Experience Vs. Pedigree

Experience Vs. Pedigree by Dr. Robert Gerwig

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CORPORATE HUMAN RESOURCE ORGANIZATIONS AND EXECUTIVE LEADERS ARE WRONG in their approach to selecting good people. … I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be so pedantic. I should have used the term, Human Capital or Talent Management. Nothing so dull as “people.”

Recently while traveling through O’Hare, I was taken aback by the handrails on the escalator. Why? Well, first of all they were blue. How dare they! Everyone knows the handrails are supposed to be black. Just ask Henry Ford. Worse still, they had advertising on them. Yes, just like the floors of the supermarket and the field of my favorite NFL team (at least on TV). You can’t get away from adverting. It’s everywhere!

The same is true of leadership and books on leadership. There is a ton of material out there. Much of it wrong. Including how to find, attract, develop, and retain talent. Much of it written by people who have never “been out there and done it!”

Many of these leadership books and leadership “experts” talk about finding “A ” players and “topgrading” the organization. While I have nothing against the idea of finding, attracting, developing, and retaining good people (in fact, it’s absolutely essential to sustainable business success!), I do have a problem with how much of this “talent literature” has been interpreted and put into practice by HR organizations in the corporate world. A couple of key criteria that are being used to define an “A” player are their looks and their academic pedigree (in particular, the Tier 1 MBA). Those who are tasked to find leadership talent (namely HR organizations) are focusing on the superficial, what looks good on the outside, not character, not substance, not proven experience. Reminds me of the Israelites selecting Saul to be their first king.

I was recently involved with a large corporation that looked to the outside for its next business Vice President. Despite the fact that there were many in the organization with proven experience, proven character, proven leadership skills, industry knowledge, and strong academic credentials (including the coveted MBA), the HR “leaders” AND executive leadership decided it must have a young, good-looking, tall, Tier-1 MBA. So, it went out and got one. A young man with a “high potential” label, excellent outward appearance, and the “right” academic pedigree.

Shortly after his arrival, this young VP was talking with one of the plant managers and asking a couple questions (did I mention the VP had never managed a large organization before nor been responsible for manufacturing). It was apparent that he didn’t really know what he was asking but the seasoned plant manager was trying his best to answer the VP’s STUPID questions. Finally, the VP said, “well, I’ve never managed a manufacturing operation or been in a plant much, but I did take a course in operations during my MBA.” Really! Not joking! He said that! I almost died on the spot.

Later, it was discovered that this hot-shot VP, had never been part of an organization that had actually MADE any money. The company he left, had LOST money every year he had been there.

So, a guy with a losing track record, who had never managed more than a handful of sales reps and pricing analysts, comes from outside the industry and takes over a $200MM business because he is young, looks good, and has a Tier 1 MBA. … I don’t need to tell you how the story ends, except to say – badly!
We need to get REAL or we (as a nation) are going to be in real trouble. The HR bigwigs and executive leaders have it WRONG. … Appearance is NOT a substitute for character. … Potential is NOT a substitute for proven experience. … Pedigree is NOT a substitute for substance.

What do you look for when hiring someone? … Do you let appearance take precedence over character and proven experience? As leaders, we need good people. Are you completely delegating the selection process to HR? Or do you own the process? Step up and do it the right way. Go against the grain. Take control. Avoid getting swayed by outward appearance and pedigree. Look for substance, character, proven experience.

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