Purple Squirrels & Unicorn Employees: Releasing the Magic in Your Team

purple squirrels & unicorn employees: releasing the magic in your team 1

Three simple ways to attract and retain exceptional employees:

In a land far away, there lives a world of fantasy. A world of color and rainbows. Where magical creatures roam the earth and bring good luck and charm to all they meet. In this world lives two magical, desirable creatures, the purple squirrel, and the unicorn employee. These elusive creatures possess an arsenal of coveted skills and qualifications. Recruiters often joke about hiring managers unrealistically expecting them to find these rare creatures to fill their open positions.

Unicorn employees are real, and they already work for you

The truth is unicorn employees not only exist, they are hiding in your organization right now. The question is: Why are your unicorn employees hiding and how do you get them to come out? Research shows three common reasons unicorn employees may be hiding:

  1. They don’t feel valued for their unique skills talents and skills.
  2. Their work lacks meaning
  3. They don’t feel like their manager respects them.

How can you release the unicorn magic in your team? It requires creating a culture where passionate individuals who are proactive, engaged, and innovative can thrive.

purple squirrels & unicorn employees: releasing the magic in your team 2Analytics and advisory company, Gallop, noted that 70% of the difference in performance between departments is related to managers. It should be no surprise that solid leaders help guide their teams and companies to higher profitability, productivity, and engagement. These types of leaders bring unicorn employees out if hiding. How?

The Intégro Passion Pyramid™, developed by Keith Ayers, identifies five human needs to incite passion, the leadership skills required to fulfill each need, and the outcome to the organization.  Building a team of passionate employees comes from focusing on the five areas depicted in the diagram below.

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To build a passionate team, you must have an environment where employees: feel respected, have an opportunity to learn and grow, feel included, do meaningful work, and are part of a winning team. Accomplishing this requires leaders who can build trust, coach and mentor their team, communicate to create inclusiveness, help team members understand how their work furthers the purpose of the organization, and develop high performing teams.

In an earlier article, I spoke about a job I previously enjoyed before reporting to a new manager who did not value teamwork and was not as inclusive as my previous manager. I was engaged in my work but lost passion for the organization due to his approach to leadership and teamwork (or lack thereof). In the long run, I left that job, went to work for a competitor, and stayed in that line of work for more than a decade.

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Unengaged employees can be toxic to your team

purple squirrels & unicorn employees: releasing the magic in your team 5When leaders fail to create an environment where employees lack engagement, it is costly to your organization. Engaged employees are 20% more productive than disengaged employees. Five engaged employees can do the work of six. And may even be more since one disengaged employee can bring down the rest of the team. Disengaged people bring toxicity into the culture by not pulling their weight, stirring up issues, and causing unproductive conflict. Unengaged team members will also attempt to disengage others. This takes away from the focus of your team and distracts them from doing their job. Think about the negative, emotional energy when an underperforming person is present.

Few employees, however, get out of bed in the morning thinking about how they can screw things up and make life miserable for their manager. People want to be engaged and passionate about their jobs, and they want to do things that are both emotionally satisfying and worthwhile, valuable, and have meaning. Time and time again, studies show that organizations with high performing, engaged, passionate employees have fewer sick days, higher productivity, and financially outperform companies with low engagement. Engaged employees are also more likely to stay. Leaders matter most in making this happen.

purple squirrels & unicorn employees: releasing the magic in your team 6As leaders, it is up to us to create a culture that satisfies employees psychological needs and gives them a worthwhile, valuable, and meaningful position. The Employee Passion Survey and Culture Assessment is a tool we use to measure how organizations are performing on the five levels of the passion pyramid and help identify potential disconnects that lead to less than passionate employees. By identifying the gaps in meeting employees’ needs, organizations can better serve their people and improve their results.


Remember the Gallop poll mentioned earlier? That same study notes that those employees trying to find greener pastures (i.e., looking for a job elsewhere) are those not engaged or actively disengaged. As a leader, you have the ability to positively impact this.

Here are three simple ways to attract and retain your unicorn employees:

  • Assess how well the five intrinsic needs outlined in the Passion Pyramid are being met in your organization using the Employee Passion Survey.
  • Identify the unique talents of your team and provide an opportunity to use those talents.
  • Assess your leaders’ ability to build trust and provide them with the skills to develop passionate employees.

Action-Strategies-By-Design can help you release the unicorn magic in your employees. Contact our team for more information.

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POSTED ON: Employee Engagement