You are using an outdated browser. For a faster, safer browsing experience, upgrade for free today.


Top Talent Is Fungible: You need G.A.S.


Are you looking for industry experience when hiring? If so, I plan to challenge your thinking and hope to change your mind when we finish this time together. A friend of mine named Scott Hardegree introduced me to a concept called G.A.S. regarding the people we hire and retain at work. G.A.S. is an acronym for Gives A S@!t. Scott and I are ex-military, so the language is less offensive. For this intellectual work, I toned things down. We were deep in a conversation when he shared this gem, and the language is too sticky not to share it with you. 

Let us return to the question regarding industry experience. I see the value of someone knowing your industry or sector, and I understand the attraction. However, you can miss a vast talent opportunity by limiting the scope of your search for top performers. Additionally, the limitations of this type of search in any scarce employment market may force companies to select experience over G.A.S. The temptation is most likely to trap the average hiring manager, and they will make the wrong hiring decision. People with mediocre talent and industry expertise may seem justified. This tactic is a big mistake!

What is fungible, you might be asking? Fungibility is the ability of a good or asset to be interchanged with other individual goods of the same type. In other words, like money has fungibility, top performers are fungible in the sense they can interchange across different industries with success. When given a choice, always select G.A.S. over experience.

Industry experience does have value, but it lacks much fungibility. It is valuable and limited by the industry in which it exists. By name, it represents explicitly the industry you are describing. If you are looking for manufacturing experience, you will not select healthcare experience or vice versa.

Before you get frustrated with this thinking, there is a difference between industry experience and credentials to perform a specific job. The credentials to be a pilot can exist in both the airline and crop-dusting industries. The credentials to be an engineer can live in the automotive and manufacturing industries. Specialization is not insignificant as a subordinate to the generalization of any given field. We want surgeons and pilots with experience; however, they are not limited by their specialization unless they choose to be. A top talent engineer can effectively operate a daycare. Engineers also make wonderful bakers, I have heard.

The problem all starts with the limitations of seeking experience first. It is not insignificant, yet we place too much emphasis on job experience when recruiting talent. I think we use the work history to make the search for top talent easier on ourselves to the organization's detriment. In other words, it is more convenient to find a salesperson with computer experience in the world of computing because they are in the same grouping and easier to find, thus limiting the scope of our search. As a result, we unintentionally avoid selecting exceptional sales talent who could become rock stars with some training.

Additionally, we seek industry experience as a shortcut because our organization lacks effective training programs. Instead of training smart people with G.A.S., we opt for relevant work history and hope they become adequate performers on our team. Ouch! 

Think of it this way. You posted a position for a department manager. Four people apply, and only one has five years of industry experience. Three seem eager to learn with G.A.S.; if all three lack experience, who gets selected most often?

Defaulting toward experience over other considerations is the problem. Our companies pay dearly for the mediocrity this perpetuates. In the same way, athleticism is fungible in most sports early in life. If someone has a high level of athleticism, they can learn to play almost any sport with time and practice. Strength, speed, and coordination are predictors of success in most sports.

G.A.S., combined with other traits like intelligence, grit, and a good work ethic, are far superior to any industry experience. Discretionary effort is the effort provided beyond the required effort. In other words, the effort gets provided without consideration for pay. It is intrinsic motivation, as described by Daniel Pink.

"When the reward is the activity itself—deepening learning, delighting customers, doing one's best—there are no shortcuts." `Daniel Pink

Five years of bad experience is difficult to assess during interviews. Consider the following example. An airline ticket agent with five years of experience applies for a job with another airline. For five years, she worked for a strict, rule-focused, and rigid company with a high emphasis on following company policy as the top priority. Customer service was a much lower priority at her previous job. How long will it take her to unlearn that experience if customer delight is the highest priority at the new airline?

Make experience an optional feature when hiring. Look for evidence of G.A.S. first. What does this person care about in life? What have or are they doing to master their craft? Credentials matter as a minimum qualification for sure. It would be best if you learned accounting to be a successful accountant. Following is one more quote from Daniel Pink:

One of the best predictors of ultimate success isn't natural talent or industry expertise but how you explain your failures and rejections. ~Daniel H. Pink

Top talent, also referred to as "A" players, are fungible. If you can find and attract these people, your odds of success are much better. Hire for attitude and train for skill. The best people are proud of the lessons learned through failure. They wear rejection proudly because they G.A.S.