Picasso and the Paint Store

The last time I had the pleasure of chatting with the Drive Thru HR crew (Bryan Wempen and William Tincup), we talked about candidate experience, specifically about internal candidates.  Since the show is limited to 30 minutes, we only touched on a few things, but I wanted to talk a little more about this one.  You can listen to the entire show here in case you missed it.

I mentioned an experience from my days as a Talent Director dealing with an engineer who wanted to lead people.  The phrase thrown around was that Picasso wanted to run the paint store.   A good analogy, I think.  The employee we were discussing as a brilliant engineer in a difficult to find specialty.  He was immensely valuable and productive, well compensated, and highly regarded by his peers both internally and externally.  He was also quiet and reserved, a stereotypical intellectual, and was happier dealing with chemicals and formulas than with people.

Why did he want to be a manager? 

This took some time to uncover.  Not that we didn’t suspect it right away.  It was pretty clear that he wanted to advance his career, and that seemed like the logical step.  He was at the top of the engineering food chain and reported directly to the VP of Engineering.  There really was no where for him to go unless he wanted to run the show.  And anyone who spent any time around him knew that he didn’t really want to run the show.  In fact, everyone seemed to know it.

Except him.

He was convinced that in order to increase his standing, management was his only path.  And it was important that he do so, at least to him.  To the rest of the organization, he was as good as gold.  But this was about his drive, not our perception. 

Keeping Picasso engaged

The challenge for us was to steer him away from this potentially disastrous move, while not making him feel inferior or unworthy of the move.  The upside was that it was in everyone’s best interest to not make him a manager, including his, so there wasn’t a question of who’s needs were more important.  It’s not that we didn’t want to give him the keys to the store.  It’s that all of us, including him, would be better off letting someone else handle the shop duties and letting him paint.

So how did we get there?  We did what everyone should be doing anyway, and what we needed to do with him all along.  We sat down and talked about it.  We were transparent.  We made sure he understood our concerns and that we understood his desires.  Then we figured out together how to make sure we all came out ahead. 

The problem was resolved, and everyone went away happy.  It’s amazing what a simple conversation can do.

So what happened?

In case you are interested, we kept him in his role, but elevated his status internally as well as (and this was the real key) externally.  We gave him the time and support to publish more research, speak at conferences, and be our emissary to the technical community.  He had done some of this already, but we asked him to do it as an official part of his job.  We gave him the support he needed, and used those opportunities to also have him mentor and teach the younger engineers in his field.  He had the opportunity to be a mentor and leader while still being focused on his area of expertise.  Think of it as not running the paint store, but instead leading the painting classes.  Still a leader, but in an area and a way that worked to his strengths instead of his weaknesses.

You’ve got a Picasso or two in your life, I’m sure.  Are they getting the recognition they deserve?  Are you using them in the right ways?  Or are you handing them the store keys and hoping for the best? 


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