Managing the Exceptionally Talented Takes Buy-in, Customization, and Personalization

October 30th, 2020

An excerpt from the new book Game Changer: How to be 10x in the Talent Economy

“I don’t think anyone wants to be one of a hundred colors in a box.” – Peggy Olson, Mad Men

10xers, like most successful smart people, are forward-looking. As strategic thinkers, they spend a good amount of time focusing and planning ahead. Naturally, one of the topics they have top of mind is where their career is headed. 10xers and millennials need to know that their boss is doing the same, quite literally optimizing their future. 

Noted generational speaker Anna Liotta calls it a fundamental principle of working with millennials. On her website, she lists it as one of the three mandatory factors in addressing what millennials “want, desire, and in fact demand”: That their BOSS is actively interested in their success and, in fact, is rooting for it.

Liotta says, “Growing up with coaches, advisors, and mentors as the adult role models in schools, sports teams, and home, millennials are not willing to suffer for eight to twelve hours a day in an authoritarian culture.”

Buy-in is the new normal.

So how do you get buy-in and full participation from talented individuals if you can no longer tell them what to do? The answer is simple: First you have to get to know the Whole Person.

A 10x manager puts one question front and center: What truly drives the individual talents at my disposal? 

How can they be motivated—especially to conquer hurdles that they themselves fear? How can they be helped to achieve project goals from the inside out, in a way that feels natural and holistic to them? It isn’t just a matter of incentivizing the top brass. A smart team leader has a vested interest in these questions for every one of their main players. 

Just as a coach must know their top athletes inside-out, finding the best ways to get the most out of your talent is now the central job of the 10x manager.

The fact is, nowadays you can’t even get the 10xers on-board without upholding a custom open-spirited atmosphere. As Dr. John Sullivan at leading recruiting news website ERE recently put it, a majority of companies “don’t even know the attraction factors that excite top talent…. If you closely examine your job postings, your careers website, and your recruitment marketing, you will find that in almost all firms they emphasize ‘paycheck job’ factors like benefits and the skills and capabilities that are needed.”

Dr. Sullivan recommends getting past all this, to the heart of what the best candidates really care about—exciting work, a chance to make a difference, rapid growth, and great managers and coworkers. “Assuming the top performers want the same things as the average worker is a common but deadly mistake.”

Courting the best tech talent is not different conceptually from getting the best athlete for a pro team. You don’t just assess prospects’ skills and cut them a check. It’s on you to make them feel that they can live the life of their dreams while in your employ. This can never come from a one-size-fits-all offer.

Customization is the new normal.

A-Plan Coaching, an optimized, scalable coaching start-up we advise and participate in, has a rule that we love. When it provides coaching services to a company’s employees, they require that the company set a maximum of 60 percent of the employee’s goals, while the remaining 40 percent have to be personally identified by the employee themself. In order to optimize your workers’ work life, you’ve got to give them the opportunity to optimize their whole life.

It’s a level of respect that turns the very concept of boss on its head. Your destiny is in your hands, and your buy-in is mandatory. We like this thinking so much that we adopted a version of it, and now, at our own weekly company goal-setting meetings, we ask our employees to set three personal goals for every six professional ones.

Personalization is the new normal.

In fact, with the tech talent we represent, we strive to know them on every level. Our interview process is a sometimes thrilling, sometimes jarring labyrinth, whereby we vet for EQ and problem solving skills just as vigilantly as for technical savvy. We know, from trial and error, that out there in the real world, the ability to communicate with and relate to others is every bit as important as coding chops, or any other talent for that matter. An A+ developer, engineer, etc. with even B- communication skills will have rough engagements every time.

When we represent executives about to enter a high-level job negotiation as part of our 10x Ascend service, our compensation advisory company, we take our inquiries a step further. One of the first things we do is have prospective clients fill out what we call a Lifestyle Calculator, where they evaluate preferences for themselves (often for the first time) and share with us what is most important in myriad arenas. The Calculator includes twenty-four attributes across which each applicant spreads a hundred points. This very process of self-examination forces prioritization and helps us begin to see who they really are and what is most important to them.

How 10x are you? Take a quiz now to find out, plus you’ll receive the introduction and first chapter of the new book Game Changer: How to be 10x in the Talent Economy.