An Organization's Hidden Talent Found In A Reality TV Show

In high school you did not mess with a skinny quiet kid.  At least in my life.  They will surprise you with a roundhouse kick to your face. Skinny quiet kids grow up and work with us.  Us, HR Pros need to get the best out of them.  Do you watch the NBC show, America's Got Talent?  Some show contestants are the skinny quiet type. They exist, but nobody knows their talents. See short video of Andrew De Leon on Americas Got Talent (email subscribers click through).  Make more sense?

We work with people who have talents like Andrew De Leon.  I have.  Back in my manufacturing HR life in Arizona we used temporary employees via staffing firms. Technically (thanks to Co-Employment risks caused by Microsoft) I did not “do HR” with temporary employees, but this issue was fun to watch. Goes like this…

Victor (fake name) was an excellent and quiet temporary employee.  Damn good boxer too.  Victor takes two weeks of company provided vacation.  While on vacation Victor calls his supervisor to say he doesn't know when he will return to work.  He says he is in L.A., fighting to win a $1 Million grand prize on the reality TV show, “The Contender”, hosted by Sugar Ray Leonard and Sylvester Stallone.  Victor wants to know if we have a special leave for this situation…

His supervisor is speechless and calls me.  We get the temporary staffing firm involved because leaves and vacations are their responsibility.  Two weeks after his ori

ginal return date, Victor shows back up to work. By this time his awesome story had been broadcasted across the local news.  Cool. Only problem is that he has been on an unapproved leave for the past two weeks. Your 208 page employee handbook does not address leave for reality shows.  Page 27 says to terminate him.  So you are the HR Pro at the staffing agency, what do you do?

Option A: Not approve the leave. Punish him with the standard HR line of “disciplinary action up to and including termination”. He might punch your HR face, but this is an option.

Option B: Ignore it.  Let him return to work. Caution. The other 813 employees are eager to hear the HR response.  If he gets away with this, HR has no spine.

Option C: Give him a big ATTA BOY celebration party for his accomplishment. Then make him use all his vacation for the year and buy additional vacation to cover the leave. Be creative, but firm. Take his talents and translate them to your business strategies. Boxers have grit and hunger.  That is talent. You can't train for grit and hunger. Find him a job that requires grit and hunger.  He has the mental toughness to handle it.

In HR we are trained to look at the negative. Many of us HR Pros would want to punish Victor. But Real HR Pros would choose Option C. Use a little influence to get Victor back to work in a non-disruptive way. Look deeper than the rule book. Victor has hidden talent that needs to be seen and used by your company. It is awful to think people like Victor are being wasted in our organizations. Find your Victors. Where are your Victors? They are your hidden talent.


FOT Background Check

Ben Martinez is a self-proclaimed family guy, exerciser, and HR journeyman. He has successfully worked in various HR leadership roles around the US and Mexico for Fortune 500 companies (specifically Pepsi, Sears, Honeywell, and Energizer Holdings Inc.). Currently he is the VP of HR for HireVue, where he works with incredible people in the HR technology space who have rallied around a cause to bring HR out of the dark ages. A fantasy sports hater and avid sports watcher, Ben wrote the book on coffee networking and can be found anywhere, so if you are around the area, hit him up for a cup. His home base is in the Salt Lake City, Utah area.


  1. Kes Thygesen says:

    Absolutely. Rules are never just black and white, and we all know that in our personal lives. Why not translate that to the workplace? HR managers need to take in the entire situation (including employee sentiment), not just what the rulebook states. But a very interesting story indeed! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Ben Martinez says:

    Thanks for the perspective Kes. Many people forget that Babe Ruth came into the Big Leagues as a baseball pitcher. I am sure a talent promoter (i.e., baseball coach) and Babe learned he could hit. They let him follow his talent and BAM! He became brilliant at hitting.

    The lesson. Let good people in the door for being good. Let them find their talents. Use those talents to drive your business forward. Easier said than done. But it can be done.

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