5 Secrets of Utility Player

6 Secrets of a Utility Player: How to Hire For Indispensable

It’s easy to hire for rock stars—the folks with the exact niche skills you need in the marketplace. But don’t underestimate the value of a true utility player for long-term success.

How (and Why) to Find, Hire (and Promote) a Utility Player

My boss came back from the succession planning discussion with the executive team. “Oh, it’s all good, you’re a utility player.” As a young Gen Xer, I didn’t love the sound of that. Utility player sounds so, well, utilitarian (practical, functional, serviceable). I was young in my career, I wanted to be seen as an up-and-coming rock star, not an easily tradeable unsung hero.

Six months later there was a massive reorganization and a layoff. My hands shook as my boss handed me the new org chart. Our entire department was missing. And then he smiled. “I have two words for you: utility player. You’re fine. Here’s what’s next (a promotion).”

I get it now. Utility players provide you with the flexibility to embrace change fast without a ruckus. It’s why Inc. recommends that startups hire the utility player first.  

Makes sense. I’ve had several new start-up clients call for help because their original team of founders/specialists just didn’t have the skills to lead as they scaled.

6 Indispensable Utility Player Competencies

Of course, you’ve got to hire specialists for certain roles. But when hiring leaders, don’t underestimate the flexibility you’ll get from a few of these key skills.

  1. They love the Game (and by the game, I mean your business.)
    They understand and are energized by the big picture vision. They’re gung-ho and ready to go with the twists and turns. They don’t play games to get ahead. They stay focused on the bigger mission.
  2. They Build Strong, Trusting  Relationships (up, down and sideways)
    Rock stars sometimes alienate their boss and peers and REALLY tick off their direct reports.  Utility players know that other human beings are their lifeline to success. They’re inclusive. They invest in a wide network of go-to relationships up, down and sideways.
  3. They are Curious, Eager Learners
    They don’t know it all, but they sure try to learn as much as they can. They embrace new situations with curiosity and confident humility as they work to understand what’s really happening and how they can help.
  4. They Work Hard
    They dig in harder and longer than most. They care about quality and doing it right.
  5. They’re Resilient
    Although they’re attached and really care about their current mission, when the direction shifts they can cope with that too (okay, they might go into the bathroom and scream first- give them a minute and they’ll come around.)
  6. They Tell the Truth
    They’re willing to have the tough conversations that make the business and the people better. They ditch the Diaper Genie™ and own the U.G.L.Y. in a way that builds trust and maintains relationships.

Your turn. What have you found to be the most indispensable competencies of utility players?

You may also enjoy our recent post: Interviewing: How to Hire For Winning Well Competencies (interview questions to help you hire the best)

Posted in Capacity, Career & Learning, Winning Well and tagged , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.


  1. Good piece Karin. Agree the value of these folks. They have the impact of 10 people. And are the ones when they resign people say, one person can’t do all of this?!

    My add would be they are resourceful. They know how to get ‘er done no matter a small or big to do. They relish it actually!

    • Regina, Thanks so much for adding to the conversation! Yes…. TOTALLY AGREE. Utility players are resourceful. Great addition.

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