The secret benefit of meetings: discovering internal talent

manager generation y

Sometimes you’ll have a meeting so awful the best part will be walking out the door at the end. We know, we’ve had them. In fact, everyone has. On average, each office worker in the UK loses three working weeks a year to unproductive meetings. That costs businesses £1,400 per employee each year. Something has to change.

Perhaps the first change we can make is to start looking at meetings in a different light. There’s no such thing as a wasted meeting if you look at them in the right way. If you start seeing meetings as a great opportunity to detect talent within your own company, they are always valuable.

Meetings are a unique place to observe behaviours in your employees that hint at business potential. If a meeting gets heated, see who calms everything down. If tough decisions need to be made, watch who rises to the occasion. If negotiations fall apart, note who builds them up again. When you need to know who to promote, see their potential in meetings.

But before you can detect talent you need to know the types of talent you’re looking for.

Who you’re looking for

The orangutan – bold, brave and ready to mix things up.

This employee isn’t afraid of shaking things up. They often make bold actions and proposals and, like the orangutan, are constantly innovating. They take risks and put themselves out there, despite the threat to their ego.

Classic orangutan: Jonathan Ive, CDO of Apple. Ive fought hard to make the Apple Watch a thing. Apple took a big risk in re-designing the humble watch but it paid off, mainly thanks to Ive.

The tiger – proud, fast and loud.

Tiger employees like to boast about their achievements, but they have the results to back it up. They’re ahead of schedule, they know their stuff and make great employees… even if they tend to annoy their colleagues. A tiger is still a nice person, if a bit arrogant (but remember, if they’re a jerk, stay well clear).

Classic tiger: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Kalanick started out as a self-assured salesperson and turned this self-assurance into a $3.4bn business.

The wise owl – evaluative, calm, informative.

Owls sit back, listen, observe and evaluate. Bringing insights others may not have seen before is their forte. These employees might not speak much, but you know when they do every word is going to be gold dust.

Classic owl: Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg is known for being introverted but his success shows just how valuable introverts are as employees and leaders.

But what about the specific skills you can look out for that back up these qualities? We have some ideas…

The skills that mark future success

  1. Empathy

Considerate and kind employees are often the best ones. They connect well with the team and can be really effective in management positions because of the empathy they have for others. Look out for employees who do everything they can to make sure everyone is able to speak about a given topic.

Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, is known for her empathy. She wants her employees to feel like it’s OK to go home and spend time with their families after work. To make sure her employees leave at a reasonable hour she does too, and is open with the hours she works. As a result, she says, employees are more likely to stay with YouTube long term.

  1. Initiative

Employees with great ideas are the backbone of any company. Look out for employees that break the mould during brainstorming sessions, bring extra ideas and proposals they’ve prepared and have suggestions that seem a bit “out-there”.

The CEO of Ann Summers, Jacqueline Gold, is a great example of someone who used their initiative to better their company. She developed and pitched the idea of home parties to an all-male board completely on her own steam. That idea helped transform the business and launched it into the successful brand it is today.

  1. Adaptability

Being able to adapt is a key skill needed at any stage in a career, but as you move up the ladder it becomes more important. In meetings observe how your employees handle sudden changes in the agenda, or challenges they weren’t expecting. The ability to think on your feet is invaluable.

Bobbi Brown, founder and CCO of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, is the Queen of ‘thinking on your feet’. In an interview with she talks about how when her assistant forgot to pack a lipstick a designer had asked for, she had to come up with something. Instead of panicking she made a new one out of eyeshadow and lip balm. Afterwards she had a famous lip colour to sell that was written about in Vogue.

  1. Interpersonal skills

Charisma can only get you so far, so you need genuine people skills. These are easy to detect in a meeting setting. Do they listen to what other people are saying? Do their fellow colleagues respect what they say? Do they have a connection that goes further than asking what people were up to at the weekend?

Senior management need to be able to trust that their colleagues have the ability to talk to their employees effectively. Lucy Peng, co-founder of Alibaba, is an example of someone who does that. When she was head of Alibaba’s human resources department, Peng was good at communicating with everybody. She bridged the gap between front line employees and senior management. Her results meant she earned the trust of Jack Ma and quickly ascended in the ranks of his empire.

When we think about meetings in a whole new light, even the bad ones can be productive. And revolutionising meetings doesn’t stop here. There are lots of things you can do to make your meetings better, by boosting decision-making, embracing remote meetings, or skipping meetings altogether. If we work out how to change our much maligned meetings maybe the best part won’t be walking out the door.


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