Managing Rocks

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

Is it better to teach a skill or hire for a skill?

There is a case to be made for both, but in my experience, more companies will rush out and hire someone new who can do the newly needed skill set. Leaving those who have been with the company for a while behind to fade with the old required skill set.

When I was much younger I worked with men we called “rocks”. I was a competitive swimmer and during the summer we worked with men who had a desire to be in the Navy Seals that were struggling to swim. They could manage everything else, but swimming. They were aptly named “rocks” because they tended to sink — straight to the bottom.

I think I’ve had quite a few rocks throughout my long career as a manager and leader. I’ve always said that I would much prefer to have people on my team that has the desire to learn and succeed over those who may have the skill but are lackluster in engagement.

Skills can be taught. Desire, enthusiasm, motivation….yeah, you either have it or you don’t. That doesn’t mean that all rocks can be taught the skills they want to learn. Nor does it mean as a manager that you have the time to teach all of the skills, but the outcome of a well-rounded team member is something a manager should always aspire to have.

I also feel that there’s something to be said for the person who has been with me and the company for a while. They understand the company ethos, they know the lay of the land, they know how to operate in the environment. That too is something that takes new people time to learn and adapt. And just because they have the skill set, that doesn’t mean they can thrive in your company’s environment.

During my time teaching rocks how to swim, dive, and hold their breath I would have to say there might have only been one guy that I thought had a shot at making it through. What we taught were the basics compared to what they actually have to accomplish in testing.

But boy did I admire their determination to reach their goal.

My experience as a manager is much different. By in large, people want to learn and grow. They get the itch to move upward or at the very least to do something different. So, I always looked inward at my team when new opportunities arose or when I knew the landscape was going to shift and we were going to need to reduce roles in one area and hire in others.

Yes, not everyone is able to take on new skills no matter how much they desire to do so. They will be the rocks of that scenario, but if as a manager I tried to give my people enough time and opportunity to learn new skills they usually rose to the occasion.

That not only makes for a positive outcome for that person, it also benefits the team and company.

So, let me ask you again. Is it better to teach for a skill or hire for a skill? Do you watch your team sink to the bottom or help them float?

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