Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Are Great People Overated? The Tao of management

I stumbled upon a debate that is occurring at the Harvard Business Review blog that is basically running for three articles, Are Great People Overrated?, Are Great People Overrated? Part II, and We Is Bigger Than Me and basically I think the whole argument is one of apples vs. oranges.

I guess in Silicon Valley a new process has developed, known as "acqhire" which basically involves buying a start up to get the talent and jettisoning their product.  Having worked with software engineers and programmers over the course of the last 20 plus years I can tell you that one great one is worth a lot more than a bunch of average ones.  

I have worked with individual software engineers and we could accomplish in days and weeks what a team could never even begin to comprehend but at the same time I also realize that these programmers could not run a help desk or train others without bringing others to tears; the one software engineer who I respected the most would just walk out of training sessions because it was a waste of his time to train stupid people! 

Its kind of like the concept of "customer service" which is a term used in the most general way to describe a process.  If you actually look at the process, a process that involves orders, shipping, invoicing, and payment along with communication you realize that the product, the customer base, and the environment influence greatly what qualities you would consider ideal in a customer service representative.

As a manufacturer who has sold to consumers, to small retailers, and to major department stores I have established customer service groups of one person doing all tasks to splitting up duties based on tasks, to splitting up duties based upon customers.  A person that was an expert at order entry, could also be trained to handle invoicing and receivables for the most part but someone who worked with consumers and or smaller retailers could not adapt to dealing with a major retailer.  

Some tasks require teams and others require great individuals.  Certain skill sets tend to favor a team mentality and other skill sets seem to favor individualism.  I have yet to meet a great artist, graphic designer, or sales person that worked well with others!  

The key is to recognize this, accept it, and have the management that can allow for individualism and collaboration and knows when one trumps the other while respecting each.  I really don't think it was a coincidence that a day after announcing that Apple was building a new corporate campus that all of the sudden we find out that the employees in Apple retail stores were contemplating a union!  Looks to me like someone might have the beginnings of a morale problem.

So, when I read things like:
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a passing comment that has become the entrepreneurial equivalent of a verbal tick — something that's said all the time, almost without thinking.

"Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good," he argued when asked why he was willing to pay $47 million to acquire FriendFeed, a price that translated to about $4 million per employee. "They are 100 times better."
I can't help but wonder what that does for morale of the 1,000's of other "pretty good" employees that make Facebook what it is today?

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