Saturday, July 25, 2009

Who do I get on board? The skill vs. experience dilemma

One interesting tension I noticed in complex Risk management organizations is apparent in job descriptions: the big difference in relying on experience vs. skills. Makes sense - when building a team, in most cases you're looking for the seasoned professional that can hit the ground running and scale to meet expectations in no time, while leaving time to hire inexperienced, cheap recruits further down the road.

I'm not underestimating experience and this is not another plea to let these talented young people run the business. However, there are some caveats to focusing on experience only:
  • Experienced people bring their past, for better or for worse. Yes, they are experienced, but they are also very dependant on what worked for them in the past, whether it matches your new org or it doesn't. You get less flexibility when you hire for experience only. So, when you do, look for someone with the right experience and, sometimes, acknowledge that there is no-one with the right experience, because your business is that unique -and you need to promote someone from inside the org with a fresh view.
  • Experienced people bring their ego and know-how to the table. Put a few of these in the same room, and what do you get? Endless discussion, much less agreement. When you're hiring for experience, make sure you hire a group that's not too heterogeneous.
  • Experienced people tend to hire people from the same school o thought. How do you refrain from groupthink? Well, understand this and you've got a cornerstone for top performing teams. You need to make sure your experts are sometimes out of their comfort zones, because if they're not, you'll get a replication of their old work place.
  • Finally, experienced people underestimate formal training in the work place. Why? Because they've seen it all. Not having a decent training program (very common practice in the hi-tech industry) gets you to the point where each person speaks their own language, and a tower of Babylon in far from the ideal way for properly managing risk.

If you have a unique blend of risks in your org, if you have a new language to develop, if you need a fresh look at things, do not underestimate hiring young, inexperienced yet talented people, and trusting them with aspects of your operation. Do not, however, forget that by doing so you must commit to proper training, documentation and feedback – or else you’ll get all the childhood sicknesses you can ever imagine. Balancing your org to be a flexible Risk Management unit is a tough job.


Tzvi said...

Hi Ohad,

A very enjoyable post that exceeds the scope of Risk management to a common managerial dilemma that often is not uttered when staffing requirements are composed.

I personally in the last few days struggling as each person in the expert team brings his personal past experience to the view of how the product should be.

Tzvi Katz

Ohad Samet said...

Thanks Tzvi,

How do you balance opposite expert opinions when making product decisions?

Tzvi said...

Hi Ohad,

That's a tough question which is not easily answered and usually treated at case by case approach.

After the first rivalry where people try to find how the proposed solution would not work or not feasible, and the weak ideas are filtered out, the general approach is to break down each suggestion to its pro's and con's list and examine the following criteria:
1. Ease of implementation
2. Complexity/Performance complient
3. Generic solution which could be extended/modified in the future.
4. Additional criteria that fits the specific issue.

We had found that when you analyze each proposal with generally agreed objective criteria during one sit down the possibility to agree on a single solution grows.

Ohad Samet said...

Sounds good, and indeed making decisions is easier when you have a set of criteria derived from common domain expertise (which is missing in the finance/statistics based world of risk management). Thanks!