Leadership lessons from Seabiscuit. And Facebook.
Over the long weekend we managed to slip in an extra movie night at home. As much as our kids love seeing movies, their preference is for seeing the same ones. Again. And again. And again.
So suggestions of new options are met with what could generously be called ‘reluctance’. My husband is in sales so he managed to convince them to give Seabiscuit a try a couple of months ago, and it stuck. I’ve now seen it a half dozen times but part of what I love about the story is that depending on what’s going on for me at the time, I take away something different each time.
“He just needs to learn how to be a horse again”
For those who have seen it, you’ll recall that Seabiscuit is the horse that had all the right breeding without the apparent motivation. Despite others’ early efforts to develop him into a competitive racer, he hadn’t shown the right stuff, so most recently he’d been used as a competitor to top racehorses: he was the one designed to lose the race to give the other horses confidence. Tom, the trainer saw something in him but despite his early efforts wasn’t getting far. His lament: “I just can’t help feeling they’ve got him so screwed up running around in circles that he’s forgotten what he was born to do. He just needs to learn how to be a horse again.”
Amidst the annual performance review process at work, this resonates. Having navigated different versions of the process for 20 years across different companies, the process is roughly the same: rate and rank the person based on the job requirements and competencies based on their level. That requires a thorough assessment of the person’s on the job performance. Good managers will also know what motivates their people. But most of our colleagues and teams – and we ourselves – leave at least part of ourselves behind when we head to work every day. For many of us, it’s more than just our pajamas that get discarded when we head to work. We dust off the messiness that our hobbies and joys create – the dirt from fixing things, the leftover food bits from cooking up a storm, the brush strokes from painting outside of the lines, the thrill of coaching a team to success.
Which makes the recent HBR article authored by Facebook’s Head of People and description of its use of ‘entry’ interviews really interesting. In addition to the standard role orientation, onboarding includes an entry interview to understand not just a person’s skills but also their interests. Specifically, (there are) “three key ways that managers can customize experiences for their people: enable them to do work they enjoy, help them play to their strengths, and carve a path for career development that accommodates personal priorities.” This idea to support people in pursuing their interests isn’t new – it was one of the early goals behind offering employees sabbaticals. But what is new is the systematic effort to carve out part of an employee’s role that ties to what they enjoy doing. And clearly it’s needed based on Gallup’s data showing only 30% of the US working population is engaged at work.
The Power of Bringing Our Whole Selves to Work
Imagine a world where leaders encourage their teams to bring their whole selves to work – their skills yes, but also their interests and their values. Pulling in the manufacturing leader who loves to be the tech troubleshooter at home to man the IT desk at company meetings and help colleagues fix their computer issues. Giving the contract analyst who coaches her kids’ sports teams responsibility to coach and mentor new hires. Shifting the paralegal who’s a world traveler with a renowned travel blog to a role in corporate affairs with responsibility to also chronicle the company’s external presence in pictures.
Ernest Hemingway said it well: “When you stop doing things for fun, you may as well be dead.”
It takes a patient and talented leader to see the brilliance of each person on their team – which often requires looking beyond job competencies. And aligning roles with people’s interests won’t always be easy. But as we think about employee benefits that are truly meaningful, helping people connect the dots to align their values, interests and strengths with the work they do must be at the top of the list. After all, as leaders, who wouldn’t want a few Seabiscuits on their team?