Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Gift By Any Other Name Is...

Manna From Heaven... a rainbow of unexplored opportunities...

Consider this scenario: We arrive with several friends or family members at an inexpensive family restaurant that sits next door to a very expensive one. An ambulance is pulling away from the area between the two restaurants. A sad-faced, red-eyed young couple is standing arm-in-arm watching it drive away. As you approach the area, one of them turns to us saying, “My father died on the way in our birthday celebration for him. We can’t stand the thought of dinner tonight. Here’s the gift-card we were going to use to pay for the meal. Please enjoy your dinner on us.” They hand over an envelope stiff with a gift card shape.

Do we take it? Do we ask how much was on the gift card? Do we look, first, before accepting?

Let’s say that we accepted this unexpected gift, thank the couple and offer our condolences. They leave, sadly. Before approaching our original goal, we decide to open the envelope to see what actually is inside. What, we wonder, might be the value of that card? What will we do to find its value, if that's not specified on the face of the card? Does it matter?

After a dramatic moment of fiddling with the envelope and extracting the card, we find that card is for the more expensive restaurant and that there is no price on the front. Now, what? We can, of course, walk into the expensive restaurant and say, “I seem to have forgotten the value of this card, can you find out for me?” That might be embarrassing to do… and we might not be dressed appropriately, which could results in us being asked to leave… or not, as the case may be.

Having accepted the gift, will we use it in spite of embarrassment and possible glitches?


In a number of discussion groups on LinkedIn where the topic was the excess capacity inherent in the over-qualified employee, the majority of respondents promoted the viewpoint that excess capacity was an opportunity in disguise – a gift that needed to be used appropriately. Some even went so far as to point out some organizations might be missing a true blessing when they worry about potential negative impact of hiring top-notch experience in a depressed market or lay off experience employees in 2:1 moves that hire two less expensive employees while laying off one experienced one. It might be that these experienced resources represent a form of manna from heaven. They could, in fact, be that gift card beyond belief.

Yes, when hiring, there is also a potential that these highly experienced individuals will get bored or that someone will offer them a better a job (has anyone done a study to determine whether there is a greater likelihood of this with someone 40+ or 25-40?).

It’s also possible that, once inside our organization, they’ll go to the head of class and step up to a much higher job leaving us with the lower-level position to fill – again… but with an easy fill on the more difficult-to-fill position.

Or, heaven forbid, they might take our jobs. (How much do we really believe in competition? If we do, then we hire knowing we’ll compete against some very experienced talent and, win or lose, learn something.)

The discussion groups pointed out that, in the mean time, there is an opportunity to harvest some of talent. Even if we don’t know what to do with the talent, it offers an opportunity to negotiate something extra for which we had not planned on paying. Find out what these unique talents could be doing, had done somewhere else, or would have liked the opportunity to do somewhere else. Or, try offering them the chance to take some of work load off our plate for six months in return for our backing for a promotion or salary increase… or whatever incentive might be of value to them.

Nowadays, some people would actually prefer reduced work weeks, time for personal travel, work-at-home a portion of the week, or… Well, it might surprise us all what is important to someone who has been doing the same work for awhile. They may love the work and want more or they may want a different life-balance. One never knows until they ask.

Then there are all the developmental opportunities. Many discussion group members talked about:
• Using experienced talent to grow the skills of the less experienced employees (coach and mentor front-line skills, which may be different than coaching and mentoring future leadership)
• Giving back to the profession by encouraging these people to write and present at conferences in our company’s name
• Giving back to the community by encouraging these people to take on philanthropic projects or lead corporate philanthropic drives
• Giving career talks about opportunities in their fields to schools and colleges
• Farming their services out to our customers, potential customers or others who might need those talents. This may need to be done at a rate that is not the traditional consultant rate for advanced experience ($150+ per hour) but at something more than the employee’s average hourly salary.

Other options might include:
• Putting highly experienced people through the same on-boarding training that we give our newest employees as retraining or cross-training. This might mean a significant salary reduction for these employees or it may be that the organization can justify a more modest reduction that if these experienced employees can demonstrate superior skills in the new work.
• Giving an experienced individual a complex problem and asking them to innovate new solutions or, since innovation is not in everyone’s genes, asking them to research the problem and options and report back
• Bringing together a groups of highly experienced employees (who are not in leadership roles) to brainstorm new products, services, markets, etc. Choosing one and developing it out in a special demonstration
• Find out what special projects they would like to do on behalf of the organization and fund a trial phase of that project
It’s our choice – risk the embarrassment and discomfort of working with someone whose skills probably exceed our own or… give it a go and learn something unexpected.

Any of these also provides an incentive or motivation for the less experienced to continue to grow their experience in order to get access to these opportunities.

Maybe, the individual in front of us does not represent the planned growth of your organization and should be rejected for that very reason…

… but, then, it may be that your company has no higher aspirations and no interest in growing in new ways. If so, rejecting this gift is appropriate.

If not… well….

I wonder what Aladdin would have done with the genie, if he were a corporate manager or recruiter today? So many genies are wandering around our workplaces with gifts to hand out. So many treasures are not being accepted. Such waste of beautiful rainbow and wasted rainbows mean that we never have the chance to collect that pot o' gold..

The Performance PI


  1. Good job, Sharon! Nice tie-n with the rainbow, gift card, "over qualified" workers & the final pot'o gold. Like so many things in life, much of this has to do with how you view a situation within a business. Changing the way the situation is SEEN is a powerful thing and can lead to a change in the "business as usual" mentality to the benefit of all involved. To me, the bottom line is always showing & acting upon what we most value and putting our money where our mouths are. Ultimately, we get what we pay for...and this stretches well beyond pure dollars & cents.

  2. The short-term, quarterly profit mentality does sort of short-circuit the long-view on values.

    And, regarding the picture, this was such a gift shot and opportunity, that I had to use it with this topic. I'm trying to find more visual interest to match my content. I love your photos so much and they add to the reading... so I'm trying to apply some of that to my page. Thanks for noticing.

  3. Photos do make a difference, I think. The trick is finding the right ones to match, or at least compliment, the writing. You've done a good job of that here. Keep it up!


Keep the dialogue going. Share your insights.