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Great team brainstorms require this type of individual recognition

When it comes to your spotlighting your employees, focus on their talent over job expertise.

Great team brainstorms require this type of individual recognition
[Photo: artpartner-images/Getty Images]

There’s a quote from Steve Jobs that has always stuck with me: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

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Here’s the sad truth about many companies: They fail to show enough gratitude. They think they’re “know-it-alls,” and that their employees are simply their subordinates. But what I’ve gleaned from Steve Jobs’ quote over the years was this: We are all continuous learners—no matter how far up the ladder we are in our companies or careers. We don’t know all the answers, and acting as if we do only alienates our team and keeps us from growing.

When I first began my startup company 16 years ago, I had little idea of how important recognizing employee talent would be for a successful business.

I now know that it’s vital for us as leaders to acknowledge employees who are doing more than just checking off items from a list.

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Earlier this year, Fast Company contributor Mark C. Crowley explained our current circumstance quite well: “It is rather staggering that nearly 69 million people quit their jobs in America last year.”

He added, “Gallup’s research shows that 42% of the reasons people are quitting are tied to how they feel about their bosses and organizational cultures. And low engagement is specifically experienced when workers conclude they aren’t growing, appreciated, or treated with care and respect.”

To put it simply, the stakes are too high to not give praise where praise is due. The Great Resignation, if anything, has taught us that we don’t just need to value top talent, we also need to show them our genuine appreciation and understand how to cultivate those attributes.

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HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY RECOGNIZE TALENT

In their revealing story for Harvard Business Review, coauthors Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Jonathan Kirschner hit the nail on the head. “In short, great managers are also great talent agents.” They wrote:

“The ability to see talent before others see it (internally and externally), unlock human potential, and find not just the best employee for each role, but also the best role for each employee, is crucial to running a topnotch team.”

My time arduously building my startup from the ground up has taught me one thing: Talent is hard to come by. True talent. Not just people with skills but real vision and passion. That’s why I’d like to share my advice on how to identify these traits early on.

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1. Recognize innovation over job expertise

I believe Steve Jobs excelled at this. From his vision, he could observe what many couldn’t. “Focus was ingrained in Jobs’ personality and had been honed by his Zen training. He relentlessly filtered out what he considered distractions,” wrote biographer Walter Isaacson for Harvard Business Review.

Jobs didn’t just transform industries, he understood people—and he brought a passion and intensity to his work that propelled his ability to spot talent. And part of that came from overcoming distractions like mere “job expertise.”

Within my company, I am involved in every step of the hiring process: beginning, middle and end. And what I seek is a capacity for thinking outside the box—people who can teach me a thing or two about my own business.

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An innovative mind is often overlooked, but it’s what will help your business grow not just today, but also for decades to come. And it’s something to pay attention to once that person is part of your team. You want to cultivate that mindset and ambition—not micromanage the creativity out of them.

2. Acknowledge the growing value of soft skills

“While we may not be able to guess what those jobs will be, it is clear that people will be more equipped to do them if they have certain soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, drive, and learnability,” wrote researchers Chamorro-Premuzic and Kirschner.

Let me get this point across because I believe entrepreneurs really need to understand this: Talent is not just business/tech skills and expertise; it’s also having the ability to build trust among their colleagues, have empathy, and hold multiple views in their mind. “Learnability,” as the coauthors proposed, is that capacity to look beyond what they’ve previously known; it’s the desire to learn rather than attempt to dominate and impose their views and perceptions on others.

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3. Leaders, you’re in charge of developing talent

As CEO, it’s not just my job, but it’s my responsibility to learn to see greater potential. And it’s also every leader and supervisor’s job. But, what does that mean exactly?

Noticing employees who are willing to leave their comfort zone is more valuable than a person simply clocking in more hours at work.

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And when you see that drive and ambition—that curiosity to keep innovating—don’t just let them stay where they are. As leaders, it’s not just our duty to spot talent, but also to provide the resources for them to develop and hone their drive and talent (whether in the form of mentorship or training). Ultimately, we need to provide our talented team members with all the resources they need to continue succeeding in their field.

I’m a big believer that tech skills (as in my company) can be learned through education or experience, but working with passionate individuals—who go above and beyond what’s expected of them—that’s something you don’t find often. And it’s something that should be rewarded with attention and continued support; but overall, holding a real interest in seeing them achieve their full potential—today and for days to come.


Aytekin Tank is the founder and CEO of Jotform, a leading online forms SaaS solution.

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