I often hear leaders like myself saying things like “what we really need is someone to help us with ____, so we need to go hire someone who does ____.” While hiring an expert is often a good idea, and can even reap tremendous gains for the organization, “more overhead” is often used as an excuse for why the organization cannot address what they need help with. It can even lead to the organizational mindset of being stuck – “we can’t move forward unless we get our costs in-line so that we can afford person x, otherwise we are stuck.”
There are two problems with this mindset.
First, it fails to uncover hidden talent on the team. Turned into a question, what skills do some of our team members possess that can be leveraged for the overall benefit of the team? For example, does a sales person excel in developing new accounts? If so, shouldn’t I, the leader, help them manage their schedule so that they spend the majority of their time doing this, rather than spending time in day-to-day account management? While this may sound obvious, what I have found is that leaders are often pressured to bow to what I refer to as traditional role stereotypes. For example, the idea that the sales person should handle all aspects of their accounts, thus they may have to sacrifice some of their time building new relationships to manage their accounts effectively. But it doesn’t end there either. Because the sales person does this, the rest organization stays in its lane – the rest of the sales team acts the same, rather than leveraging each of its individual strengths, and the supporting services (like customer service) stay in their lane doing the “traditional” functions of their roles. For some individual team-members, this might be the appropriate path forward. But, and this is a big but, what if there are unhidden talents, like a customer service team-member with an acumen and desire to sell, that go unseen because they are told to stay in their lanes?
Does this mean they have to wait until the next job opening comes up?
This leads to the second problem with the stuck mindset. Not only does it fail to uncover hidden talent on the team, it also fails to provide the opportunity for that talent to be leveraged. “More” does not automatically mean “better.” For example, in the case above, I could hypothetically add another sales person to the roster so that the organization reaches more customers. But doing so would come at a cost to the organization. Besides the fixed costs of adding overhead, it would cost others the opportunity to step up and develop their skills. Conversely, if I challenged the sales person to give up some of the day-to-day account management, the best two options would be to hire another account manager, or find someone else on the team who could contribute. Embracing the latter not only uncovers the hidden talent on the team, but provides the opportunity to bring it out. Moreover, it also helps the organization become leaner instead of relying on the traditional ways “we have always done things.”
Ultimately, it is up to the leader to recognize when the organization would be better served by adding the expert. The point is that is only one path forward.
The organization will need to think differently about how it is already doing things, and how it does things in the future. Like Major League Baseball Teams embracing more “hybrid” roles (players who can play multiple positions), so too will we have to figure out how to manage escalating costs (healthcare, etc.) by leveraging team members that can do more than one thing. I believe this will not only make us better, it will also offer more opportunity for our team members to develop and cultivate their own skills.
And seeing people grow may be the best part of leadership.