Non-Utilized Talent: Your Organization’s Biggest Waste?

frustrated young business man working on laptop computer

Non-utilized talent is a major money waster. Here's how you can recognize and overcome it in your organization.                                                      

Carter Liebscher|
February 15, 2021

Even in the remote environment, the 8 forms of lean waste are still manifesting in your organization.

Why wouldn’t they? The working venue may be different, moving from the office to each employee’s home, but the actual work is the same.

It’s understandable, however, that some company leaders overlooked lean waste as a potential issue in the digital workplace. After all, they’ve dealt with many immediate fires—and the fires those fires started—over the past year.

Nonetheless, 2021 is the year of the rebound, of innovation, of the next normal. Even if your organization doesn’t actively practice the lean methodology (if outside manufacturing) or follow agile principles (if outside of software development), there’s still much you can learn from iterative approaches to operations.

One lean principle your organization should be paying particular attention to is non-utilized talent. GoLeanSixSigma defines non-utilized talent as:

[E]mployees [that] are not being utilized to their full capability or, conversely[,] that … are engaged in tasks that would be more efficiently done by someone else.

“Non-Utilized Talent,” GoLeanSixSigma

Even if you’d like to believe your employees are in the right role performing that right tasks—”right” meaning what their admitted and perceived skills are—those employees might think differently.

Approximately 26% of employees feel undervalued in their current role, a statistic that reflects the paltry number of employees who are currently engaged (18% as of 2020). Considering the financial ramifications of disengaged employees running upwards of $550 billion a year, it’s vital that your employees feel—rather, are—valued.

Let’s explore how you can spot non-utilized talent in your organization and how you can flip the switch, engage your employees for both the short- and long-term, and bolster your organization’s bottom line.

What exactly does non-utilized talent look like?

As you could guess by the descriptive name, non-utilized talent refers to employees at your organization who have skills residing outside their current role but are not being utilized to their employer’s benefit.

Admittedly, it’s difficult for management to intimately know where employees’ skills and interests lie outside of their hired role, especially if they’re a new hire.

Someone hired for a technical role, for example, may solely be expected to perform technical tasks. Similarly, someone hired for a non-technical role may somewhat be expected to have a breadth of skills and interests, but none too specific as the technical role’s.

However, both types of employees are likely to have some skill set crossover. Your in-house IT pro might have previous experience in marketing, and a member of your marketing team might be spending their nights brushing up on programming languages.

If you’re not connecting with employees on personal levels, you won’t know what hidden talents they have that may be totally transferrable and thus beneficial to your organization.

Which brings us to the next logical question: How can I avoid under-utilized talent as a waste and utilize my people to their fullest and happiest?

How to utilize your people and their talents

It sounds simple, but the best first place to start is to talk to your employees. Ask them about personal projects, past experiences, five-year plans—questions that dig at the person behind the role.

Yes, some of these questions sound like first-interview fodder, but there’s a reason why they’re asked in the first interview: You’re determining culture fit.

When employees feel that their innate talents are considered and utilized by management, they’re more likely to be engaged, which we know has a tangible (i.e., positive) impact on organizations’ bottom lines.

Providing a forum for employees that effectively allows them to showcase their skills, within and outside their immediate role, can help your organization fully utilize their talents and reach your organizational potential.

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