Shiny Object Syndrome – Are You Ignoring Talent?

Shiny Object Syndrome. We all get it. A new pair of shoes. The fad diet. That super-cute garden gnome. In my case, probably a new synthesizer. We’re all susceptible to Shiny Object Syndrome, but when corporate or departmental leaders get it, they’re in danger of making a huge blunder – ignoring or demotivating the talent they already have on staff.

A client I worked with needed deep expertise and new ideas in an area where it had been stagnant for a decade or more. They found a consultant who came in and dazzled everyone. So much, in fact, that they hired her outright. But within a year, the same leadership team who thought she was worth that massive investment was, instead, second guessing nearly every recommendation she made. Confidence had eroded to the point where they hired another consultant to come in and review everything. The new consultant gave almost identical advice, but it carried greater weight. Frustrated with being increasingly marginalized, the employee eventually left for greener pastures.

For some reason, we value the opinion of the outsider more than the people we work with. Consultants are often brought in to make a recommendation that people already know is the right choice, but that nobody trusts if it comes from inside the organization. Why is that?

The outside expert is mysterious and educated. The persona they’re presenting to you is the part of their act that they’ve practiced over and over. They’re polished. They have the luxury of doing most of the hard work somewhere else, so you never see the sausage being made. They’re applying the same solution to your problem that they’ve implemented with a dozen other groups. And there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s a big part of the value in hiring a consultant. Outside expertise is often the fastest and cheapest way to jump start a solution, especially in areas where the company doesn’t already have in-house knowledge.

Once the outsider becomes an insider, though, we lose the polish and the mystery. You’ve heard their vacation stories, bad jokes, and personal politics; you’ve seen them make a mistake or two. Your trust level has changed.

Occasionally, this is valid – some people really are one-trick ponies. But more often, it’s just an expression of confirmation bias. You stop agreeing with them because your previous expectations aren’t being met anymore. They’ve become mere mortals or,  worse, they’re challenging someone’s worldview and that someone is too inflexible, dogmatic, or arrogant to change.

So how do we make people shiny again? Sometimes the best way is to review why they were hired in the first place. Are they living up to the image they presented in the interview? Are you and your company living up to the image you presented?

When I get bored with one of my synths, I go back and read the reviews that helped convince me to buy it in the first place. I normally rediscover a passion for what it does; sometimes I learn about functionality that I never explored during the shiny object phase.

Your company made a conscious decision to hire every employee on the payroll, presumably because they add more value than they cost. There’s a high probability that everyone in your company has at least one valuable skill outside what you hired them to do. Have you made an effort to find it?

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