Are You Wasting Employees' Talent? Here's How to Know

Asking one simple question when you hire could boost the success (and happiness) of your new staffer.
Are You Wasting Employees' Talent? Here's How to Know
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Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the September 2019 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When you hire, you often think -- or hope! -- you’ve found the perfect person. You sifted through résumés, interviewed diligently, and picked the best of the best. You feel great! But six months later, things change. Your great hire isn’t hitting their numbers. They seem unhappy. Maybe they’re even heading for the exit.

What do you do? Here’s one thing to consider: You may have put your great hire in the wrong role. And it happened because you didn’t understand what kind of worker they truly are.

You may balk at this. “How could he be in the wrong role? It’s the job we hired him for!” There are all sorts of reasons. A role can be “wrong” if it is unduly stressful and takes too great a toll on their mental well-being. It’s “wrong” if it doesn’t allow them to do the things that truly light them up. And perhaps most critically, it’s “wrong” if the job’s demands don’t match the employee’s ambitions.

Related: Hiring? It's Best to Take Your Time.

I divide great workers into two different camps. One group is hungry for every opportunity you can throw at them, asking about advancement from day one. I call these people “astronauts.” Light the fuse, and they’ll overshoot the moon. The second group is content to stay in their roles. They value detail and mastery, becoming absolute experts in their area and setting the standard for everyone else. You can’t run your organization without them; they build the foundation. I call this group “architects.” 

Architects are absolutely solid in their role; they have little or no interest in expansion and advancement. This could be because they have a lot going on at home, so they don’t want to add more to their plates at work. Or maybe they have outside interests that are important to them -- training for a triathlon, for example. For whatever reason (or no reason at all), architects are dedicated to their current role. 

By contrast, astronauts are on a steep growth trajectory. If they don’t advance quickly after coming aboard, they’re likely to grow restless. They are “all in” from the beginning; their manager needs to give them appropriate opportunities to take off. 

Related: Buying Into These Myths Can Make for Bad Hiring Decisions

You need both astronauts and architects. Neither is “better” than the other. Without your architects, where will other team members turn for advice? On whom would you rely to get the job done well? And without astronauts, how will you achieve the levels of success you’re hoping to have? Who will move your company forward? 

If this classifying system is helpful to you in identifying your team composition and the needs and wants of your employees, I invite you to use it. Ask yourself: What does this architect want? What incentives and rewards are attractive to her? She may have little interest in managing. Some companies reward architects by making them the “gurus” of their particular area of expertise. Would this be attractive to your architects? If not, how will you recognize their hard work and competence? 

If you’ve got an astronaut, how will you keep her challenged and engaged? What new responsibilities will cause her to light up? Have conversations with her in which you chart out where she would like to be in six months, one year, and more, and then plot a course with her to achieve these goals. 

Related: 5 Critical Hiring Mistakes Employers Make

Really, whether your great hire is an astronaut or an architect, you need to be having these career conversations with her -- and with all your team members. When you make it a point to know your employees both professionally and personally, you’ll be able to tell if they are unhappy (which isn’t something they’ll openly volunteer to tell you). Recognize that their happiness is your business. While you can’t take responsibility for their emotions, you can get to know them and strive to make work a place where they are challenged, engaged, and enjoying themselves.

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