Warning. This article may challenge your sense of value and self-importance.
The lifeboat test
Imagine that you and a group of familiar colleagues are on a sinking ship far from land. Luckily there are lifeboats aplenty. However time is short, and amongst the drama you need to decide which lifeboat to get into. More than likely one of the factors in making your choice will be which of your colleagues are getting into the different lifeboats.
You will probably base this on a balance of your colleagues’ known skills and their personalities. In an ideal world both will be positive and helpful given the situation.
What though if no-one has both known skills and great personalities? Do you head for:
- Lifeboat 1, with colleagues you like but have no noticeable relevant skills to help you navigate a stormy sea, or
- Lifeboat 2, with colleagues with relevant skills and knowledge but who usually demonstrate negative behaviours, or
- Lifeboat 3, with a mixture of the two?
Most people will probably plumb for Lifeboat 3, thereby benefitting from some emotionally positive experiences with people they like, whilst also relying on the expertise of others to help them get safely home, though secretly wishing they’d jump ship.
But is Lifeboat 3 always the right way to go, and what can your business learn from this?
Often businesses operate along similar lines to the lifeboats scenario, hoping for individuals demonstrating supportive behaviours whilst bringing necessary skills to the task at hand. Usually though they end up with Lifeboat 3, accepting some undesirable traits so long as the task gets performed.
The problem with this approach however is that even nominal rain-makers can create deserts elsewhere unless carefully managed. Individuals with negative behaviours can have a detrimental impact on the well-being and performance of others, and can be a liability to teams, departments and ultimately businesses.
In such circumstances only two recourses should follow – either encourage and support a new set of positive behaviours, or remove draught-makers as quickly as possible and replace them with someone else.
A & A v Experience
I once interviewed a candidate for a role that in the main required analytical skills, knowledge of rules and regulations, and background experience within a similar environment. Frankly she only had one of these requirements (analytical skills) but she got the job none-the-less. Why? Because she showed huge enthusiasm and an ability to learn quickly and apply herself. She turned out to be one of the best hires I ever made.
In other words, attitude and aptitude trumped skills and knowledge, because the latter can be learned whilst personality traits, good or bad, tend to be more hard-wired.
Compare this though to the usual job advert requiring a range of related experience, this, that and the other, with perhaps one or two desirable characteristics tossed in as an afterthought.
Recruitment too often has it the wrong way around, and so can internal promotions where in the eyes of most, poor behaviours are rewarded.
When it’s not rocket science
Accepting of course that some roles might also require certain aptitudes (a head for heights or figures, a steady hand, empathy etc), the truth is that most people can learn most skills given sufficient guidance and application. It’s just a matter of time.
This might be a challenging supposition but unless you’re designing rockets, most functions aren’t rocket science and don’t need rocket scientists, no matter how much we want to play up our self-importance and worth, and the supposed complexity of our roles, even at senior levels. Experience can have relevance but it will only go so far.
Sharing the trust
So take the lifeboat scenarios again, but this time imagine you now have more time to reflect, there are plenty of provisions and a set of instructions that if followed will safely get you home.
Hurrah you realise, you and anyone else can read the instructions and apply your intelligence. You don’t have to join anyone who’s behaviour you find destructive, and instead you can thrive in the company of helpful colleagues whilst you all help navigate the boat to safety.
If your workplace is similar to the new Lifeboat 1, then well done to you and to your colleagues. What you and they have come to realise is that even in the foulest conditions, with instruction, attitude and aptitude are pretty much everything. EVERYTHING.
Matthew Still is a legal services consultant with expertise in management, strategy, innovation, and business development.