Focus on potential: What is determination worth to you?

Every once in a while, we land on new information or a new perspective that elicits a “That’s it!” response.

Thank you to Jenny Trick, executive director of the Racine County Economic Development Corp., for throwing an article over the wall just when I needed it. I encourage you to go to (Harvard Business Review) and seek out this article.
Author Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, in “21st-Century Talent Spotting: Why potential now trumps brains, experience and competencies” has shared (in brief) the problem, the solution and the tools. Since I write a column dedicated to the topic of leading Generation Y, I will point out that I see a correlation between the tools suggested by Fernandez-Araoz and the way in which Gen Y would like to engage in the world of work (and be invited into the world of work).
The following three paragraphs are taken directly from the article:
The problem:
In the past few decades, organizations have emphasized “competencies” in hiring and developing talent. Jobs have been decomposed into skills and filled by candidates who have them. But the 21st-Century business is too volatile and complex – and the market for top talent too tight – for that model to work anymore.
The solution:
Today, those responsible for hiring and promotion decisions must instead focus on potential: the ability to adapt to ever-changing business environments and grow into challenging new roles.
The tools:
Managers must learn to assess current and prospective employees on five key indicators: the right motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement and determination. Then they have to help the best get better with smart retention and stretch assignments.
Considering current research, combined with our more than 25 years of working in organizations, we see that the most engaged employee is one who:

  • Is fully involved in and enthusiastic about her work.
  • Focuses on her work efforts and overall productivity to benefit customers and advance the company.
  • Feels a positive emotional attachment to the well-being and success of the company.
  • At the end of the day, is committed, loyal and willing to do whatever she can for the company.

How are you doing in hiring employees who have the greatest potential to be engaged? Have you considered their determination, motivation and curiosity?
I’ll share a story about hiring for determination. In 1994 (very early in my consulting years), I made a cold call to a large manufacturing company in Milwaukee. My purpose was simply to meet their manager of organizational development to see if I might be able to serve as a resource to them in any way. I was a very young professional at the time and only about five years into work in the training and development field.
As it turns out, this 1,200-employee company was about to launch its five-year master plan to rebuild its manufacturing operations. The company had hired a Chicago-based consultant to advise on the technical side of this lean transformation, and they had hired Arthur Anderson Consulting (I’ll name it since it doesn’t exist anymore) to support the human side of this transformation. The work had not yet begun. A few key individuals in human resources and operations were intrigued by my motivation and determination to be considered as their resource. They gave me two weeks to build a plan, assemble a team and present my ideas. I got the project.
This decision had very little to do with experience and credentials. It had most to do with determination. One of the things they told me when they made the call to me was: “We just have a feeling that you’re going to work harder for us.” They were right! My team and I embraced the project with tremendous passion and commitment and virtually “lived” at this company for more than five years.
For all intents and purposes, Living As A Leader was born here. Nancy Lewis, co-founder of Living As A Leader, and I created a 12-workshop series for the frontline workforce. The feedback from the workforce over the years was the inspiration for the creation of our leadership development system. The work we do, our life’s work, was born out of motivation, curiosity, (the gathering of) insight, engagement and determination.
What is determination worth to you? Is it a consideration as you look at your potential talent?
Everyone can think of the time when someone stood in front of you and said, “Please, would you just be willing to give me a chance?” Would you be?
Aleta Norris is a co-founding partner of Living As A Leader, a leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. You may send Aleta your Leading Generation Y questions to Also, visit

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