Need to know: big names

Who are the biggest ‘names’ across the industry in your business?

Whatever business or sector you’re in, certain people will have made their name in it.

There are the urban legends and there are the people you always hear referred to if someone does something innovative, particularly successful, or new. The reason these people are remembered or spoken of is that they have achieved something different, changed the business model in some way, or challenged perceived wisdom. Maybe they pulled off a big deal in the city, or came up with a particularly inventive product like James Dyson and his bag-less vacuum cleaner. Whatever it may have been, their contribution has been seen to be over and above the norm, and they have become a reference point for other people when acknowledging success.

Typically, they will be people who stand out, are maverick, or who challenge common assumptions.

Knowing about these people is important because, first, it will help you to fully understand the sector and will form part of your knowledge about how your industry sector works. Second, you will be able to engage in a conversation about these people with your line manager: this will give you credibility. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it will help you to look for budding ‘names’ in your own business. If you have one or someone shows potential in your organisation then you will certainly want to keep them.

To discover historical, current, or up-and-coming names in your sector you might look in the trade press. Alternatively, you can talk to people who understand your industry – perhaps headhunters or consultants who work with different businesses or organisations within your sector.

To spot a potential ‘name’ in your organisation you should look for people who work at the edges of what is acceptable in your business.

You may find that mavericks with the potential to achieve great things might need protecting, or guiding through the politics. Part of HR’s strategic role is to understand potential high-achievers and provide them with an environment and management structure that will allow them to innovate.

This is very different to implementing run-of-the-mill policies. You might find that the person who is perceived to be ‘not playing along with the team’ is the very person who is about to make a breakthrough and significant profit for the company. That is not to say that everyone who is under-performing is a potential goldmine, so discretion, reading behaviour and using judgement are essential. But if you don’t nurture these people, then someone else will, so you need to establish how you help people work at the edges of your organisation’s culture to invest in its future.

Jan Hills, director, HR with Guts

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