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August 17, 2006

Hiring Super Stars vs Tolerating Turkeys

August 17, 2006 | By | 2 Comments

Microsoft has one real point measurement for hiring.

IQ

Your Business Blogger has hired (computer) coders, sales reps…and government bureaucrats.

When given the option of head count and budget flexibility, I always recommended to my managers to hire the most expensive talent possible — the Super Stars.

Even when hiring government workers.

Into Good and Evil reminds us that when talent really counts, when talent determines life and death, who would get hired? He points us to Professor Kingsley Browne in The Ace and the Turkeys,

“Given the cognitive and temperamental patterns required, it is not surprising to find that the ability to fly aircraft successfully in combat is an ability that not many have. Indeed, it is not an ability that even all combat pilots have. Aviation analysts recognize that the majority of combat kills are scored by a small minority of pilots. Mike Spick has observed: “The gulf between the average fighter pilot and the successful one is very wide. In fact it is arguable that there are almost no average fighter pilots; just aces and turkeys; killers and victims.”

Fighter pilots, like sales guys in a role playing exercise, can practice and give a passable presentation, but,

As one Air Force pilot stated, “Most guys can master the mechanics of the systems, but it’s instinctive to be able to assimilate all the data, get a big picture, and react offensively. Not a lot of guys can do that.”

But the Air Force has a challenge most sales managers don’t: Separating the Aces from the Turkeys,

Ideally, one would have only “aces” or “killers,” leaving the “turkeys” and “victims” to another career path. The difficulty lies, however, in the fact that there is no known way to separate the aces and the turkeys prior to combat. Unfortunately, many of those who will end up being turkeys often do not know what they are getting into. These pilots may have the ability, intelligence, and know-how to fly the plane well, but they ultimately lack the “fighting spirit” that they will need in combat. ”

(Buffalo Law Review,Winter, 2001, 49 Buffalo L. Rev. 51,Women at War: An Evolutionary Perspective By Kingsley R. Browne)

But the hiring manager does have an advantage over an Air Force Wing Commander, the civilian Ace has a track record of Kills.

The best indication of future performance is past performance. Our armed forces are hampered by looking only to recent combat or aerial engagements — and there aren’t that many of those dogfights. The hiring manager has different metrics of combat measures for top business talent. Eat what you kill. Who had produced the best numbers?

In this human resource practice and strategy, there are down-sides as Anita Campbell, my editrix at Small Business Trends citing the Trizoko Biz Journal mentions. She and others make the valid point that Super Star and Aces are nearly impossible to manage. And, indeed, can only be managed by Super Star managers.

But if these crazy iconoclasts can be harnessed, a big ‘if’ to be sure, big numbers are sure to follow. For example, when I had a modest software company, I learned the hard way that a one genius coder was worth a half dozen coders. And not because he (and he was usually a ‘he’) was faster, but that his work was nearly bug-free. Which saved me from hiring three coders just to patch.

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With my sales teams, Pareto’s 80/20 Principle always played out. But the top guy, usually a deviant was always a standard deviation above the norm. My #1 sales guy was sometimes double the sales of #2, the rest of the sales team on the long tail. That #1 guy drove me nuts. But I loved his numbers.

And government bureaucrats? Goodness. I once had an agency head ‘lose’ a $100 million department. It was necessary to find it for obvious political reasons, but we only became aware of the lost unit because I was working the Y2K rollover and really needed to find all the laptops. We finally found it. Hidden away, quietly working away. And there were lots of good excuses why it was floating alone off on its own org chart, in its own universe. How they got paid is outside the scope of this post. I was assured that it was not illegal.

So Anita and Trizoko Biz are right, Super Stars are a pain.

But I wonder how many $100 million business units are lost. And could be found with a few dozen more IQ points.

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Comments

  1. Great article. I’ve been managing software development teams and found that 2 additional traits a super star programmer needs to have is teamwork and a little business sense, besides being great at software development. I had several unpleasant experience with hiring super stars who were terribly egoistic and thought they were the best. And not surprisingly, the rest of the team couldn’t stand these super stars 🙂

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