Latent Talent – The Next Economic Frontier

I am a passionate believer that we all have been given a great set of talents that provide us with the innate tools and competencies to make a great contribution to the communities we live in.

What I have experienced over many years of working with companies is the incredible ‘latent talent’ that is resident in people that are not being accessed by the organisation they are working with.

One particular day, as part of a development program I was running with an organisation, I met a man named Troy. I spent about an hour with Troy talking with him about his brilliant talent set and what strengths he had, the natural struggles he faced and the environment that worked best for him. Troy was a respected Customer Service Officer in his company. His peers would describe him as being more introverted than extroverted, very respectful and he had great relationships with his customers.

‘Probably not, they’ve never bothered to ask me’.

Throughout our conversation on his strengths and talents, he informed me that outside of work, he held a volunteer leadership role as Executive Director of an organisation that had over 12,000 members and ran a series of large annual events!  As he talked, it was easy to see this was his passion and he had held this role for over 12 years.  During the conversation, I asked him does the organisation you work for, know about these talents.  His answer stunned me – ‘Probably not, they’ve never bothered to ask me’. 

What an incredible latent talent sitting in this organisation that was not recognised or valued. Troy had worked in that organisation for in excess of 15 years. When I encouraged him to share this with his management team, he declined. The reason was powerful – ‘This organisation is full of politics and that’s not an environment I enjoy, so I just want to do my job and not get involved at that level.’

Sometimes talent is sitting right under our noses and we don’t know it because we haven’t taken the time to know our people, what talents they have, what motivates them and what their passions are. 

As human beings, we have a bad habit of categorizing people by the job they do or how they look, which is an incredibly narrow and limiting reference point for the brilliant talents people carry.

What we do outside of our contractual employment is the playground that develops the very talents and competencies that become attractive to organisations.  We need a much better reference point if we are to understand the talents sitting under our noses.

‘You know more about my team in one hour with them than I have found out in a year of leading them’

I had another experience recently where I had spent just one hour with each team member before meeting their leader.  They asked me what I thought of their team.  I spoke of their talents and passions of each one and how I felt they could contribute well in their organisational context.  They were silent for a moment and then he said: “You know more about my team in one hour with them than I have found out in a year of leading them”. 

Talents are released when people feel valued and dignified. Unknown talents come to the surface as conversations grow and develop when those feelings of being valued are present. One of the ways to value people and dignify them is to be and remain present in the conversation.

Now me personally, I have been on a journey to become someone who remains present when in a conversation with people (it certainly hasn’t always come naturally). I jumped in a taxi at an airport a little while ago and met Ahady, my driver. While he was quiet and respectful we struck up a conversation. I noted that in his comments he was a relatively recent immigrant from Afghanistan. I discovered in the 25-minute journey some of the great talents this man possessed. In his country, he had been a large-scale farmer with several businesses on the side. I discovered the resilience he had developed having lost everything in the recent wars and yet he still had such an appreciation for our country where he was driving a taxi because he couldn’t find work. Through it all, he was optimistic about his future. 

As we approach a period of massive job disruption in the coming years through technological change, we need to take the time to know our people, discover their hidden talents and value them for everything they bring to our organisations. In my experience, you will be incredibly surprised at the talents that sit right under your nose.  

Discovering the latent talent within your team is the next economic frontier. Think of talents as a way of creating value, helping the group meet their KPI’s, developing innovative ways of doing things.

Gallop Research, in repeated studies, have identified that the lack of engagement in the workplace is costing the Australian economy greater than $35 billion per year. When people are not using their talents, they are not valued properly, and engagement drops dramatically. This is an economic frontier that we need to explore.

As leaders, we have an obligation to know who we are leading. This is the key to unlocking latent talent that resides in your teams. 

Key Tips

  • Get to know the rich lives your teams lead outside your organisation
  • Value and dignify people and remain present when they are communicating with you
  • Look for the latent talents in the stories people share
  • Reflect on how you could access and encourage these talents in a more effective way.

Words by

Malcolm Le Lievre


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