How to unleash the power of unicorn employees

Working with 100’s of scale up businesses I have been fortunate to constantly encounter “unicorn employees”, these individuals contribute to their organisations in ways you can’t put a price tag on. These “unicorns” are standout employees who proactively contribute to business improvement. When there’s a problem, they bring solutions to managers, jump at the opportunity to help with projects and come up with ideas to better the company.

Whenever I encounter these unicorns, I coach the business’s leaders to recognise the employee’s potential as an impactful contributor and actively invest in their development.

Here are few tips on how to develop these employees:

Don’t limit their creativity

Given unicorns’ ability for going above and beyond at work, their creative thinking should be encouraged, not discouraged—even when it comes to established  business processes. Unicorns don’t operate well in an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” culture. They want to know that new ideas are always welcome if they benefit the business.

Encourage them to build their own brand

Build up your unicorns as thought leaders and role models for the entire team to follow. This  enables unicorns to develop leadership experience at your company and can inspire other potential unicorns to follow in their footsteps. Without opportunities to build their own brand, unicorns may not feel like they can grow as leaders and experts in your business.

Give unicorns internal and external opportunities to create their own brand among colleagues and with your customers. One of the most effective brand building exercises I’ve used for team unicorns is having them present with a client at an event.

Show them their career path

Unicorns want a clear career progression path. You need to have regular conversations with unicorns about business growth opportunities, document a general timeline for promotion and outline the steps they can take to reach the next level. If you can’t provide this framework for unicorns, there’s another company waiting that absolutely can.

Invest in their personal development

Unicorns expect you to actively invest in their professional development. These individuals have personal and professional goals they want to achieve. And with the right guidance, unicorns can accomplish these goals at your company. However, if you can’t provide unicorns resources to help them grow, they may feel like their professional development is stuck in neutral.  Proactively connect unicorns to learning and development opportunities, whether they’re internal or external.


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