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Hiring in service-oriented vs. innovative environments

Published on: 2014-11-09

This is the seventh in a series of eight posts that examines the relationship between business and IT. Based on an article examining manufacturing by Steven Wheelright and Robert Hayes, I have talked about four different levels (or stages) at which IT can interact with the rest of the business:

  • Stage 1: Internally Neutral (Minimize IT’s Negative Potential)
  • Stage 2: Externally Neutral (Parity with Competitors or IT as a Service Provider)
  • Stage 3: Internally Supportive (Provides Credible Support to the Business Strategy)
  • Stage 4: Externally Supportive (Provides an Important Contribution to the Competitive Success of the Organization)

In this month's continuation of this series, I'll talk about how hiring practices differ among the environments that are worth talking about. (Followers of this series will recall that Stage 3 is unsustainable.)

Hiring in a dysfunctional environment

If you're unfortunate enough to work in a dysfunctional Stage 1 environment where the goal is to minimize the risk of an IT failure, you should be prepared to do one of two things:

  1. Hire someone who only meets the minimum requirements for the job
  2. Hire someone who is well-qualified for the job, but be prepared to pay well over market rate

Obviously you wouldn't want to hire someone who is not qualified for the job. But why wouldn't you want to hire someone who is well-qualified for market rate? Stage 1 environments are miserable places to work and well-qualified job applicants in technology generally have plenty of other places to work. Looking for and training a new employee is difficult and expensive. If you're going to hire someone who can get a job elsewhere, you're going to need to pay them well enough to ignore the bad work environment.

When would you choose one over the other? Unless you are actively trying to change the culture of the organization, it is unlikely that you'll have the budget to overpay someone, so you may have no choice but to look for the barely-competent candidates.

Hiring in a service-oriented environment

If your goal as a technology department is to provide a service to the rest of the business, you're probably tempted to go after the superstar technology expert when you have an open position. Try to avoid this temptation. Superstar experts tend to want to work on cutting-edge projects that only result when someone with knowledge of what's possible with technology either drives a project or closely collaborates with the business person driving the project. When the cutting-edge innovation isn't baked into the design, these experts tend either to lose interest in the project or go rogue and add their own innovations.

Instead, you have two choices:

  1. Hire a solid contributor at market rates
  2. Hire an above-average contributor, either at an above-market salary or find other outlets for creativity

Choice #1 is the lower risk, lower reward scenario of these two. If you choose to hire an above-average contributor and try to find other ways to make the work rewarding for them, be sure that this is communicated well during the interview process and don't oversell the position.

Hiring in an innovative environment

If you have a truly innovative environment where collaboration occurs with the rest of the business, your best bet will be to hire superstar technology people with a passion for problem-solving. These types of people will fit in with the culture of the business best.

However, you may want to consider adding one or two average contributors to the team. You typically want your innovators innovating, but most programmers need to do quite a bit of non-innovative work as a part of their day-to-day jobs. (Don't we all?) Hiring someone who can get this work done will free your best people to do their best work and raise the productivity of the team as a whole.

Other posts in this series:

May: Levels of function (and dysfunction) IT can have with business
June: Why Stages 1 and 3 are not viable long-term stages
July: What a Stage 2 organization might look like
August: What a Stage 4 organization might look like
September: How IT professionals can be their own worst enemy in achieving Stage 4
October: How your Stage would affect your management practices
November: How your Stage would affect your hiring practices
December: How can an organization reach Stage 4?

This article was originally posted here and may have been edited for clarity.