I’m starting to set aside some time to peruse some of the magazines that have been piling up on my desk. As it turns out, I’m three issues behind in my reading of Harvard Business Review so it’s fairly likely you’ll see a few blogposts in the near future related to HBR articles.
Going back to the May 2008 issue, Michel Anteby wrote a brief article in the Forethoughts section called Working in the Gray Zone. In the article, he brings an interesting perspective to one of my favorite topics – hidden talents. (I define a hidden talent as a unique skill or ability that an employee brings with them to an organization that is not part of their job description.) For Anteby the “gray zone” of the article title refers to using one’ s hidden talents for what may be considered non-essential work activities. He points out the example of a competent, productive newspaper editor who spends time at work writing her novel. I’ve personally experienced managers in the past who would verbally flay this individual if they ever caught wind of this behavior. Yet, other managers might be incredibly supportive knowing that the editor could always be counted on to deliver official work when it needed to be done.
Anteby asks why individuals might be attracted to using company time and resources for personal projects. I like his answer and it adds a nuance to my thinking about hidden talents. While most workers are supplied with a job description, that’s often not enough. Many of us feel a strong pull toward fulfilling our own sense of “occupational identity” that is much more robust and unique to our own particular talents. And more often than not, they are tied to our current work in some way which is why smart managers don’t just tolerate trips to the gray zone, they encourage them.
It’s worth thinking about bringing gray zones out into the open by finding official ways for employees to engage their occupational identities…Finding a perfect official match might not always be possible, but employees will be more engaged and productive when their true skills are recognized by their employers.
Next week, I’ll be writing a long-planned series on how to uncover and utilize the hidden talents of your employees. So plan to come on back…I promise you’ll find some answers to how to better engage your people and help them bring more of themselves to their work.