Purple Unicorns Do NOT Exist

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What if I told you one of the most prevalent problems across industries and geographies isn’t finding top talent, retaining them, or developing them into future leaders? Go ahead, shake your head in disbelief. I would have too if you would have asked me that same question years ago. But I’ve learned the biggest problem, from B2B to B2C, is the unwavering belief in purple unicorns.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. Unicorns don’t exist. But oddly enough, in business we tend to think they do in terms of top talent being able to handle the responsibilities of multiple roles. In many small, high-growth organizations, employees can wear anywhere from three or four to possibly even ten different hats to get work done.

The reality is the hats facing one direction require a specific set of behaviors. The hats facing the other direction require a competing set of behaviors. You might hear managers commenting, “I like this person in this way, but they can’t do this as well,” or, “I can’t get them to understand this particular piece of the puzzle.” It’s because, spoiler alert, they are not a purple unicorn.


Mythbusting with Clarity + Data

In the property management industry, the entrepreneurial operating system (EOS), helps managers focus on getting the right people in the right seats. Using this industry as an example, let’s dig into what defines our seats and which hats are expected to be worn by the team members occupying those seats.

Step 1: Clarity

Instead of saying, “Why can’t this human do everything I’m asking them to do?” let’s clearly define what we’re asking them to do. Make a list of their responsibilities and then note those that are in their current job description. In other words, what did you hire them to do? Let’s take a look and see what they are being asked to do and how much of that was provided to them as their responsibilities when they accepted their job offer.

Step 2: Data

With those existing people you already have, it comes down to:

  • Figuring out what they naturally show up willing and able to do (based on their wiring and who they are down to the core)
  • What goes against the grain based on the array of things we are asking them to do

Is this lack of alignment working or is it time to make a change?

Behavioral data, like what The Predictive Index Behavioral AssessmentTM provides, assists managers in mapping what comes naturally to team members and what requires a bit more energy or flexing.


Get Intentional

Additionally, I would suggest a more intentional hiring strategy is in order. Leadership, front-line leaders, and human resources need to work together to determine what the organization needs most and what it will not compromise on. Then, identify behaviors that should come naturally to new hires. For everything else, create a plan to coach, support, and train team members who need to grow in other relevant areas.


In order to decrease frustration, gain clarity and increase productivity, organizations need intentional and proactive coaching, as well as systems and structure in place.


Let go of the Purple Unicorn

If you are not willing to pull apart your purple unicorn, clarify their role, and coach and support what does not come naturally to them, you will run into the same problems over and over again. What’s more, you’ll eventually lose great talent.

You might be asking, “What about companies that are not mature enough or big enough to break things down and move them around?” This plan doesn’t seem feasible without blowing up progress. What can you do?

First, get clear about what you need. Then, identify what you can’t train, whatever the reason is. Make sure you’re hiring or you’re keeping those team members who do that piece (what you can’t train) naturally. But then, inevitably, you will have to figure out how you’re going to a support and train them to do more.


While a purple unicorn does sound nice, it’s also ridiculous. And over time, the more we ask of our people without the proper training, support, and coaching, the more burned out they are going to become. Stop hoping for and waiting on that purple unicorn to show up and work its magic. Instead, rely on data and clear expectations to guide your people strategy towards success.



To learn more about intentional hiring strategy, read “How to use pre-hire assessment tools the right way” by Leadership Consultant Mandy Haskett.

And, check out “A Remedy for the Cursed Position” to learn more about using data in hiring selection.