The underdog story: Finding hidden gems at workplace

Simple steps for identifying bright talent and praising their work

Published: 26, May 2016

O.C. Tanner, featured on the 2016 FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For® list. We help organisations create great work environments by inspiring and appreciating great work. Thousands of clients globally use the company’s cloud-based technology, strategy & design services, mobile application, awards, employee communication and education services to engage talent, increase performance, drive goals, and create experiences that fuel the human spirit. Visit: www.octanner.com/in

The invincible Titanic sunk because of delayed communication between the spotter boy and the captain (Shutterstock.com/ Michael Rosskothen)
The invincible Titanic sunk because of delayed communication between the spotter boy and the captain (Shutterstock.com/ Michael Rosskothen)

We all love an underdog story. The diligent character who has our sympathy, but loses out on appreciation always. How we wish that somehow this underdog rises against all odds and wins the final battle, and in turn, becomes the cynosure of all eyes.

Look around and you will find many of these underdogs at your workplaces. From the intern who designs those elaborate presentations, to the junior executive who does all the number crunching to create those exhaustive excel sheets; we have these unsung heroes all around us. The sad part is that not many notices them, and they rarely get any praise or appreciation for their efforts.

While this happens more often than not, these gems go unnoticed due to several reasons including company recognition policies or managers who can’t spot the actual fulcrum workers. Researchers say that the virtue of not speaking up about their achievements is also a big reason for these industrious workers’ contribution going undetected. While success comes to those who work towards it, a lot also depends on how these achievements are projected.

Here, a major part to find and broadcast work did well by these workers rests with the manager, who needs to have a keen eye on every employee’s skill sets and value-adds. As a supervisor, identifying good resources, recognising their talents and bringing them into public purview becomes a major responsibility where the discerning eye is developed only after carefully scrutinising the employees. Also understanding the reasons as to why an employee underperforms and motivating him to come up to expectations. This takes a lot of patience and deep understanding of the employee’s psyche.

These following points illustrate what needs to be done to identify value workers and praise them for their good work. This will bring them into the limelight and inspire a whole lot of other people to follow their steps and deliver better work ethics and performance.

- Instil a sense of hard work and smart work – Now we all have our respective objectives outlined on our job sheet that we need to meet. Hence, the idea is to encourage the team members to achieve those by charting out a focussed plan of action, which involves teamwork and the manager’s periodic inputs. This way, while the employees will be encouraged to put in smart work, it will also urge them to work as a team, while letting the manager be at the top of the activity.

- Encourage open communication – While at work, the manager should encourage team members to communicate openly, and discuss the plan of action, pain-points and seek guidance for an assigned activity. Being open with their communication will enable better relations and will also allow the manager to be updated on their progressive goal sheet. Remember, the invincible Titanic sunk because of delayed communication between the spotter boy and the captain, and the rest is history. Hence, it is important to have open communication within the team. Of course, open communication should be led by example with the manager leading from the front. Positive communication should be done in the team’s presence while any improvements and challenges should be done one-on-one with constructive feedback.

- Define individual goals and appraise accordingly – Where many managers go wrong is by setting team goals, they tend to ignore individual contribution and only appraise team achievements or failures. This leads to a sense of disconnect among employees and hence productivity diminishes. As a manager, one should define individual goal sheets that collaborate to build the team goal. This way post the goal achievement, an easy SWOT analysis can be done of individual activities and the achievers and under-achievers can be segregated.

- Make recognition personal and public – Making recognition personal also goes a long way in identifying and encouraging talents who may be shy to come into the limelight. Celebrating their achievements in front of the team will encourage them to speak of their actions henceforth and claim a job that they have done excellently. Not getting enough recognition in public shadows personal contribution and hence the best way to bring them up is by making recognition personal and appreciating in public.

- Encourage feedback - Encouraging employees to give feedback on their efforts, the challenges faced and how they think the job could have been done better is another way that the hidden gems can be grown in confidence. Creating an informal experience sharing session after every major project where team members can sit together to share their experiences and stories of the project, can give the manager insights as to how a particular employee fared in the group activity.

- Utilising their rich imaginations to chart team goals – Underdogs have a rich imagination, which unfortunately gets lost at times under corporate drudgery. They improvise well and can think of smarter ways to get things done. Getting them to work on business leads and innovate on new ideas will instil a sense of confidence in them and also help them achieve their real worth, while bringing them into the limelight.

- Celebrate the underdog’s hunger and ability to take risks – With underdogs, one could be rest assured of unlimited hunger to succeed and the ability to take risks that could be cutting-edge to the team’s success. Putting them into the thinking line will ensure that their resolve will take over and get great results. Also keeping them at the forefront will bring them into public notice, and will drive them to achieve the underlined results.

Giving employees more ownership of their assigned activities and making them answerable for their actions will allow the manager to monitor individual progress intrinsically. Remember, underdogs are just geniuses in waiting, and being an underdog is not a plea for sympathy. Instead, they are the ones who are adept at facing the difficulties and know how to come up triumphs. After all, they have been through testing times and all that they need is a favourable superior team that helps them reach their zenith of potential.

- By Zubin Zack, Director and Chief Recognition Strategist, O.C. Tanner India

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