My last posting discussed the problem of finding a technical leader for a gear company. Except in a few emergency situations, such as the sudden departure of the previous leader, I advocate the development of these key people “in house.” Bringing in an outside “expert” and installing them as the “boss” has worked in some places, but it has failed spectacularly in others.
It is a lot like baseball teams signing top flight pitchers. Some were successful in their previous seasons because they were great pitchers, others because of the way they were used or because the opponents had not yet figured them out. The system players and “one-trick ponies” get exposed quickly and the executives who hired them often pay with their jobs.
Teams that develop talent through their farm systems expect a certain amount of fallout. Great natural talent cannot make up for a poor work ethic or rude interpersonal skills. There is a nice Internet meme making the rounds listing ten things that successful people do every day that require absolutely no talent. I won’t repeat the list here, but I completely agree that talent alone won’t carry a person to the top of the employment ladder.
So when considering whether to hire an experienced technical leader, or develop one “in house,” I suggest looking for passion, curiosity, and work ethic first. We do not know for sure what challenges our companies will face in the years ahead’ the marketplace does not always give us long-term notice of its needs.
Machines and technology change every year. The best technical leaders, like the savviest pitchers, can adapt to the changing game because they understand the fundamentals not the details. You can be coached up on new methods if you truly know the cause and effect of the fundamentals. Make sure your technical people can improvise. Test them under fire with day-to-day projects and strict deadlines. The leaders will make themselves known.