Are you missing the talents of your employees?

You may have heard a story similar to this one. Bob is amazing at programming. He can create algorithms and find bugs faster than most. He stays focused for hours and enjoys sitting at his computer. If your business needs coders, Bob might be a great fit. Bob is autistic.

In this example, Bob is a fictional character, illustrating that all of us have unique talents and can contribute positively to the workplace. As leaders, our biases can often cause us to perceive deficits in certain employees, yet in reality, some people can perform better than others when accommodated. Often, we don’t look for hidden talents or think about accommodations because that is not the way we have done things in the past.  

The concept of neurodiversity, or people thinking differently, is not new. Some other cognitive differences include dyslexia, ADHD, or social anxiety disorders. In their HBR article, Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantageauthors Robert Austin and Gary Pisano reported, “Many people with these disorders have higher-than-average abilities; research shows that some conditions, including autism and dyslexia, can bestow special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics.”

I am dyslexic. About 20% of the world’s population is. Most dyslexic people have average to above-average IQs, and just like the general population some have superior to very superior scores. I like to think I am in that group, but joking aside, my point is our traditional views of who is a “good” employee can cause managers to miss the talents of their team members. Knowing your people’s talents is close to my heart and experience because I have lost opportunities due to a spelling error. To me, it didn’t derail my career, but for others, it can be a big deal.

How we navigate this layer of diversity is key to increased productivity and can be very straightforward.


Notice what they do well and how others react to them. What do colleagues say? For example, they are well organized or disorganized, direct, always positive, consistent, get others to do things with them, great with details, follow through, or fast-paced. These are talents that might not show up on resumes. I like the recommendation from authors Debbie Ferguson and Frederick Lee in their HBR article: “Look for the sparkles in your talent pool.”


In the last 50 years, psychological assessment tools have advanced, providing improved behavioral, motivation and acumen profiles for people. These measures are more than personality traits. Personalities change more easily; behaviors and motivations change less because they measure how our minds work and process information. My recommendation is to look at the assessment’s research base to see what it measures, the validity of questions and reliability across diverse populations. I use the TTI Success Insights tools because they meet a high standard and uniquely use biofeedback to validate the efficacy of the questions they use. When we know our people’s talents, their strengths, it is easier to be able to have them in the right position so they can really excel.


Job descriptions traditionally are lists of tasks. A better approach to develop a true job description is to consider input from those who do the job currently and the people who are affected by the position throughout the company. This type of feedback can expand the job description to include behaviors, communication styles and the pace required to perform well in the position. This enhanced job profile can be used for selecting ideal candidates. It creates a picture of the position and helps when hiring a candidate to match the job.


While this sounds simple, it is a long-term strategy because it takes time. Employees may not be candid with you unless they trust you. It helps to work every day to build a trusting, respectful relationship so you can talk openly about tasks, concerns and what they want to do for your company. Getting honest feedback about both what is going well and not so well will create a more sustainable organization and happier employees in the long run. 

Paying attention to your current employees and recognizing what may be hidden talents can produce big results. If you don’t have already-developed diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, this is a great place to start, as it applies to all diversity.

There are many reports and research that support the importance of building diverse organizations. A diverse workforce is linked to greater innovation and performance. McKinsey recently reported that diverse companies had higher profits than their more homogeneous counterparts. My experience working with teams and individuals is that helping them recognize their team’s cognitive diversity can cut through many of the challenges that exist such as decision-making and improving communication. It’s the sparkle you want to look for, as it will light up everyone.

Photo by cottonbro studio via Pexels.