When you hire new team members, the transition from applicant to interviewee to full-fledged employee is one of mutual discovery.
Applicants often present very particular versions of themselves during the hiring process —leaving out their tangents, oddball quirks, and personal goals that might not completely align with the company goals. But this is actually the most interesting and illuminating information about new employees and how they can contribute to the company.
These particulars make up what we like to call a person’s “zone of genius.” We believe that employees have specific qualities they can bring to their work and personal lives that let them excel at certain tasks.
When an applicant becomes an employee, the opportunity emerges to get to know the real person behind the résumé, help him distinguish and identify his genius traits, and support his growth to become the person he really wants to be. That’s where open and honest communication becomes indispensable. To facilitate this process, you need to solicit honest feedback from employees.
The 90-Day Challenge
We recently initiated an intensive 90-day growth period for our company. We asked employees to share three professional goals for each 12-week period and an over-arching personal goal they want to achieve in this time.
During this exercise, our new director of sales (who relocated from New York City to San Francisco) said he wanted to develop a network that stimulates and challenges him both professionally and personally so he can build his career and help others. With this 90-day challenge, our company leaders uncovered his goals and responded, making a conscious effort to introduce him to relevant professional and personal contacts.
Creating an environment that enables your people to speak up and share their ideas, goals, and challenges isn’t always easy. Here are five ways you can help employees uncover their individual genius:
Ask the Right Questions
Before you can start helping people become the greatest versions of themselves, you have to find out what their interests, passions, and goals are. Too often, people move away from their personal goals to focus on work, rather than attempting to integrate those personal efforts and find their “zones of genius” more holistically. Ultimately, these efforts can add value to both your business and your employees’ satisfaction and happiness.
Ask questions such as, “If you were CEO of this company, how would you change it?” to incite passionate and focused answers. On the other hand, avoid open questions such as, “What do you want to do with your life?” because they can be overwhelming, especially new hires. When you give employees the opportunity to open up about themselves in a more specific manner, you’ll be surprised what emerges.
Build an Atmosphere of Trust
For employees to get the most out of working for your company, they need to feel comfortable sharing their honest opinions, testing ideas out, making mistakes, and keeping their own passions alive while also serving the company’s goals. This takes a trusting environment.
Actively practicing honesty in your workplace, exercising candid discussion and positive confrontation, and allowing your employees to take risks or make themselves vulnerable will gradually relax your team and create an atmosphere of trust and transparency.
Focus on Results
If employees see their workday as a series of minutes and hours rather than projects and goals, they’ll likely lose personal fulfillment and start checking the clock every five minutes. By creating a results-focused environment, the clock-watching disappears.
You can accomplish this by offering your employees flexible schedules and holding them accountable. Support them if they leave work early to attend a yoga class, seminar, or an art show, as long as they collaborate with teammates and meet important deadlines.
This seems counterintuitive, but when a person feels supported by the company in discovering her “zone of genius,” she will come to work inspired to give her gift and contribute to the success of the business.
Stepping beyond our normal capabilities changes us (and stimulates growth) neurologically, emotionally, and even physically. We notice things differently, fine-tune our awareness, develop muscle memory, and acquire new skills.
Care About Their Outside World
Just like our sales director who opened up about wanting to expand his community, employees who can be open about the world outside work will find themselves happier, more productive, and more likely to view their job as a fulfilling vocation.
Once you discover each team member’s interests and goals, take the time to look for lectures, publications, or events that cater to those. When the holiday season rolls around and you’re looking to reward someone, choose a gift that’s unique to that person’s interests. Employees who feel like individuals — rather than members of a herd — will bring their best selves to work every day.
Give Them Autonomy
As much as you can, try to provide employees with independence and autonomy at work. Although working toward the company’s collective goals is always paramount, creating wiggle room for employees to find their own methods and approaches will make them feel in control and trusted.
Every member of your team has a “zone of genius” — his own unique greatness that’s unlocked when he’s most encouraged, supported, trusted, and challenged. And you don’t have to be Oprah Winfrey to get employees to open up. By creating the right environment, asking the right questions, and listening hard for the answers, you can turn your workplace into a haven of professional and personal fulfillment.
David Hassell is the founder and CEO of 15Five, the leading web-based employee feedback and alignment solution that is transforming the way employees and managers communicate. Named “The Most Connected Man You Don’t Know in Silicon Valley” by Forbes, David has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Inc., Entrepreneur, WIRED, Fast Company, and Financial Post