in a Down Economy
well or manage hard. It’s truly one or the other.
Hiring well is arguably the single most important function
a manager can perform. Strong training, education, and mentoring
programs can certainly foster knowledge, and to a degree,
skill, but they cannot replace superior hiring practices.
And while there is not a great deal of hiring going on these
days, hiring well is all the more important given the skeleton
crews some managers are left with. We want only the best
skeletons on our crew. Doing more with less requires better
people, processes and technologies. And, let’s remember,
the processes and technologies are created by the people.
The key is always the people. Get the best people, and you
will have the best of everything else. It is considerably
more efficient to hire top people than try to build them
I get too far, I’d like to say everyone knows everything
that is in this article. It just seems so many have forgotten
it in this nutty economy. One would think with all the top
flight talent on the street, and the urgency for corporate
performance, razor sharp hiring practices would be a principle
concern. One would think companies needing to squeeze the
most out of every resource would seek brilliant people and
employ exceptional methods to pull these white knights from
the masses. One would think … well, you’d just
think one would just think. What are some of these guys
well has always been hard. Interviewing well is hard. Candidates
humbly recount when they invented air. “… and
so I said to God, sure, a formless, wet substance is ok,
but I’ll make my stuff invisible and float around.
God took the credit anyway. Made me so mad.” There
is no doubt the blend of art and science of sifting through
paper and people is tough. And, today, with so much paper
and so many people to sift through, it can also be overwhelming.
Furthermore, the important qualities that managers should
be looking for are the most difficult to discover. The focus
of this discussion is not how to determine a candidate’s
true abilities, but rather what abilities mangers should
be looking for.
believe there are three basic areas that hiring managers
target when interviewing and hiring. The lower level attributes
are easier to train and transfer, but hold less value. The
most basic is job-related knowledge and history. When interviewing,
this is good stuff to find out. Easy stuff to find out …
even when the candidate invented air. Easy stuff to confuse
with skill and solid experience. Knowledge isn’t skill.
Knowledge is important, but it’s much easier and cheaper
to obtain. History isn’t experience. History is what
happened in the past. Experience is what you did and learned
when history was happening. Twenty years of doing stuff
can be twenty years of experience or one year of experience
twenty times. Knowledge and history are important, but in
an industry as liquid and fast-paced as CRM, they are clearly
the kindergarten of value.
“next level” attribute is skill. Skill is what
you do with knowledge. How you obtain knowledge. It’s
the strengths you’ve built from your history. It’s
how you do what you do, apply what you know, how you make
decisions, why you decide what you do … your approach.
Skill is more important than knowledge and history; skillful
people are more valuable. While it is possible to develop
skills into your people, training and education impart knowledge
(not skill), take time, and are expensive. Knowledge is
nearly 100% transferable, while skill is only partially
transportable. This is why the only sure way to obtain it
is to hire it. The spectators in the stands have tremendous
knowledge of the game. The NBA is full of remarkably skillful
athletes. But there is one level left. What separates a
Michael Jordon or Kobe Bryant from the other skillful guys?
Find it. Hire it. You can’t create it. You can’t
transfer it. You can’t train it or educate it into
people. It transforms knowledge and skill into value. Talent
is an innate ability. Some people have a nose for talent.
These people will have an easy management life, productive
teams, and a successful career. I hate them and their noses.
top of the heap are those that understand their talents
and consciously apply them. “A” players. They
are knowledgeable, skillful, know how to apply these qualities,
and they just get better every day. They adapt quickly and
provide value consistently. The first step in hiring well
is to be aware that talent is what you are looking for.
I know this seems elementary, but …
are hiring knowledge these days. “Yes, yes …
I see you have remarkable troubleshooting skills, a strong
background of innovative problem solving, a customer-oriented
mentality and history of bringing strong value to your employers.
Unfortunately, you have never implemented the Siebel Pricer
220.127.116.11.5.22.3 with patch 4.2.3 running on HP-UX 11 and
Oracle 9i … we can’t see how we could possibly
use you here.” In this economic wasteland, I have
heard many stories of this type where skill and talent were
clearly secondary targets during the interview. It was knowledge
and history. Very specific knowledge and history at that.
a classic battle of tyranny of the urgent vs. the important.
Clearly, the urgent is winning. Companies and managers alike
are more focused on the here and now than the long term.
There is a feeling there may not be a long term if we don’t
hire with short term priorities. Many times, it doesn’t
feel like there will be enough time to hire skillful, talented
people who will need to absorb the required knowledge. Better
to hire the guy who understands a specific technology than
someone who has successfully mastered many. No time to train
I know managers feel they are looking for talented people.
They just want talented people who have considerable experience
in a specific area. Understandable. I recently nearly took
a position with a CRM firm that I feel clearly had their
eye on the ball and their priorities well placed (I had
to decline for personal reasons). I’m just saying
let’s try to not major in the minors. The problem
I am seeing is that skill and talent are either assumed
or ignored, and interviewers are concentrating almost solely
on knowledge and history. I confirmed this phenomenon with
a few recruiter buddies of mine. The job specifications
are becoming ridiculously knowledge specific. Companies
do this because they can. In the current candidate-glut,
employers can be very picky and demand very deep, specific
knowledge. Picky is good. My point is that managers should
be picky regarding skill and talent, and less focused on
good friend and talented technologist, has been turned down
time after time in his job search for this reason. This
guy can learn a specific technology or application in a
matter of weeks, and then leverage his considerable talents
to provide value light years beyond mere application knowledge.
Evidently, this is not being discovered or is not a priority
during the interview process.
contrast to these practices, my latest engagement has taken
a different tack. The company is a couple of years into
a large SFA implementation. They recently hired a dynamite
project manager who has little knowledge regarding the specific
application, but commands a terrific balance of talent,
skill, and knowledge. Had they focused mainly on knowledge
of the specific SFA application or module, she would not
have been hired, and they would have missed a very valuable
manager. My interview with this client centered around my
talents and their needs to determine if there was a good
match. I am not an expert on the particular technology or
application that I am currently working with, but I have
enough knowledge to do what I need to and can always leverage
final note on this particular subject is that I still serve
as a SME for a couple of companies, and a large part of
my value to them is deep and specific CRM knowledge. I don’t
discount this knowledge (pun intended) and, in some cases,
the chief value is knowledge. In the main, however, very
specific knowledge has fleeting value and should be measured
within the entire scope of a candidate’s value. Now,
go out there and hire someone smart.