Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Producers

If you thought this was a lead-in to a Mel Brooks reference, it's not, but I've got to tell you, I like the direction in which you were headed.

I work with eight people.

Four are what I would call "Producers." I could try to find other, neater, spiffier ways to say it, but simply put, there are four people who I could leave with a specific-but-wide-enough-for-some-wiggle-room order, give it a deadline, and never have to think about it until the deadline, because I know it would get done. They'd either do it, find the right person to do it, or find where it had already been done, and appropriate it.

There are also four who, despite their many other great qualities, don't fit that billing. Without getting into too much detail (this is one of those entries that has to stay kinda vague for self-protection purposes), I can guarantee with equal certainty that *it* would not be done after that hypothetical twelve-hour "off" period. There might be reasons, excuses, taskers, ADD, and other such maladies that got in the way, but trust me, after countless hours, days, and weeks from Reading to Killeen to Kabul, I can pretty much predict this stuff without much effort.

But the point of this entry is NOT to vent. Nor is it to ask for help with management, or for reading recommendations involving Seven Ways to Move Cheese in One-Minute while Winning the Influencers Over on Tuesdays in Heaven.

The point is to say this: I would've totally screwed up the hiring.

Let's say it's a few years down the road. NOT so hypothetically, with an MBA and maybe a couple years' consulting in Boston under my rigger's belt, I'm looking to start a small firm closer to home, somewhere in the Merrimack Valley.

The budget is tight. The outlook is uncertain. One of the most difficult decisions is going to be "Who gets hired?"

Let's get back to my original setup. If I had started out with the eight people, but could ONLY hire four, and was given, let's say, their names, ranks, ages, military bios, resumes, and even the chance to interview them, I'll completely admit I wouldn't have chosen the right ones. If you think OERs and NCOERs (military equivalent of *report cards* would've helped, well, then, you need a lesson in how those things work.

Now, the List of Four seems really obvious, and I could do it in seconds.

But in the real world -- or at least in the real world as I understand it -- it never works that way. There aren't 90-day job interviews. Maybe there are internships, and there are probationary hiring periods, but on those things I hit the I-don't-know-what-I-don't-know problem about feasibility.

My resolution -- during the "down" period I'll have post-deployment (I'm purposely socking away a healthy rainy-day fund for the four-month period after my terminal leave, but before school starts), plus the time at school, to include the Entrepreneurship and Innovation track (E & I), one of the major questions I want to pose to entrepreneurs is this -- Given your limited time and your limited budget, how the heck do you hire?

I'm not as interested in the large corporate behemoths, who can afford to carry some extra weight around, nor am I interested in government contractors, whose purpose is to place 'butts in seats,' but only in small firms who can't afford to keep *nice guys* around who can't turn a tangible result out the back end. Especially as I steer this blog more towards regional business *stuff* and towards interviews, I will be sure to post whatever I find out right here.


kad barma said...

The obvious strategy is to first employ candidates on a paid retainer only for a significant (and hopefully sufficient) probationary period and not on any sort of permanent basis, so the choice becomes more obvious.

Barring the convenience of that, my strategy is to first shun every candidate from a privileged background that hasn't had to work their way up from the absolute bottom. Ivy educations are out first, and spare me the "what if they earned their way there through scholarship and worked hard", because now we're talking percentages and probabilities, and the simple fact is that the vast majority of Ivy "scholars" are lazy elitists who tend to think it's everyone else's job to do the real work while they get to pursue the things of interest to them. Give me a community college credit transfer to a four-year public school with straight A's who worked their entire way through to pay for it every single time.

The other gotcha lurking in small groups is the unpredictability of human emotion, and even a collection of "producers" is vulnerable to the variability of esprit de corps based on interpersonal frictions, real or imagined. Which is to say, if your two best guys/gals don't like each other, it's a significant management challenge to get everyone playing out of the same playbook even so.

People who like what they're doing, and like whom they're doing it with, and really buy in the consensus group goal(s) tend to put more of themselves into their work, and do best. Good teams are hard to build, and many times it's the absence of a weak link that's strongest, (just say NO to Ivy arrogance), as opposed to a collection of mis-matched all-stars.

The New Englander said...

I'm picking up what you're putting down as far as a bias towards people who are "hungry" and have a stellar work ethic...I've worked with enough up-by-their-bootstraps types to see the value there.

Pound-for-pound, I'd even take the hypothetical Horatio Alger guy over the guy who sort of cruised his way up the ladder and has the nice pedigree but thinks the nose-to-the-grindstone work is for "someone else."

It might surprise a lot of people, but I've met more than a few Ivy Leaguers in uniform. Sure enough, there are many (maybe even the majority, I'd admit) who can't be told something they don't already know, pull the "you can't make me do that...I'm special!" card, generally don't conform, and then leave because they say everyone else (esp. those above them in the chain of command) is an idiot.

I've also met plenty who DON'T fit that bill, and the same goes for West Pointers and USNA grads, who have to deal with stereotypes from non-commissioned officers and their peers much like the ones you mentioned in the comment above.
THAT said, any hiring bias is going to hurt the person doing the hiring. If someone w/an Ivy League pedigree sent me a resume, I would certainly want to put him through my own screening (is this guy going to be a jerk that only wants to play by his own rules?), but I think it would be a huge mistake to be dismissive outright.

I know this gets away from the hiring question directly, but I would point out there is a VERY tiny number of colleges in America that are "need-blind." In other words, their decision on who to admit does NOT take into account the person's ability to pay. If you were really looking for a list of "rich kid" schools, a good place to start would be the ones that charge the hefty freight (i.e. 40-50k per year) but AREN'T need-blind.

But back to the subject -- if you wouldn't condone discrimination based on ZIP code, last name, eye color, skin color, religion, orientation, etc. why would it be okay to bar someone right off the bat by a single line on their resume that might be decades in the past?

kad barma said...

Fair questions, though I'd say the bias is in *favor* of people who have had to confront the most obstacles in life and overcome them, more so than against privilege. In my experience, and for whatever reason, even in spite of "need blind" admissions, the Ivy's and other "name" schools suffer a preponderance of "I'm special" and a dearth of "ok, if that's everyone else say's can't be done, then that's the thing that I'm going to do to prove them wrong".

I think part of the Ivy paradox is from a lot of our "best and brightest" living a life from an early age in which most early things come easy, whether from a surfeit of intelligence, ability, or just means and connections. I learned almost too late that success comes from self-discipline even more than natural ability, and a lot of younger people have still that lesson to learn.

Combining both ability and determination, of course, is the magic formula, and I've come to learn that innate human potential defies IQ scores, school transcripts and gaudy resumes. The moment an individual gets it into their mind that they are going to get the job done and succeed, regardless of the obstacles, they become nigh on invincible. Build a team out of those from humble beginnings that have had to learn how to work hard to succeed, and you'll have the makings of a winner every time.

C R Krieger said...

I am ashamed to admit it, but I share Kad's prejudices, all of them, but I know it is a prejudice.  Worse, I sometimes think Stanford Grads might fall into the Ivy cluster. :-)

But, hunger is everywhere.  When I was a cadet I remember one of the Navy Officers on exchange to keep an eye on us cadets telling me that when he was young he would take his Naval Academy ring off when he went to a Division Officer looking for a job, because there was a prejudice amongst the non-Boat School grads toward the Boat School types.

So, it is all about hunger.

Back in 1969 I went to a new squadron and one of my squadron mates was a Black Navigator (back when Black officers were still somewhat rare and being a Navigator was more of a social problem than being Black).  He had been a navigator on a C-97 making the milk-run from Frankfurt to Berlin and back.  His approach was to visit the squadron command and say "I want to be a fighter pilot in your squadron".  Well, he wasn't going to be a fight pilot in anybody's squadron but he showed the proper "fighter pilot attitude" and won a chance to transition from four engine recips to Double Ugly, the F-4E.

Hunger.  Why do you want to be with us?  And, tell me about a failure in your life and how you overcame it.  Tell me about how you helped someone else get a leg up.

Regards  —  Cliff