she worked in advertising agencies in Los Angeles and Seattle. "I love working with the folks at O.C.Tanner because they appreciate me, which makes me appreciate them, and then it's like living and working in an endless feedback love fest loop."