How's the Team Doing?
Clearly, the goal is the assembly of a bunch of smart, sane, energetic and appropriately ambitious professionals.
But what does smart mean?
Figure 1 (at the bottom of this column) presents at least three kinds of knowledge which, of course, need to be integrated.
Generic, structured knowledge includes facts, concepts, principles and formulae that describe what things are and how they work. Finance is a good generic, structured field. Computer Science is another one. College students major in these fields.
Industry-specific knowledge comes from different sources. A little comes from colleges and universities, but most of it comes from on-the-job experience, training and industry certifications.
Company-specific knowledge comes from time spent in the trenches of your particular corporate domain. We often place great value in institutional memory, but be careful about how easily distorted such memory becomes. People with political agendas are terrific at re-writing history to match their current vested interests.
When we talk about "smart," we're talking about depth in the three knowledge classes as well as the ability to integrate them into insights, inferences and decision-making. But while "intelligence" is fed by integrated knowledge combined with raw intellectual horsepower, energy and ambition are measured independently. Have you ever tried to measure them?
Some of your people are really smart and some are not. Some work at understanding existing and emerging business technology trends, and some don't. Some even work at increasing their natural energy levels, but most don't.
Some want your job; some are clueless. Some are evil; some are sweet. Some got where they are mysteriously; some really earned it. Who are the "keepers"?
If you're in charge, you need a large bag of tricks -- and the will to frequently reach into it for just the right one. There's not too much you can do about raw horsepower -- we're born with the basics -- but there's a lot you can do about the availability and insertion of knowledge, especially industry and firm specific knowledge.
What about the "jerk factor"?
If you're new to an organization -- as I've been several times in my career -- after a week or so of "observation" you begin to make mental lists. One of them is a list of the people who are so far over the top that you find yourself slipping into a state of buyer's remorse, wondering how you could have been so stupid to accept the new position.
People, of course, fall into all sorts of categories. Some are hopelessly rude and arrogant. What do we do about these people (that have buddies just like them all over the place)? What do we do about people that disrupt and undermine? People that complain all of the time? People that have nothing to offer but bitterness, anger and jealousy?
People can be smart, ambitious and energetic, but arrogant and caustic. Who do you want on your staff? To whom do you entrust major business technology initiatives? How do you make the trade-offs?
If you have lots of smart people with no energy or ambition, you have a problem. But it's actually more dangerous if you have dumb people with tons of energy and ambition. The military has known for centuries that officers can be smart and arrogant, but never arrogant and stupid.
When companies are making lots of money, people (and companies) suffer fools amazingly well, but when times get tough, tempers and patience grow short. When times are good, you should find what the jerks do best and isolate them accordingly; when times get tough, you should prune them from your organization. Ask your high performers who they avoid and why they avoid these people. A consensus of opinion usually represents reality.
Use Figure 1 as a scorecard. Grab a handful of darts (with specific names on them) and start firing at the cube on the right. How's the team look? Do they live in the green (or are they stuck in the red)?
Steve Andriole is the Thomas G. Labrecque Professor of Business at Villanova University where he conducts applied research in business/technology convergence. He is also the founder and CTO of TechVestCo, a new-economy consortium that focuses on optimizing investments in information technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Figure 1: The People Placer: An Unbalanced Scorecard