Chery Gegelman is president of Giana Consulting, an organizational development company that seeks to be a source of light, help and understanding so the people and organizations they serve can more effectively accomplish their mission.

Many years ago, a customer wrote a letter about me to my regional manager. To this day, I don’t know what prompted him to write the letter, and I don’t remember everything that it said, but I do remember that he called me “a diamond in the rough.”

While he saw potential, my focus was on all of my rough edges. I had recently transitioned from nonprofits and small businesses to my first job in corporate America. The processes, the language, the attire, the politics and the overall environment were so different so that, as thrilled as I was to be there, I was also intimidated and afraid that my knowledge and ideas were too simple and too child-like to be worthy.

What is interesting to me today is that the customer who wrote the note was an incredibly successful and busy CEO. In spite of his schedule, he intentionally chose to invest his time in both me and in the organization I worked for by writing that note.

The reason I share this story is that since then, I’ve frequently asked executives and hiring managers what their biggest challenge is. At least 90% of the time I get the same answer: “People.” That comment is quickly followed by an explanation about how hard it is to find enough qualified and caring people to do the work.

So here’s the challenge, if polished gems don’t grow on trees: How and where do you find them? Taking a lesson from Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s Strengths Finder Research, and the CEO I mentioned earlier, you invest your time and mine for them.

Consider these true stories.

A vibrant, outgoing skilled woman has a position doing routine clerical work. Her people skills are not challenged; her ability to problem solve is not challenged, and her desire to have fun at work is not understood. She is undervalued and treated like an ugly duckling. When she is transferred to another department where her natural strengths are unleashed, she increases customer satisfaction and key metrics by several percentage points. She is suddenly a swan!

A woman works for a large organization in a department where she is considered to be the top performer. Her manager consistently praises her performance, her attitude and her work ethic. When she is asked to transfer to another department, her new manager has nothing good to say about her. When she is transferred a third time, she is once again recognized as a top performer.

A 30-year-old bartender applies for an entry-level corporate position. He is extremely late for the interview and visibly shaken. Upon meeting the candidate, it is clear that he has a passion for people and for service; he is a deep thinker, with a sense of humor; he’s technologically savvy and looking to make a long-term career move. Prior to the interview, he encountered several uncontrollable circumstances that made it impossible for him to arrive on time or to communicate what was transpiring. The ultimate decision to hire him proves to be one of the best hiring decisions the manager ever makes. He becomes a highly valued, long-term employee that increases teamwork, customer satisfaction and revenue for the organization.

A woman enters a convenience store and engages in a conversation with a homeless man. Eventually the man reveals that they were former classmates. As they continue their conversation, she learns that he is highly educated, had a great career, a home and a family — before he started using drugs and lost it all. She sees a diamond where others only see rough. She offers him compassion and accountability, and he is transforming.

A man is raised without wealth, formal education or polish and continuously suffered painful losses, failures and depression. And yet, in spite of all that “rough,” Abraham Lincoln emerges as the greatest leader our country has ever known.

Think about those you work with every day. Are they diamonds in the rough that are simply being ignored or overlooked?

Think about the applicants you are interviewing for your open position. Do they have the passion and talent and just need to learn your industry?

What if a diamond in the rough could bring your organization a fresh perspective and ideas that increased customer satisfaction, teamwork, efficiency, employee retention or profitability?

The diamonds are there, just waiting to be discovered:

  • Employees who already work for your organization.
  • Heroes who are transitioning out of the military and into the civilian workplace.
  • People who realize they are in dead-end jobs.
  • People who have been laid off.
  • People who are disabled.
  • People coming out of recovery programs and are in need of a second chance.

Are you ready for a treasure hunt?

Image credit: frender, via iStockphoto

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14 responses to “Diamonds in the rough: How to recognize your star employees”

  1. […] revolution. ← 5 Reasons Why Emotional Intelligence Workshops Fail LinkDiamonds in the rough: How to recognize your star employees By Ace in February 16th 2012   No Comment » Filed Under Leadership […]

  2. Kate Nasser says:

    Wonderful post. You harken a basic truth — if you want polished employees you either have to find them or polish them yourself. A treasure hunt is such a positive image that can overcome any malaise among hiring managers or interview teams who risk becoming jaded as they wade through piles of resumes.

    Bravo for your inspiration and contribution!
    Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

  3. Jesse Stoner says:

    Great post Chery! I appreciate your hitting this subject head on. So often I hear leaders say they want to hire peak performers. I have observed that quite often the best performers are the ones you take the time to develop yourself, which is why Herb Kelleher chose his executive assistant Colleen Barrett as his replacement when he stepped down as president of Southwest Airlines.

    I also appreciate your point that it often depends on the context – move a peak performer into the wrong environment and they stop looking so good. It's important to consider the whole picture when evaluating potential. You make a great case for erring on the side of providing support and development and giving people an opportunity to shine.

  4. Chery!

    A true pleasure reading this post and your wonderfully realistic stories. A great culmination of this week's events for me in my business this week: Assuming and judging brings us down the wrong path.

    In every one on your stories, people are assuming the worst and making decisions based on that incorrect assumption. One of my guiding principles is to always assume the best of someone. As your powerful post suggests, this mindset can help you discover and cultivate a diamond in the rough. The gift of being understand (and having someone who cares to invest the time to understand) will create the most powerful work teams we've ever seen (which produces happier, more productive, and more profitable businesses).

    Your post has touched my heart, Chery.

    Thank you for sharing.


  5. […] in news this morning: Diamonds in the rough: How to recognize your star employees. It is often said that every business has their star employees but it isn’t always easy to […]

  6. Great post, Chery. Another point – if you don't find your hidden gems, someone else will. Jeremy Lin is a great example of a hidden diamond just waiting for chance. I'd love to be a fly on the wall in the two NBA organizations that released Lin before he landed at Knicks.

    One common thread (challenge) I saw running through nearly all of your true story examples is a failure on the part of a manager to see what was under his/her nose. This is but one reason why I so strongly advocate relying on the wisdom of crowds – peers and colleagues in the workplace – and not just the managers to find the hidden gems. If employees are encouraged to recognize and express their appreciation for their colleagues efforts and achievements, then the organization naturally gathers a great deal more data on who their gems are.

    I explain this more fully – using Jeremy Lin's remarkable story as a reference point – in a post here:

  7. Organisation greatest asset is its People.

    Chery, I liked the examples in this post,

    Julie – edgeC . transforming Orgs

  8. […] Gold: Welcome Chery Gegelman, from The Profoundly Simple blog, with her debut Carnival post Diamonds in the rough:  How to recognize your star employees, published in SmartBlog on Leadership. “When I ask executives and hiring managers what their […]

  9. […] Chery Gegelman, from The Profoundly Simple blog, with her debut Carnival post Diamonds in the rough:  How to recognize your star employees, published in SmartBlog on Leadership. “When I ask executives and hiring managers what their […]