Reality Is A Motley Crew

“Variety is the very spice of life. That gives it all its flavor”
– William Cowper

The Claim

Hiring is the single most important thing you can do.
Hiring is the key to awesome outcomes.
Hire the best to be the best.

Google, Spotify, Netflix, Valve and Zappos all subscribe to these mantras. The brand recognition of the first three speak for themselves.
The Valve Software homepage describes what they do in one six-word sentence – “We make games, Steam and hardware”. The rest of the page is a job ad! Nothing that would hint at the tens of millions of users of their PC video gaming platform, Steam and the thousands of best-selling titles it hosts as a multi billion-dollar company. Their hiring process looks for technical skills, cultural fit and includes a requirement that the candidate have the capability to run the company. Could you imagine a company where everyone was CEO?
Zappos is an online retailer of shoes and clothing with a maniacal obsession for customer service. Their success caught the attention of Amazon who acquired them in 2009. Their new-hire onboarding process includes a five-week training program where they learn and experience what it will be like to work at Zappos. At the end of the training program, an offer is made to anyone who wants to quit. The offer consists of pay for time worked plus a $4,000 bonus. Amazon has since adopted a similar “Pay to Quit” program where employees are offered $2,000 to quit during their first year. The offer is made once a year every year after that with the offer amount increasing by $1,000 each year to a maximum of $5,000.
For these companies, it’s clear they place a huge emphasis on vetting every single person who comes in the door and it doesn’t stop once they get in. A-list companies have no problem attracting A-team candidates even if they’re looking for CEO potential in every hire.
What about everyone else?

The Reality

When was the last time an A-team dropped on your lap? More often than not, we’re asked to work with the hand we’re dealt – warts and all. How many times have you looked forward to welcoming in new enlightened talent to model the way for your legacy team only to realize that the new talent has taken the Dunning-Kruger Effect to new heights? So, we tell ourselves, where’s the challenge in starting with an A-team? Motley crews are the spice of life. Even when you think you have an A-team, it won’t last. Changes in customers, their expectations, the marketplace, ways of working and the whims of team members themselves may render the A-team obsolete. The skills and experience that made them an A-team will not be enough to sustain them through changes in context. When that happens, what are our options? Here are some ideas. Some tried and true. Some requiring experimentation.

  1. Recruit externally. Backfill the skill and experience gaps by adding new team members. Often the easiest answer especially for large, successful enterprises. If the team is engaged in the hiring process and decision, this may be worthwhile. If not, the frictional costs of onboarding and gelling new members may breakeven at best and set the team back to storming or worst.
  2. Trade internally. Establish an internal skills marketplace where teams can trade for what they need. The marketplace concept would appeal to both teams and individual team members. Teams can use it to recruit and lobby for others to join them. Team members looking for a change can use it to see what’s available in other parts of the enterprise. This is not for the faint of heart. If you’ve run a Self-Selection event for teams , then you’re half-way there. It requires trust and faith that:
    • People and teams will do what’s best for the organization and
    • People will be happiest when they get to choose who they work with and what they work on.
  3. Skill up the team. Stretch and unleash the latent capabilities within existing team members. If the skill gaps are deemed manageable by the team then build the skills internally by identifying what’s needed through a team skills matrix. Team training budgets owned by the team can then be used to address the gaps. Team members get to paint their own unique career mosaics and the enterprise reaps the benefits of more valuable and engaged people.
  4. Find a new mission. One of the key value propositions of Agile teams is their ability to remain intact and have work they can pull on demand. Rather than pushing a square team into a round mission, why not seek out a square mission? Give meaning to the phrase “Have team, will travel”.
  5. Disband the team. When is a team no longer a team? When the team no longer has purpose or utility? When the team members and the organization are better served by the team being apart than together?

Who can help? And where does the accountability for this reality lie?

  • It starts with each individual team member having a choice to opt-in or opt-out of whatever is decided. If they opt-in, the team will be stronger for it. If they opt-out, the team may be on the verge of collapse and better to know that sooner.
  • The team through its retrospectives and skills matrix will be continuously in touch with their short-comings. They will be in the best position to sense and respond to team challenges.
  • Managers and HR can play a valuable support role. Managers can grant the teams hiring decision-making powers and team training budgets. HR can use this as an opportunity to get in the game and evolve their recruitment and development practices in collaboration with the teams and managers.

Laying the Foundation

How do we make this possible? What would need to be true? Managers have a lead role to play in laying the foundation to deal with this reality well before it arrives. Key enablers include:

  • Listen and connect. Do you spend more time building caring relationships than fire-fighting? Do you visit with the teams everyday? Do you give people, the teams, and the organization a sense of ownership and choice in their destiny?
  • Model safety and equal voice. How have you made it safe for people to speak freely? Do people chime in on anything and everything? Without it, converting motley crews to sustainable A-teams will not be possible.
  • Alignment of purpose. Does everyone understand the why behind the business? Has everyone internalized it and connected it with their personal why for showing up every day?
  • Be a farmer. Do you have patience and take pride in turning duds into stars? Would you rather nurture and harvest home-grown talent than hunt for new talent?
  • Embrace failure as an option. When all else fails, are you willing to do what’s best for the organization and release the people or the team under your care?

If we lay a good foundation, then perhaps we can mitigate a cull of the incompetent.

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