Thursday, October 27, 2005

On Hiring: Learning versus Skilz

I recently replied to an IBJ "rapid response" on what was the most important aspect in hiring someone. As a knee-jerk reaction, I stated "ability to learn" thinking in the traditional corporate sense that we can teach a job to someone but how they fit in to our work style is just as critical. I still am a huge believer in work style being a primary criteria for hiring. In a small business, where every hire counts, there's just not room for someone who can't perform the job because they're too busy trying to change our culture.

That said, it did lead me to think of what is *really* most critical for small business start-up hiring: knowledge of the job. Honestly, at this stage, each person we hire has to have the skill set -- and be really good -- before we'd even consider whether they could learn about our business, our philosophies, and our styles. Every new employee in a start-up has to perform -- frankly, they need to overperform. There's just no economic option if they don't. (Remember the rule: Hire slow. Fire fast.)

I haven't posted much about it, but I've become really fascinated with generational issues in the workplace today. You'll hear more from me about this in the next few months -- especially with regard to Indiana's growing genx population, corporate hiring shifts, brain drain, and more. But the bottom line is that while genxers are leaving corporations in droves for more entrepreneurial work-styles, the next generation isn't filling in.

In the next 20 years, corporate America is going to face an workplace exodus like they've never experienced before. As Boomers retire, and genx-ers (a generation half the size of the Boomer generation) continue to leave, large corporations are going to have to retool how -- and who -- they hire. And it's not necessarily going to be middle class, white Generation Y. The next largest generation (same size as the Boomers) are averse to corporate jobs -- especially lower level ones. A unique profiled trait of this generation is that they don't want to (or expect to have to) "pay dues" the way earlier generations have. Add into the mix educated minority workers who'll be dominating the workforce in 10 years, and you have an interesting question of what the corporate workplace will look like. American business is going to have a large number of essentially unskilled, but educated, workers coming into play in the next 20 years.

So, in my next start-up in 10 years, am I going to have the luxury of hiring someone in my specialty or industry based on skill? Probably not. Am I going to have to get very used to taking a leap of faith and training someone to be a good copy editor or sales person? Probably. But taking the leap of faith based on the person alone isn't something that much different than what I'm asking people to do with me (and my partners). As for the question, if I could change my answer, I probably would. However, I'm not sure American business is quite ready for the what they don't want to hear. I'm already sick of some of the traditional small business/entrepreneurial websites and blogs that specialize in answers you're supposed to know and that corporate America has trained us to want to hear. I'm listening for something new.


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