Hire Smart People
Smart people, combined with an open culture, leads to a competitive advantage. This is a pretty simple formula. Yet, so many companies fail to take advantage of it. People are often hired for role (PM, BA, Developer, etc.) and told to stay within that role. This is particularly true in corporate jobs, especially in larger companies, which have strict hierarchies and salary/position bands. It is less prevalent in consulting and smaller, tech-type firms, which are more entrepreneurial, and people are expected to wear multiple hats and contribute to the company in any way - and using any skill - they have.
I recently had an interesting exchange with a colleague who had left a major corporation to go to a consulting company. They kept asking her what she wanted to do, and it was fascinating to see that she was really stuck in a role-based view of herself. In her 12+ years at this major corporation, she had molded herself according to the company’s views of roles and hierarchies, and struggled to see herself outside of that prism. Big companies like titles and lanes because it makes it easy for them to put people into slots, org charts, and salary bands. Consulting and smaller companies (and a fair number of tech companies) don’t typically operate like that. They think in terms of what you know, not what you do. They value versatility and creativity. So they look for intelligence, experience, and adaptability. Someone with a rebellious streak can always be challenged to find an innovative solution to an old problem.
Smart people are constantly hungry for new information. They seek it from any source available. A key way to satiate smart people is to make high-quality education available to them. I have always been a huge advocate of education in virtually any form. And it is incumbent on a company to continually educate its workforce. Surrounding smart people with other smart people is a sure way to raise everyone’s intelligence and also commitment to the company. It creates a dynamic work environment. No one likes to work with a bunch of morons. Its tough to soar like an eagle when you work with turkeys.
“We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” – Steve Jobs
I focus on the word “education” and not “training.” Some at a conference once told me, “You educate people – you train animals.” There is a fair amount of truth to this. Training is usually on a specific process or set of tasks. Education is knowledge that can be applied to many different areas. A person get trained on how to fix an engine. He gets educated on how to design one. Not to say that training isn’t important, but for most knowledge workers education is far more versatile and valuable to them and company.
I have personally seen this in action. Several individuals (both admin assistants) I worked with at The Warranty Group took it upon themselves to learn Salesforce. They went on to get a combined 7 Salesforce certifications and do some pretty amazing things. Salesforce even wrote a blog about them. https://www.salesforce.com/blog/2017/07/how-two-admins-saved-company-money.html
What is amazing is how well they both blossomed when the company invested in them. Not everyone turns out this way, of course, but the rewards far outweigh the investment.
I have never said no to any request for training for education, and I have never regretted it. No one intentionally hires someone they don't perceive as smart, but we often stifle their growth potential by slotting them in roles and org charts. Invest in your people. Early, often and with enthusiasm. You'll love the results.