career superpowercareer superpower


Neil Bedwell

10 minutes

Job Functions Vs. Superpowers: Exploring The Future Of Talent Management

This story originally appeared on on November 13, 2019

Last month I had the privilege of speaking at Worldz — an annual gathering of thousands of the world’s most influential marketing, cultural and business leaders — with a friend and client partner, who is a talent and learning leader with incredible experience and big vision for how leaders must inspire and empower the greatest asset in every business: their people.

The experience was profound because of the nearly 100 talented people who joined us for the session. I’d like to share what we learned with a wider audience.

Our hypothesis is simple yet powerful: Our reliance on traditional job functions, such as HR or finance, to structure companies will reduce dramatically over the next decade, replaced by a greater focus on skills and “superpowers” — those innate, natural behaviors each of us have grown and developed through our lives. We wanted to prove that there is little correlation between function and skills in today’s companies. The results were exciting, providing a glimpse of a new model for managing talent.

What Makes Every One Of Us Super?

If you had to answer the question “What are you truly great at?” it’s doubtful you would answer with your job function. We asked every member of the audience to turn to a stranger next to them and identify each other’s superpowers. The room struck alight with deep conversation and laughter. We learned in a few minutes that we had superheroes among us. Super Listeners and Super Optimists were two examples. Nothing like job functions but everything like valuable skills for projects we are all working on.

There’s something more profound to draw from this exercise, too. In five minutes of dialog with a stranger, each person got to know each other more deeply than many employers know their long-term employees. Because, as leaders, we just don’t ask these kinds of questions.

We Know Nothing About Our Greatest Asset

Traditional employers seek to know only basic information about their people and little or nothing about what motivates them or what unique skills they have that could take the brand, company and culture in new directions.

It’s the opposite in consumer marketing. The best marketers seek to know as much as possible about who their audience is, how they live and what makes them unique so as to find a meaningful place in their world for our brands. We believe passionately that HR and marketing are actually sister disciplines. Each should be centered on the orientation of everything the company does around a valuable audience. The difference is just in who those people are. For HR, it is employees — which, logic demands, means also that the tag “Human Resources” is woefully out of date. Perhaps “Humanity” is a better functional name?

Focusing On Skills Changes Everything

Take a moment to imagine a future where we no longer organize people by function or staff initiatives with balanced cross-functional teams but instead matched skills and superpowers from our glorious pool of talent to project needs. It changes everything we know about how people work inside companies.

In this new dynamic, we’d start to value individual passions more than functional expertise or experience. We’d form fluid project squads instead of rigid discipline structure. Our people would experience multiple project tours instead of planned career moves. After-action reviews would give way to real-time monitoring and course refinements. Annual individual incentives would be replaced by team milestone rewards.

A Live Experiment: What We Learned From Our Worldz Audience

With nearly 100 people and less than 30 minutes, we had to move fast. Here’s what happened:

Step No. 1: Find your function.

We began by asking everybody to move to the traditional business function that best describes their current role:

  • HR: Learning, Talent Management, Internal Comms
  • Marketing: Advertising, Brand Management, PR, Sales, Customer Service
  • Operations: Leadership, Administration, General Management, Project Management
  • IT: Data, Technology, Innovation
  • Product: Design, R&D, Production
  • Finance: Accounting, Risk Management, Business Analytics

Step No. 2: What’s your superpower?

We introduced six broad “superpower” groups and asked each person to self-identify against their closest match:

  • Guide: Building culture, networking, collaboration and teamwork, influencing, coaching
  • Storyteller: Casting vision, engaging communication, adaptability, passion, provocation
  • Driver: Driving growth, leading teams and managing people, solution-selling
  • Builder: Organizing, planning, design thinking, detail-focused, managing projects
  • Creator: Creativity, idea and concept creation, problem-solving, innovating, architecting new solutions
  • Thinker: Agility, quantitative skills, commercial acumen, data analytics, strategic thinking, critical analysis

Step No. 3: Does your superpower match your function?

More than half of the audience was “out of position” based on traditional models matching functions to skills. Highlights included:

  • 30% of marketers put themselves in the “guides” group (more than the expected fit with “storytellers”)
  • Nearly 50% of IT & Product experts identify as “storytellers” (3x more than “creators” or “builders”)
  • 40% of people in both Finance and Operations saw themselves as “creators”
  • As expected, 70% of HR practitioners found “guide” as the best fit; 20% saw themselves as “builders”

Key Takeaway

There are a lot of lessons to take from this exploration. The conversations afterward were fascinating, deep and wide-ranging and, most enjoyably, engaged everyone from startup founders to large corporate HR leaders. There’s one thing I want you to take away: the knowledge that you can do this tomorrow. The skills you need to solve your next business problem likely exist in the people sitting next to you right now.

Here’s your challenge. Chances are your current project teams are optimized by function, not skills. Imagine what would happen if you assembled your next project team purely by skills and superpowers. What would that look like? Do you have the courage to try? And if a pilot is not physically possible, ask your people what their superpower is — you may be amazed by where the answers will take you.

Originally published at