Want Your Company To Survive? Just Say NO To Hiring One Trick Ponies!

Want your company to survive? Just say NO to hiring specialists!In the last 12 years, I watched the market change as often as a teenager’s mood-swings. What was hot yesterday is old news today. From technologies to methodologies, change is constant and accelerating with every passing day.  No one is immune, be it startups or the big boys.

The survival of organizations depends on flexibility, adaptability, and sustainable costs. So why do so many companies still hire “one trick ponies”?  This is the most expensive route to pursue and I see several problems common to such a human capital model:

  • The market is run by supply and demand, so chasing the few people with a specific (and often limited) skill set is very expensive. Add the higher than usual salaries/rates, signing bonuses (yes, according to my recruiter friends, they still do exist), and recruiting costs, and profitability starts getting hurt.
  • Let us not forget that you need a collection of “one trick ponies” to do the job, since most don’t venture outside of their specialty.
  • The vast majority of the usual specialists are not methodology/technology agnostic. The heavy personal investment that comes with learning a particular methodology, technology, etc., makes most (I have met) not capable of being impartial and recognizing when other approaches could produce better results.
  • Once the current “bleeding edge” becomes passé, companies are spending again on the “replacement costs” for a new crop of “one trick ponies”.

I am sorry, but I am not surprised at how many companies are going under now with their armies of specialists with no capability outside their specialization. They can’t adapt fast enough! Entrenchment leads to one thing – the inability to serve the changing needs of the customers.

So what should companies do? Here are several suggestions I have come up with after countless interactions with entrepreneurs, human capital professionals, and leaders of large organizations:

•We are better off hiring and nurturing employees who are willing to constantly learn from others, expand their knowledge, and stay relevant for the organization. Yes, it is VERY hard to hire such talent. Yes, we all need to roll up our sleeves and look for people who are inquisitive, curious, and non-complacent. It goes far beyond creating job descriptions and being able to filter out resumes. One must develop the ability to read people, or get the heck out of recruiting and hiring.

•Hire people who are best practice/solution agnostic. In order to stay agnostic/impartial, one must not be over-invested in one particular skill area. Hire for the breadth of knowledge, not for a rigid skill set.

Individuals who fit the mentioned characteristics will be able to adapt with the organization when change is needed.

This is the case for organizations of ALL sizes. Startups, small, and medium businesses are very vulnerable to the “addiction” to mentioned kind of specialists. Smart larger organizations have long adopted job rotations, lateral moves, and other techniques to keep their talent well rounded, which definitely has contributed to their growth. I have seen several large organizations who don’t hire MBAs (there is nothing wrong with MBAs, unless that is all the breadth of education they have), look for diverse majors, test for ability to think creatively, don’t allow long tenures in the same job or department, and rotate staff trough different functions.

So, in this era of constant change, let us not get caught with our proverbial pants down and get behind the curve. The age of one trick ponies is over.

Photo credit: Carsten Tolkmit

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