Cowboys and Horsebits: A Lesson In Talent Management

15 Jun

In the early 1970’s my father hired Bev to join the sales team at our family clothing store in North Platte, a small town in west-central Nebraska. She took quickly to the job, learning the intricacies of selling everything from tailored Austin Reed suits to Nunn-Bush shoes. It became clear Bev had the ability to build good relationships with customers, get them to leave with a sack in their hands, come back often and talk up the store as the only place to shop-the outcomes every retailer craves.

To my father’s credit, he saw beyond Bev’s talent in sales. He learned that when she wasn’t working at the store she was often doing “cowgirl” stuff-riding horses and attending rodeos. As my dad got to know her a question came to mind-could he combine her interest in “western” activities with her gifts in retail?

The answer was a new store that sprouted across the street called “Circle A Ranchwear”, to which Bev was appointed the new manager. Because of her passion for the western lifestyle and talent in sales she quickly attracted customers to the new business, selling cowboy boots, western-wear clothing items, even specialized horse tackle.

For me, it’s a terrific example of getting people into roles where their talents, skills and interests can be best used in the workplace. From the 100,000+ survey comments we have read in the last few years, here are three from individuals who have clearly benefitted from their employer’s efforts to match their talents with the work at hand:

“This a great place to work, a place where an individual can utilize their talents and move freely amongst department to pursue their work interests and passions.”

“Our company really plays to the strengths of its employees; it rarely assigns someone to a task to which they are not suited. Once an employee shows their talent, they can be moved from day-to-day operations to development, or if an employee is showing signs of burn-out, a departmental move is soon to come.”

“Recently, my team was assigned their own set of clients to handle independently. From my perspective, it demonstrates the firm’s interest is recognizing and challenging each person’s ability and talent recognizing strengths and weaknesses.”

Can you imagine how much more productive organizations would be if more of their employees felt like this? Work then becomes a place where a person has the opportunity to utilize the best of who they are and, in doing so, help their employer succeed.

In the case of Bev, her reputation for outfitting cowboys and horses spread. One day she received a telephone call from a man from Utah who was looking for a specialized horse bit. He had been calling all over the United States, and numerous inquiries had finally led him to Bev. To his delight, she had the item in stock and was happy to help. The man sent her a check. Rather than cashing it, my dad decided to frame it. After all, it’s not every day a little store in the outback of Nebraska does business with the actor Robert Redford!

Whether it is casting a feature film or retail store, getting the right people in the right place can make all the difference.

Photo uploaded on Flickr by Alana Holmberg

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