Acres of Diamonds at Work

By Ron Price

There is an old story about a fellow in the ancient world, who upon learning about diamonds, sold his successful farm and spent his fortune traveling the world in search of the gems. Several years after he died, having never found the diamonds he sought, others discovered the largest diamond mine ever found—on the farm he had sold to begin his quest.

Just for a moment, let’s pretend there was a special machine that took a retina scan of every employee in your business and, based on this scan, it could tell you exactly what each employee was capable of becoming in the future. You could then create a customized development program that resulted in the most profitable and fulfilling use of every employee in your business. Would you use such a machine, if it were available?

Beleaguered executives often confess that even if they did have a perfectly clear picture of the best way to develop and manage their people, current circumstances wouldn’t allow it. The reality is that leaders must navigate the internal conflict between taking care of the immediate concerns of the business and a desire to develop their people strategically for long-term success. 

Research has revealed that mediocre supervisors work under the assumptions that everyone should be able to learn how to do a job with training, and the greatest employee growth is realized by fixing the employee’s areas of weakness.

In contrast, exceptional supervisors assume that everyone has unique and enduring talents, and a person’s greatest potential lies in developing their areas of strength. Great managers constantly look for ways to develop and leverage each employee’s strengths rather than getting trapped in trying to fix weaknesses. 

Business leaders who are serious about identifying, developing and deploying talent understand that in today’s world getting the right people doing the right tasks is the most important differentiator in any successful business. How they understand and manage people should come before thinking about how they will effectively compete in the marketplace. Yet for many, this is a difficult shift in mindset to make. After all, success is typically measured by annual revenue, stock value, earnings, or the organization’s credit rating—all “hard” financial measures of success. These “hard metrics” are easy for business leaders to think they can control and manipulate through decision-making and the priorities they establish for their organizations. 

On the other hand, understanding and deploying talent is much more difficult and it requires more humility. How can we balance the scales by creating equally compelling measurements for identifying, hiring, developing, and optimizing talent?

There isn’t a retina scan that measures potential and illuminates the most effective pathway to success. But it’s getting closer. The convergence of psychometrics with job benchmarking is opening up new methods to identify deeper reservoirs of potential in people. Exceptional leaders have experienced breakthroughs in performance by asking three simple questions:

  1. What talent pattern is this job asking for in order to achieve superior performance? There are specific activities, rewards, and evaluative judgment patterns that result in superior performance for every job. By defining these in detail, business leaders can develop a profound clarity that will lead to superior performance. This picture of what the job wants can be used to improve the hiring process, create highly customized training and development strategies, and pinpoint the most important performance management issues for continuous improvement.
  2. What natural talent patterns does this person bring to the job and how should we leverage this talent? Every individual brings a unique combination of behavioral tendencies, motivational biases, and evaluative judgment inclinations to their work. When these fall in relative alignment with what the job is asking for, superior performance is practically inevitable (we call them, “a natural for the position”). When there is misalignment between these talent patterns and what the job is asking for, it doesn’t matter what education or past experience the employee brings, there will always be a struggle to perform at a superior level. This is the hard work of managing others—to understand and leverage the strengths and to work around or neutralize the weaknesses.
  3. What is the most effective way to develop and focus the employee’s talent for success based on the alignment between the job and the person? Diagnosis is 90% of the cure. If business leaders can develop a laser-like focus of what a job is asking for and how natural talent patterns relate to the job, then learn how to apply this knowledge to leveraging strengths and neutralizing weaknesses, they will begin to understand that their people represent one of the greatest underutilized resources in the organization.

Most leaders think they are effective at identifying opportunities. They pride themselves in their ability to understand the dynamics of the marketplace, to develop products and services that create future wealth, to build a loyal customer base, and to manage the financial statements for increased net worth and cash flow. As savvy as these leaders may be when it comes to markets, products, customers and assets, they continually miss the greatest treasure of all. As a result, they forfeit their own “acres of diamonds”.

If you’re interesting in learning how to identify your employees’ strengths, email