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Revealing Hidden Potential

  • Michael McGinty
November/December 2017

I once consulted with a company in Australia that owned trains and wagons used in the mining industry. During my time there, an employee was transferred to the team with which I was working most closely. On the day of his reassignment, the CEO warned me that this person was overpaid and didn’t really do anything of value for the company: “We’ve given him lots of chances, and this is his last one. If he doesn’t start pulling his weight soon, just cut him loose. The organization leadership is prepared to fire him.”

Surprisingly, on his very first day, I was able to discern that this staff member actually had a lot to contribute. When I told him about some of the challenges and goals we were tackling, he shared numerous suggestions, which he actually had made time and again but were repeatedly shut down by his previous bosses. Apparently, in his former roles, he would spend time figuring out problems that could really help the business, but when he brought them up to his managers, he was ignored.

As this new team member and I worked together in the coming weeks, I continued to be impressed. One day I decided to just ask him: “You’ve been with the company four years, right? You’d just about given up, hadn’t you?”

“I had,” he said, stressing the second word.

“Well, that’s past tense,” I noted. “So, you’re back?”

“What I’m doing now is awesome,” he shared with me enthusiastically. “I get to lead a team, and we make real improvements. I am using my mind, and the ideas that I spent so much time researching are actually being implemented.”

“Great to hear,” I said. “And I hate to do this to you when you’re just getting settled in, but I’ve actually gone to the CEO and said that you need to be promoted.”

He was shocked. I explained to him that a continuous improvement department was being formed, and I wanted him to lead the team. “Remember, I’m a consultant; one day I'll be leaving,” I added. “You’re staying behind. This is your job, your career. So if you don’t want the promotion, that’s all right. But I think you should go for it.”

Happily, he was thrilled and accepted the offer. And his team ended up doing excellent work. So, it wasn’t long before he walked into my office announcing that he got a second promotion.

“It’s only been four months!” I was stunned.

“Yes. Another guy we trained is now leading the continuous improvement department, so they moved me up.”

Throughout his career at this company, he continued to excel. And all of this was because he finally felt valued. When I think back to being warned by the CEO that he was a last-chancer, I’m amazed — and reminded about the importance of really listening to your employees. Listen to the people who do the day-to-day work. They know the problems and, more than likely, already have a solution. Just ask and really hear what they have to say. Better yet, whenever feasible, implement their ideas. When other workers see the boss listening and taking action, they will share their suggestions too.


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Michael McGinty is an independent consultant with more than 15 years of business operations, plant management, continuous improvement, project management, profit optimization and supply chain experience. He may be contacted at


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  1. Randall Schaefer December 08, 2017, 10:26 AM
    Great article. Unfortunately, the managers who won't listen to underlings will not see themselves . When a low level manager exhibits this tendency, you can be certain those above him share the same attitude; that's how he has kept his job.
  2. Steve December 12, 2017, 08:24 AM
    The story is a kind warning about absorbing too much of our 'throw away' society when it comes to dealing with people.  It is also is a great example of perceiving a Porsche to be an old junker and seeking to scrap it.  Many people, like the gentleman in the story are like thirsty plants, just needing a little water, digging and pruning in order to blossom and flourish. The resulting benefits to the company are obvious, as in this story.  Perhaps Mike should specialize in the mining of employee value rather than just minerals, he appears to have a knack for it.  Well done, sir !
  3. Jake January 08, 2018, 09:46 AM
    There's too many a reason, why people working under management aren't, given a ear. Take bad socializing skills for example, or  just about average communication. Great ideas, are often thrown out of the window, because your peer's get HALO'd for excelling in something non-significant, but Eye catching. Integrity pays, and honest people aren't found lacking bread.


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