Some managers get uncomfortable when I talk about helping their team members understand their unique value. “If they figure out why they’re awesome,” they say, “aren’t they all going to ask for a promotion — or quit and get another job?”
My instinct is to respond with a million reasons why it makes sense to invest in their team’s “awesome awareness” anyway. But today, I want to talk to you about doors instead.
You may be afraid that everyone on your team will look for the door, so to speak, if you follow my advice and your people learn to articulate what makes them stand out. But here’s the thing:
“Promotion” and “Exit” aren’t the only two doors available.
Here are three more for you to consider.
- The Secure Door
- The Redeployment Door
- The Learning Door
THE SECURE DOOR
I used to work with a brilliant analyst and mathematician. She played with numbers and patterns at a level beyond my comprehension.
She had no desire to lead a team. Her soft skills — while she always worked on them — were not her strength. What engaged her was stretching her specialized skills to the limits.
I helped her see how her obscure ideas could be applied to solve some of the problems we were facing. When we talked, she could think “outside the box” because she knew I’d reel her back in as needed. She knew she needed to get her job done, of course, but she also had permission to go deep on a topic. This trust between us was the security she needed to thrive.
The Secure Door isn’t what all brilliant individual contributors want. Nor does someone have to be a bright individual contributor to want the Secure Door. Maybe she’s a Regional Leader who’s found that elusive balance of work, family, and life, and brings her A-game to work but isn’t looking for more.
The Secure Door candidates often want a “this and that” situation. Often the “that” is something you cannot control. What you can control is “this,” and you can make it secure.
Ultimately you’ll only know if they want the Secure Door if you ask them.
THE REDEPLOYMENT DOOR
Let’s talk for just a second about why diversity in hiring is a good idea. And I’m talking about ALL types of diversity. Someone with different experiences brings context that you haven’t seen — and with it, bottom-line boosting new ideas and perspectives — to the table.
Imagine you have a team member with experience in the finance team and the creative team. How brilliant is it that you have someone on your side who understands the language of both departments? And has relationships with both departments, or can quickly build strong ones because (and I’ll repeat it) they have the context and perspective of both sides?
Now imagine you have a different team member who’s brilliant at your type of work, but is showing some real propensity to thrive and succeed in another department — and you have a conversation with them about keeping an eye open for a position there.
Frankly, I think everyone wins in this situation. You win because now you have a trusted person in a different department who speaks your language. The other team wins because they get the same benefit in reverse (plus they gain diversity in experience and thought.)
The individual team member wins because they’re getting challenged in a whole new way while gaining new skills and experiences. I’ve seen leaders apply this concept with one or two individuals as part of their intentional programming, to great effect.
Ultimately you’ll only know if someone is thrilled about a Redeployment Door if you ask them.
THE LEARNING DOOR
You have a team member who’s shown capabilities, curiosity, and value on projects. With the Learning Door, you’re going to ask them, in essence, to be a student again.
I’ve had more Learning Door opportunities than I can count. That’s how I learned everything from how to build software, to the operations and economics of the newspaper industry, to how to deliver a sales training program in China to the Chinese, Korean and Japanese sales teams at the same time. In each scenario, I knew little to nothing at the beginning of the project and made lots of mistakes, but I learned so much.
I’m forever grateful to my teachers along the way who crooked their finger at me and said, “Hey, I want you to work on this new thing. I have no idea how to solve the problem either, but are you up for the challenge?” I stayed at one company for eight years because of the opportunity to learn (yes, I turned down other roles, and also this was during the economic craziness of the 2000s.) And I know I’m not the only one with a story like this.
Ultimately you’ll only know if someone is ready and excited about a Learning Door if you ask them.
Yes, all three of these doors start with a conversation about what the other person wants.
I’ve assumed doors for people in the past, and it always backfires spectacularly. Because it’s not about you, the leader, it’s about them. The best place to start the conversation is helping your team members understand that there are more options than promotion or quitting and see where it goes from there.
And before I go, I want to flip the perspective.
You are the team member looking to your boss for the next opportunity. Now you know that there are more doors than just Promotion and Exit. Which door appeals to you? Can you have a conversation with your boss about all the options and why one is more exciting to you than another?
The only thing linear about careers and life is time. It’s an evolving maze of hallways and doors.
All you have to do is choose which door do you want to open.
PS. Now really, you should be investing in your team’s ability to understand why they’re individually and uniquely awesome. Drop me a line, and I’ll give you a million reasons why.