Talent Management 101: Find the Jack Bauers

I’ve watched every episode of 24. My wife bought me the Season 1 DVD set one Valentine’s Day a number of years ago. It sat on a shelf for a few months until one day I inserted episode 1 into the DVR to help me through my treadmill workout. It only took that one episode and I was hooked.

I couldn’t stop watching. 24 was my crack. I had to have it. I purchased every season and would devour episode after episode. The intrigue, the action, the back-stories and Jack Bauer obsessed me. But I was also taken by what I considered an interesting juxtaposition in most seasons. While CTU (Counter Terrorist Unit) was faced with addressing the newest catastrophic threat, it was also an organization teeming with very ordinary HR and organizational issues.

No matter the extent of the danger or the number of lives in the balance, 24’s writers would weave in workplace jealously, sexual harassment, office romance, insubordination, clueless bureaucratic managers and title seekers.

As a businessperson, I was fascinated by these plotlines. Here is a workplace locked in a battle against terrorists and evildoers yet employees were exhibiting some of the same frivolous and selfish behavior as would occur in any other organization. If truth is indeed stranger than fiction, what chance do we have to create high performing workplaces when our missions are certainly less critical than saving the world?

When I left “big company” life to start my first company, I believed that a small company that I led wouldn’t have the same frustrating people and bureaucratic issues that seemed to haunt most days in big company life. I could eliminate those issues by selecting the “right” people, clearly articulate our strategy and provide our people meaningful work. I was either naïve or ineffective. May be a little bit of both. For in this business and the other 4 small companies that followed, people issues would constantly emerge.

24 helped me to realize that whether it’s big business or a start-up, whether the competitor is another widget company or an international terrorist, most employees could care less about the big picture, the strategy, the mission. They are thinking or acting with their selfish interests in mind.  Except for Jack Bauer. Find the Jack Bauers. Nurture the Jack Bauers. They will make the difference.

Photo via soccer28.glogster.com

About the Author

Shaun Emerson

Shaun Emerson is a Partner at Tutto Persona. After 12 years with big companies, he has spent the last 11 years indulging his entrepreneurial spirit by starting two companies and running both a venture-backed and privately funded company. Shaun resides in Glen Ellyn, IL with his wife, a woman in HR, and his three kids. He blogs at Tutto Persona and you can connect with Shaun on Twitter as @shaunemerson and on LinkedIn.

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