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Special Snowflakes: Rudolph and the War for Talent

Tis the season to listen to Gene Autry on the radio and in every mall singing about the most famous reindeer of all. I’m a fan of the holiday season. I like the lights and the festivities, the gathering of friends and families, the nonstop Hallmark movies that cause me to “get something in my eye” about three-quarters of the way through.

This year, as I was listening to Gene crooning about Rudolph, it occurred to me: he starts by singing that we know all of the other eight reindeer. But do we? How well do we know them? Can you name them all? Is it Donner or Donder? In fact by now, more than 65 years since the release, my hunch is that most pay much more attention to Rudolph than the rest.

In business we talk about the 12 names in a drawer, those you can’t do without. Just like with Rudolph, the top performers shine and the rest don’t. Rewarding and acknowledging people or reindeer fairly doesn’t mean treating them all the same. Here are three work-related reasons why Rudy deserves it.

Retention games: Rudolph is both a top performer and a collaborator

Rudolph wants to play in all the reindeer games. He is generally likeable and truly does try not to outshine the other reindeer. Rudolph even goes as far as to attempt to cover up his brightest feature in order to blend in with his peers. Once he does prove to be truly stellar, the other reindeer aren’t quite as interested in playing games with him, however. Even so, he maintains his good attitude and open mind toward the other reindeer and the tasks at hoof.

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In the 2016 workplace–just to make this post somewhat useful–collaboration is increasingly a must. Whether it’s Amazon removing forced ranking as a practice or the more than 25% of organizations offering a team-based incentive, the message is clear: collaboration wins over internal competition. That said, top performers are top performers. Collaboration and high performance aren’t mutually exclusive, but in fact go hand in hand (hoof in hoof).

Rudolph has unique job skills in a tough market

Let’s just call it out. Rudolph has a very unique skill: the ability to make his nose shine so bright it can cut through the thickest fog. This is a talent that no other reindeer has, which makes him a very special snowflake. Here in Seattle, his skill would be extremely valuable as we’re looking down another misty Christmas eve. Up in the North Pole, Rudolph’s skills are also highly sought after, giving him the trifecta of awesome: skills, geography, and high performance.

In the 2016 workplace, we’ve seen some highly-sought-after skills drive pay up by as much as 29%! If there’s a skill your business needs to really bring you to the next level, be prepared to pay for it.

True leaders come through in a pinch

When the going gets tough, and Santa almost can’t guide his sleigh, Rudy really comes through. He uses his unique skill for the good of the whole team, leading them forward through the fog. For some, this pressure-filled moment might have been too much, but this is where Rudolph really shines: at the front of the pack of reindeer and jolly old St. Nick.

In the 2016 workplace, organizations that thrive do a great job of identifying leaders from within. Whether it’s formal succession-planning or informal mentoring, find a way to develop your future leaders. Otherwise you may not necessarily weather the coming fog.

One last thought on this holiday eve: even though Rudolph is leading the sleigh, it takes all the reindeer working together to be able to lift Father Christmas and his bag of gifts for good kids around the world. While it’s important to make sure Rudolph gets his due, it’s nice to recognize Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donder and Blitzen.

Happy holidays to all and for all talent bright!

Mykkah Herner
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