My oldest daughter (9) has successfully lobbied for riding lessons. A former equestrian myself, I was all for th idea but my husband was harder to convince.
His initial response: ‘No way. What a completely useless skill!’
I bristled a bit at this. I rode horses competitively for seven years growing up, two of them on the school rodeo team, and while I don’t exactly use those skills today they are part of who I am.
‘Oh, yeah?’ I retorted. ‘If I’d married a Texan rancher instead of you I bet he wouldn’t say that to me!’
My husband stared at me blankly. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘You know I used to ride on a rodeo team in school,’ I responded icily.
I knew he knew because he’d laughed heartily at my tales of lining up to tie the understandably depressed school goat. I can still hear its plaintive ‘baaaaah’ each time it got flipped to the ground.
‘Oh, right.’ He still looked confused.
I sighed. This is the man who didn’t realize I could swim until we’d been married for about six years because he thinks an icy cold lake is perfect for a ‘refreshing dip.’
‘Rodeo’s no cake walk, you know,’ I said sternly. ‘You have to keep your seat, pay attention to your posture, keep your ride in check, and often as not you have to rope a running cow or something from the back of a galloping horse. It’s a real skill.’
He stared at me thoughtfully, presumably trying to picture the woman he married on the back of a racing horse whirling a lasso in the air and yelling, ‘Yeee-haaaaw!’
He seemed to be looking for the right words. Finally he settled for, ‘I find that hard to imagine.’
By now you’re probably wondering what my point is, beyond letting the world know I know more about cows and horses than one might assume meeting me for the first time.
My point is that people have histories, skills and experience beyond what you hired them to do. Many of these skills may be completely useless but others could be exactly what you need for a particular project or job.
For example, if you’re looking for a project manager you might try asking if anyone on your team knows how to herd cows. Trust me, I’ve done both and it’s a transferrable skill.
One of the best ways to motivate people is to look beyond the tasks they perform for you today and consider how they can develop and integrate other skills going forward. Everybody wins.
All you need is a way to track skills, experience and interests globally and the ability to search against this information when trying to fill a new job or staff a project. The global visibility is really important because you may have the skills you need elsewhere in the organisation.
It’s called talent profiling and some HR systems do it better than others. Profiling your internal talent can help you find the right skills in your organisation when you need them as easily as buying a book or booking travel online.
For hard to match skills, it’s also a great way to find, leverage and develop the ‘hard to imagine’ talent in your organization.
Bottom line: In organizations that struggle to attract the right skills, developing and retaining talent matters. And if you only look for obvious skills you may be neighing up the wrong tree.