Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Schools of Experience - Developing Yourself and Selecting Talent

During holidays I really like to spend time with a good book and this Thanksgiving was no different.  I am reading (and re-reading) Clayton Christensen's book:  How Will You Measure Your Life?  This book is a fantastic read and it uses models of operation to help guide you in both your personal and professional life.  I may call on this in future postings but today I want to discuss his chapter on selecting talent called: The Schools of Experience.

In this chapter, Professor Christensen discusses how one should look at their careers and subsequently how someone should look at hiring talent.  The old model of climbing a ladder is no longer useful in a "flat" world (using Thomas Friedman's analogy and applying to corporate America).  Most organizations are extremely flat - especially relative to years ago - and this means it is a collection of experiences which will both drive your career and should drive your selection of talent.   He has many examples but let me provide two from my own career:

Transition from the Military:

The military was a fantastic place to both give back to the Country and also to accumulate many experiences:  Leadership, operating in stressful environments, fast decision making, and I could go on.  Truly, I cannot imagine any civilian business giving better experiences at those situations than the military.

However, the military does not provide a lot of financial experience, profit and loss experience or business competition experience (There is, after all, only one Pentagon!).  So, when the opportunity presented itself, I moved into the business world.  In that world I have experienced all the items I mention above.  Was it a "promotion"?  If measured by wages, true cost of living, or titles it could have actually  been considered a demotion.  If measured by gathering huge experiences which I could not get in the military, it was a huge promotion!

Transition from "Big Company" to Entrepreneurial Company:

The skills required to work in a big company with large well established processes are completely different than those required in the small and entrepreneurial world.  So, using the theory of "experiences" I decided I wanted that small experience even though I was in a well established executive position at a great company.

Using supply chain metrics, was it a promotion?  I went from managing 14M square feet of warehouse space to 6M square feet.  I went from $300M+ of transportation spend to $80M.  To the stereotypical person, this could be seen as a "lesser role".  Trust me, it was not!

I quickly learned the skills used in a large company are close to useless in a small, everyone does the work, entrepreneurial and "scrappy" company.  The experiences I gained at this smaller company could never have been attained in the larger, well established company.  And, if I were to just do what I did in the large company in the entrepreneurial company, I would have failed.   I had to adapt, learn, gather new experiences and apply them to the unique issues.

What does this mean for talent acquisition:

Even today with the sophisticated human resources (HR) departments I still find people rely on the "ladder" model versus the "experiences" model. For example, if you were hiring for a start up company would it matter that someone become a SVP in a multi-billion dollar company?  That person has incredible experience (and has been successful) in delegation, building staff, using sophisticated ERP such as SAP etc.

What this person lacks is start up skills.  Can they do a lot of the work themselves?  How will they perform without "staff"?  Etc.  The "ladder" model shows that this person is a great pick but the "experiences" model shows the person to be lacking in a number of major areas.


We can use the "experiences" model to guide both our careers (choose experiences over perceived promotions) and we can use it in talent selection.  It tells a different story when this is applied versus the "ladder" model.  My advice for those starting their careers is to work to get many different experiences and work to stitch together a set of skills, acquired by experiences, that will serve in you in a multitude of settings. This will ultimately serve you better than "climbing the ladder". 

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