Have you ever watched a movie in which the lead actor was miscast? It can be a squirmy experience, as painful to view at as it must have been for the actor to film.
People can be miscast in their jobs as well. Very early in my career I was woefully mismatched, and it was a miserable experience, all three years of it. (Okay, so I was a little slow on the uptake.) No amount of praise, no perks, no salary increases—nothing was going to make me like that job. I was a square peg trying to work a round hole.
To be sure, I used my brain well enough and I got the job done but only by sheer force of will. The work took a toll on me; I was tired and cranky every single day, and I was not pleasant to be around. No matter how hard I tried, I would never be great at that job. Why? Because no part of that work called for my particular talents.
The concept of talent is explored in one of my favorite business books of all time, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. They define talent as “recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that can be applied productively.”
When you are talented at something (and we all are), you can perform the task over and over again without fatigue. You tend to lose yourself in the work. Time scoots by and you hardly notice. When you’re working at something that doesn’t call for your particular talents, however, you labor over the effort. You procrastinate. You clock-watch. You might complete the task, but in the end you’re exhausted.
You can teach skills and impart knowledge, but you can’t teach talent. Talent is something you are naturally wired to do. Knowledge and experience get you only so far; talent is what makes you excel. You can memorize the steps in the procedure, you can take a training class, and you can practice, but you will never be a standout unless that task allows you to use your strengths. Let’s face it. No matter how hard you try, you are not going to excel as a numbers-cruncher when your talent lies in creating new things.
Now, think about your staff. How well are people matched in their roles? How much and how often do they get to use their strengths? The answer lies at the heart of motivation and at the fulfillment of task objectives.
Here’s a bulleted list to help you think about how to cast people in the right roles. (Read more about this in First, Break All the Rules.)
- In addition to job benchmarking (skills, attributes, competencies), add talent to the mix. Know what specific talents are required for each aspect of the work. Customer service? Consider empathy. Engineering? Consider inquisitiveness. Sales? Consider sociability.
- Interview for talent. Design a separate set of interview questions that allow the candidate to reveal his or her particular strengths. Is the candidate a good match for the job?
- Ask your employees about their strengths and weaknesses and about their personal and professional goals. Their answers will provide clues about their talents.
- Observe what your employees do during the day. Notice what kind of work they are drawn to. Watch how they interact with others and with whom.
- When slotting people in various jobs, think beyond skills, knowledge, and experience. Try to position each person so that are doing more of what they were born to do. And then watch them flourish.
The more you can cast people in the right roles, the greater chance you will have of getting the very best out of them. Granted, it’s not realistic to cast everyone perfectly. It is likely that your employees still will have to perform tasks that just don’t light their fire. My guess is that they’ll be more willing to do that though, when they know that other work, more suited to their nature, awaits them.
See what you can do as a casting agent. You may be surprised by the results.
The next post will deal with delegation. In the meantime, jump into the new year with both feet and make it one amazing year.
Oh, and check out the book . . .