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Education and credentials might matter. But for most of us, they’re mostly overrated.
My son-in-law is a master chemist with a global company. His level of knowledge in science and math is vital to his work. It’s not a “we’ll show you what you need to know” kind of a career. I’ve got friends who are attorneys, doctors or other professionals where licensing is required. Education and credentials are mandatory. Without them, you can’t legally perform the work.
Most of us own and operate companies that don’t have such requirements. Scroll past Indeed or Linkedin and you’ll see a variety of “requirements” for jobs that demonstrate many of us are just copying each other, chasing the kind of people we think we need. Basically, it’s quite a lot of follow-the-leader kind of behavior. And for good reason. We’ve been steeped into “benchmarking” for as long as I can remember. Copying each other. Chasing some idealized version of what ought to be.
It’s colossally stupid. It kills creativity, innovation, and curiosity.
A payment processing company is looking for a VP of Sales with at least 3 years of online payment processing experience. Maybe that’s smart. Maybe not. My question is simple, “Why?”
If I find a dynamite sales leader (and manager), but who lacks that qualification, what am I to do? I’ll tell you what I’m going to do if I’m like 95% plus of the businesses out there. I’m going to pass. And you know why? Not because the person wouldn’t be an ideal fit, but because I’m lazy. I’m looking for boxes to check so I can keep moving forward. Or so I can cut somebody out and be finished with them.
Trying to speed up the hiring process is killing many businesses.
I’m a speed freak, but yesterday we talked about culture – particularly a culture of accountability. If you care about your culture then you should protect it vigorously. That means you don’t let just anybody enter your organization. You take whatever time you need to properly vet candidates. But the word “properly” is up for big debate.
Does properly mean you form a checklist, making it so comprehensive that you know it’ll narrow the field and make things easier for you? Does properly mean you approach it to find the very best person who will add value to your operation, in every way – including your culture? Those are 2 very different goals. You have to determine which one you’re trying to accomplish. Too many are chasing that former with no regard to the latter.
“College degree, with an emphasis in business.”
“Five years automotive experience.” (and it’s not for a mechanic; it’s for an executive leadership role)
One of the most common answers I get when I ask is, “It helps when people understand our industry.” I love it when I get that response. It prompts my next question, “How?” People are often most stymied, by the way, with one-word questions like, “Why?” and “How?” But that’s not my objective – to stymie. I want to understand what they’re thinking, and hoping to accomplish.
They’ll tell me about the language of the industry. Every industry has these funky terms and abbreviations. Some days I just write down the ones I hear…and the ones I have to ask about because I don’t know them. It’s an industry’s way of ensuring that outsiders don’t get admitted. Like the secret handshake kids might form when they’re 6 before allowing anybody into their clubhouse. It’s equally immature, too. Look around at the terms in your industry. Write down a few. Unless you have zero sense of humor you’ll chuckle before you get 6 of them written down.
Okay, so the vocabulary is so critical to your business that you must have somebody with industry-specific knowledge, otherwise, they’ll have no idea what’s being said? I can’t tell you how many organizations I’ve walked into where I had no idea what their vocabulary looked like. I’m a bright guy, but I’m not a genius. It won’t take me more than a handful of hours to get it. But you think you need somebody with multiple years inside your space?
Another common answer I get when I ask about some specific requirement, like an MBA – and I ask, “How is that going to help this person perform at a high level inside your company?” – is steeped in what other people think. The answers can vary, but sometimes it’ll be as generic as “all our leadership team members have MBA’s.” Other times it’ll be, “We believe it lends to greater credibility with the team.” To quote Chris Farley’s SNL motivational speaker character, Matt Foley, “Well, loddy-friggin’ dah!”
Are you seeing the problem yet?
Cookie cutter. Everybody fits in a mold. Let’s all look the same. Let’s talk the same. Let’s think the same. Let’s continue getting what we’ve always got.
You’re a smart person. You’ve learned by now that if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten. Right now the Dallas Cowboys are in southern California for training camp. Jerry Jones has said the same thing for over 20 years. He’s optimistic. The team has great character. They’ve got youth. Blah, blah, blah. In 20 years they’ve won a single playoff game. ONE. Two decades of on-the-field failure if you don’t count a winning season where you win more than you lose as a barometer of success. And here in Dallas, the fan base does not count that as a success. We’ve got 30-year-old young people roaming around here who have no memory of the Dallas Cowboys winning a Super Bowl. Financially, the team has done an outstanding job, but where the fans measure success — complete failure.
The reason? Nothing changes. It’s rinse and repeat. Season after season. Same verbiage. Same empty promises. Maybe your company looks much the same. Every year you aim to be better. You talk a big game. But you’re hiring the same folks your competitors are hiring. You’ve benchmarked the same stuff they have. And you think you’re different. How? When everybody in your industry is doing the same thing, the same way, with the same kind of people…how?
I love the industry knowledge argument because it’s so easy to shoot down. I just mention one founder’s name and his company. It goes something like this with me asking what that industry-specific knowledge does for the company. “It’s important that people have a working knowledge of how our industry works. If people don’t understand the nature of our work and our problems, then how will they be able to contribute to making us better?”
Me: “Let me give you the name of one founder and his company.”
Me: “Jeff Bezos. Amazon.”
The most hardheaded owners will respond, “We’re different.”
Yeah, right. You’re different than Barnes & Noble, Toys R Us, Kmart, Sears and Yellow Cab. But you know, they’re right. They are different. Different from whom is the question. Different from Amazon and the other winners in the market who aim to hire the best people who will foster curiosity, thoughtful approaches to opportunities and challenges and who will climb in a boat to work with and alongside other people until the job is done.
Alred P. Sloan famously said it best, “Take my assets — but leave me my organization and in five years I’ll have it all back.” Sloan was the head of GM for many years. His 1963 book, My Years With General Motors, is still a classic.
In 1925 he said this, “I never give orders. I sell my ideas to my associates if I can. I accept their judgment if they convince me, as they frequently do, that I am wrong. I prefer to appeal to the intelligence of a man rather than attempt to exercise authority over him.”
Still think those requirements are requirements for your company’s progress and growth? Or do you think you may be able to deploy some creative thinking and new approaches to find people who fit your culture in a way where they can enhance it and add value?
Adding value is the thing. Disrupt your hiring practices before a competitor forces you to.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!