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.