Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Island of Misfit Toys

As a manager, one of the jobs you sometimes have to do is hire people (we've talked about firing, and various aspects of hiring, so go with me here). Sometimes it's just one, sometimes you are replacing someone, and sometimes you are building a team from scratch.

I currently work in consulting; I often end up having to pull together a team from available co-workers within the vendor company or hire people to join the vendor company and, specifically, my team.

When I was building a team in the last year, I was talking about people I'd worked with in the past with interest in possibly bringing them to the new company where I work. Like all people, they have their quirks: some were socially anxious, others were under confident, others were overconfident, too talkative, not talkative enough, brilliant at switching between multiple items but less good at focusing on one...the gambit of positive and negatives you get when humans are involved. I had, in the past, worked with each one of them to highlight what made them good at what they did, and then tried as hard as I could give them that thing to do, as often as possible.

Working together, this had built me a rock steady team: people who were invested in me as a manager and the team as a whole because we'd worked to fine them a place where they could shine. Many of them knew that their negative traits were sometimes considered before their positive ones, and were extremely happy to find out that this team, and I, did not value them that way.

As I was discussing the values of working with various folks, I was interrupted and told that, given that I had a blank slate for hiring, I did not have to work with the "Island of Misfit Toys." No trains with square wheels or polka dotted elephants: I could hire to fit the job, instead of manipulating the job to fit the people.

So that's what I did.

Roll forward more than six months, and I realize that I'm currently Queen of the Island of Misfit toys, again, despite having the "power to hire for the gig."  This is because--simple lesson here--everyone is basically a Misfit. It's just a matter of time before you figure out how. With my former Island-mates, I knew that the train's wheels were square and I could arrange for his duties to not involve travel;  groked that the Jack-in-the-Box didn't always perform, so I arranged for work that involved him either being solidly in the box or out of it. With the new Misfits, I had to figure out what the deficits were, with them, and work with them to find them the work that suited them best.

This is not to say that people are the sum of their deficiencies, anymore than it is to say that they are the sum of everything their good at. At the end of the day, they're people; like the toys (who were not, technically people, but go with me on this metaphor) from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, they want to be liked for who they are, and not what people expected them to be.

So I don't have the go-getter with ADHD anymore, or the quietly brilliant no-self confidence architect, or the teacher who was always right but who never stopped lecturing, but I do have a new crop of folks. They are funny, and brilliant, and definitively infinity shaped pegs trying to fit into round holes.

You don't HAVE to pick from the Island of Misfit toys--people that you know, and know about--but don't for a moment expect that careful interviewing (the most careful of interviews are what...2-3 hours with a person?) will produce people without their own unique features and talents, their own deficits and their own credits. Sometimes the a walk on the the wild side is the right direction to go in, and sometimes the familiar part of the Island is the best way to run into and help/be helped by the doll that thought nobody loved her.

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