While efficiently allocating resources is a major concern for economists, effectively selecting talents is a major concern for both managers and human resources.
Everything on earth has a value – even if it does not have a price (e.g. air) or is apparently not useful (e.g. garbage) – when put in the right place. Everyone in the universe has his/her unique value – even if he/she has not yet completely uncovered it – when assigned to the right team.
Puzzles illustrate this point vividly. If the shape of a piece does not fit its surrounding pieces, it does not mean that it has no value, rather that it has been misplaced. Value depends on the circumstances and the degree of fit.
Optimizing results through fit
Commerce and M&A are examples of how results can be optimised when fit is existent. In the former case, the merchant places products in places where demand exists and products attain their highest value. In the latter case, value can be created when companies with good fit are put together. The ideal cases I have seen while working at CMC Consulting AG were those in which the owners of the companies knew and admired each other and both their products and sales channels were complementary.
Just as with products and companies, the most ideal results are achieved when the right people are put in the right position and the candidate in question fits with a team and/or organization.
Here is a related short story:
People who have been to buddhist temples know that when they first go in, they are greeted by the Maitreya who is always smiling to the visitors. On Maitreya’s north side, the serious Skanda can be found. According to a legend, they were initially not in the same temple, but rather each was in charge of a different temple.
Maitreya was warm and charming. He could easily attract people to his temple. However, he was careless and did not keep good finances. He could never make his ends meet.
Skanda was too serious and appeared unapproachable to people even if he was good at keeping financial accounts.
When the Buddha became aware of this situation, he put them in the same temple, with Maitreya in charge of public relations and Skanda in charge of the finances. This arrangement has taken into consideration both Maitreya and Skanda’s abilities and personalities. In the end, this decision resulted in a thriving temple.
While this anecdote is well known in China, we can also see that the same procedure is followed by successful western companies, who put their talents where they fit most and do their jobs best.
There is no single list of characteristics that make someone perfect. In fact, imperfection might be the result of our evolution and condition for our survival. The fact that there is no absolute, as illustrated through the Chinese culture’s Yin & Yang, allows a certain “imperfection” to be a desired quality in different circumstances. What in a certain setting might appear negative, e.g. disobeying rules in a certain organization, might be positive in another setting, e.g. breaking conventional thinking and disrupting an industry. Therefore, the question we should ask is not whether we have value, rather where and how to best uncover this value.
Fit with the team
One of the most exciting things besides stranding on an island and figuring out how to survive on one’s own – as Robinson Crusoe did – is the fact that we usually accomplish things through team work.
An internationally known quote says that:
Unity makes strength
This quotation has some truth to it, however, I want to clarify that only the right unity makes strength. If the people who are put together in a group cannot understand each other and constantly have fights, unity will not give strength rather take it away. Only the right mix of people can make strength.
In the British reality television series, The Apprentice, we can see how people who are high quality candidates on their own, can have hard time working towards an objective when they are put together with other candidates. For instance, two people who have very strong opinions and both think they are right, have a difficult time working with each other. This inadequate selection of team members often results in delays, disagreements and unnecessary frustration.
I have been leading teams since primary school. At school, the teachers always assigned me my team members. While I have always managed to deliver results with my teams, I have to acknowledge that some of my groups were much more effective than others. One of the reasons lies in the fact that there is a better fit among certain team members and certain people can work together better towards a certain goal. Our teachers wanted to prepare us to be able to work with everyone, but I learnt with time that to achieve optimal results, we have to work with the right people. If I were given the chance to go back in time, I would talk to my teachers to allow me select my own team members.
Puzzle fit thinking
If I were granted the chance to select my team members, I would use the following puzzle solution thinking:
Puzzle thinking: What puzzle pieces do we already have?
Translation: What is the current circumstance? What resources do we already have? What abilities do we have in the current team?
Puzzle thinking: What is the next puzzle piece we need? How should it look like? How would it have to fit?
Translation: What kind of people do we need next? What should he/she be able to do? What are our own expectations and how would he/she fit with the current team?
Puzzle thinking: Does the selected puzzle piece really fit? If not, reselect a piece and evaluate fit until the next piece is found.
Translation: Does the current candidate really fit with the team? If not, keep on searching until having found the right team member.
Puzzle thinking: Is the puzzle reached? If not, reiterate until the puzzle is complete.
Translation: Do we have the right mix of people and are we moving closer to our goal? If not, we have to adjust the people mix and/or work further towards our goal.
3 qualities to check for fit
A central key in this process is analysis, in particular of the fit of a candidate with the current team members. There are at least 3 things that should be checked:
1. Abilities: This first characteristic is what most people care about. What is the person capable of? What kind of abilities does he/she have? We often see how companies are looking for evidences that a certain person has those abilities. In modern times where only change is the rule, the ability to learn and adapt are much more important than other already acquired abilities.
2. Interests: Do interests somehow match? To what degree are you expecting a potential team member to share your interests? For instance, if a company is going to offer services for the financial industry and an employee were not interested in this industry at all, it might be hard to work together in the long run.
3. Values and attitude: People can work most optimally when they have shared values. For example, I could not work with someone who is not integral and does not value honesty. Attitude also influences the quality of the relationship. For example, could you work happily with someone who did not value cooperation or does not listen to you?
The evaluation of the two latter qualities is most often taken care of by HR departments in large companies. I have heard some people say that this part of the selection process is useless, but how can you overlook interests, values and attitudes when they so heavily affect the day-to-day working environment? These characteristics also contribute to making us unique and will determine if we are going to fit into a new group.
What to do if there is no fit?
Plants that are taken away from their original environment often grow differently in the new field. A same person will also perform and have a completely different experience in one team vs another. The key to unearthing someone’s unique value is by putting him/her in the most appropriate place, where a natural fit between him/her and the surrounding environment exists.
The puzzle thinking process has given us a guideline to getting the right mix of people. But unlike puzzles, which are static unless we bend them, cut them or put fire on them, we have the ability to change. If someone wants to fit somewhere, he/she can either change the environment or change him/herself.
If at the end there is still no fit, either because of a lack of willingness/ability to change oneself or the environment, then it is probably time to leave. We all have an immense value and there is definitely somewhere out there where we fit best.
And for the leaders: do not be afraid of letting someone inappropriate go. Grant him/her the opportunity to find a more suitable place and yourself the possibility to find someone with a better fit, together with whom you can achieve a better result.
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