Leader Insights: Taking Unicorns Out of Valued Roles and Leveraging their Magical Qualities

Harbinger Leader Insights is a new blog series discussing various decision-making subjects that can result in a failure or success of a transformation or change project. Krista Schaber-Chan, Managing Partner, kicks off the new series with a blog that discusses the value in taking the best and brightest ‘unicorn’ employees from valued roles and onto new projects.

We’ve said this before, but change is hard for everyone including leaders.

Leaders are instrumental in ensuring a change is successful, and the decisions they make in the beginning and throughout the change can be the difference in success or failure. Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to work on several transformation and change projects and one of the key attributes of a great leader is the ability to identify unicorns and leverage their unique skill sets to take the business to the next level.

Unicorns are all the rage now and I was inspired reading a LinkedIn article ‘5 signs You’re a “Unicorn” Employee’ by Ryan Holmes, CEO at Hootsuite.

For those of you who don’t know, “unicorn” employees are rare and they are individuals known for getting stuff done, being able to look at the big picture, as well as, the smaller details. Most importantly possess stellar personalities that can work with just about anybody.

The most natural thing for organizations to do with their unicorn employees is keep them at the status quo where they feel most comfortable. Usually this means that they are performing the same tasks and doing the same role they are in today because well, they’re really good at it. While this works, it’s not sustainable. In fact, this approach almost never works for the long-term and increases the risk of losing unicorns to other projects or organizations. Why is that? It’s because they sparkle when they are enabled to do their best through continuous development and by performing duties that may be outside of their role.

This is especially important during the change. The unicorn traits of getting stuff done, having the ability to wear many hats, and being able to connect the dots is exactly what is needed for a company to successfully transform and manage change. Leaders must take this opportunity to shake things up by taking these unicorns into the project and using them as subject matter experts (SMEs).

Many of our clients are implementing an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and as you can expect, this is not an easy feat. It requires a significant amount of skill and expertise to get this over the line. In my experience, leaders who are able to not only identify unicorns, but also pull them into roles within a project that require that je ne sais quoi, haven’t been disappointed.