Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Work Life: Hire Character. Train Skill.

"Hire Character. Train Skill" ~ Peter Schutz

I saw this quote on LinkedIn and thought it interesting. Although it sounds nice, I have rarely found any company that train any skill sets. Maybe that is because of my limited knowledge of different companies. I would guess that I know about 10-15 companies.

Even with that said, character is still very important in the dynamics of a company. For example, I work very well in an open-knowledge environment where people share information and their knowledge. This is very evident in my current role where the group is slowly converting contractors with employees.

Although it is odd that contractors are more open about their work, I think the main contribution to this difference is the age group. The contractors are a much younger generation than the transferring employees. The employees are coming from a very old technology group that is slowly phased out.

It makes business sense from a 1000 foot view why this transition is happening, so I am not going to delve too much into that. What I find interesting is that the incoming employees are very possessive of their work, but not aggressively possessive. By this, I mean that there are small nuances in their behaviors that make it more difficult for our group to adapt to certain issues.

On top of that, they are very compartmentalized in their view of their roles. Before, we share some responsibilities when we are overwhelmed with a certain task. Thus, we were somewhat interchangeable in our roles. If one of us were out, someone else could easily back up for a small period of time. Now, the new employees are very reluctant to explain what they do and very reluctant to take other work. Oftentimes, they just say that they are too busy with their work.

What I really dislike about this is that meetings now require more people which in turn makes it less effective for each person on the call. Today, there is a call that requires three people from our group because it impacts three different roles. One of the roles is more encompassing the other two which was assigned to one of the employees.

I have been trying to explain that she was the only person needed from the call because she has access to our data. We only contribute about 5 minutes worth value to a 30+ minutes meeting. Although I've explained this, she says that she is too busy to know that information thus requiring us on the call.

It may be possible that she is very slow in this, but I used to manage her role, the one I have now, and other roles. I used to do all that before without a lot of problems (yes, I am not fully utilized now but I use the time to learn the technology and help with other more value-adding processes). Thus, I have a very hard time understanding why she does not have time for something that took me about 4 hours a week to do (I tracked that because her predecessor also had the same time issue).

Even if I was wrong in my assumption and she really is busy, she is also on my daily calls that provides the status to the very information that she needs and something she should be tracking. Of course her excuse is that she is multitasking so does not know what is going on. First, my list is a subset of hers thus there is really no reason for her not to ever be doing something else. In other words, all my items are relevant to her list. Second, if she does not get anything from my meeting then she should not need to join my meeting.

Basically, the newcomers are not as focused in making our time more effective. With each new person, this pattern seem to be normal and also seem to be acceptable. At the same time, the general feel within our entire project group is that quality seem to be decreasing. This has been going on for over half a year.

I guess that was a long way of ranting and saying that character is important because it changes the dynamics of the group. And sadly, I'm not sure if it is better to hire character than skills. Although skills can be taught and character may have greater impact, my reluctance is our ability to understand someone's character within a short interview process. Even then, can any character pick up the required skills needed?