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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.

An example of this is with a past client where we were getting a construction site ready for go-live and were in the process of delivering training to everyone at that location. One of the site administrators joined us early on to help shape the curriculum and we instantly noticed that she not only possessed the business expertise, but was also able to navigate the system easily and pick up on processes very quickly. Greg and I relayed this to one of the senior leaders and we transitioned her from a site administrator to a super user and change champion.

Thanks to her, we were able to leverage her enthusiasm to drive engagement amongst peers. What’s more is we were able to identify and resolve process issues in a timely manner. She was a true unicorn and played an integral role in the success of the project. We literally couldn’t have done it without her.

Another great example comes from one of our current clients who is the process of implementing an ERP system to thousands of users.   As you can expect, the journey has had many ebbs and flows and there was a period where there was not any communications support.  One of the consultants came in without any communications experience and filled that gap successfully to get the project to the next phase.  He has excelled in many other areas since and is now a full-time employee within the business.  Once again, the leadership team was able to identify a unicorn, leveraged him as an SME, and has continued to challenge him with an exciting new role.

Unicorns are great especially during change and I completely agree with Ryan on the fact that it’s ‘worthwhile for leaders to put in that extra time and effort into chasing unicorns.’ When put in the right circumstances and within the right mix of individuals the results can be enchanting.

At Harbinger, we are not only comprised of unicorns, we are great at identifying them. We enjoy working alongside leaders to determine how we can create an environment where unicorn employees can flourish and succeed.

If you want to learn more about the unicorns we have at Harbinger, check out our profiles here or find us on LinkedIn.



Krista Schaber-Chan Managing Partner Toronto



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