The Learning Spotlight
The Least Common Denominator
By John Grubbs
I have always believed and often teach the virtues of hiring the best person for the job. My naivety has also led me to believe that most “right-minded” managers agree with this simple premise. Organizational talent is the foremost indicator of long-term success in the game of business. The team with the best players will win the most games. Blah, blah, blah!
I recently experienced something remarkable in my life as a speaker, author and business coach. It was painful like a toothache that just would not go away. I tried to ignore the reality of its presence but simply postponed the inevitable. The existence of this knowledge became something I could no longer ignore. I stirred with this information until I finally had to verbalize my newly formed opinion
about the contemporary view of talent in a typical organization.
Like most HR (human resource) types, I had been boiled (as in the frog and the water) to the point of accepting that we always seek the best talent for the team. I had been certain that most managers agreed with this simple idea. I actually wondered why something so vivid in my own mind was cloudy in the mind of struggling leaders. I could not imagine an organization that didn’t want the best talent
money could buy. After all, the modern resume and behavioral interviewing techniques along with testing and personality profiles all lead us to the very logical conclusion that we are searching for that “one” right and often best candidate to do the job.
And, yes I really believed the hype. Until that day of course! That day changed my thinking completely. I was enjoying a relaxing afternoon by the pool of a beautiful hotel on the Texas coast. I had spoken that morning at a large convention and the reception of my message was very well received by the audience. I was basking both in the sunlight and the success
of my work that morning.
While sitting by the pool, I resumed reading the book I had purchased for the trip. I had heard good things about the book by Seth Godin called Linchpin and was enjoying the read. This book changed my thinking and started my figurative toothache about selecting and hiring people. My interpretation of Godin’s message is a very powerful and bitter pill for me to swallow.
Since the industrialization of this country one hundred years ago, we have been on a path to find the least common denominator (LCD) in most organizations. In other words, most companies seek the employee with the predetermined maximum amount of knowledge and capability that meets a minimum requirement to perform the work that is needed. This LCD has resulted in the creation of
systems that minimize the need for human excellence and in some cases human existence.
From the start of mass production to the robotics and computers of the present, we have slowly become a culture that works very hard to limit our dependence on human talent. In fact, modern manufacturing has so little dependence on the human element that it can be shipped to almost any country in the world where the value of human talent is almost free by most standards.
We avoid the extremely talented individuals because they are more expensive and usually harder to manage. These “Linchpins” as Godin explains are often challenging due to their higher level of capability and talent. They know their own value and are not threatened by the same “stick” and often require a larger “carrot” to perform. We quickly
“cull” these candidates as overqualified for the position. We justify the action by stating these people would not stick around or stay with the company very long anyway.
Over and over, the typical company looks for any edge that will allow them to hire a less skilled and often more affordable employee. Higher modern turnover and the generational changes accelerate this thinking. We use pictures on cash registers to count change so the employee need not count. We undervalue the great customer service of days gone by. We have replaced the beauty of the artist with the
affordability and predictability of the assembly line. And sadly, we set a budget for wages based upon a theoretical average that is based in accounting or industrial engineering rather than an examination of the potential talent on the team.
I know what you are probably thinking, and you are correct! This is NOT always true. There are companies that do seek and value human talent and creativity. But, you have to honestly admit that these companies are the exception rather than the rule. Finding an organization that places human talent at the core of the competitive advantage is challenging. Examine your own organization for a
moment, are the font-line employees truly valued or has the human element (HU) become another commodity that can be easily replaced?
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