Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Does the Lake Wobegon strategy work for EA groups ?

I recently became aware of the Lake Wobegon strategy for hiring talent. Essentially it stresses hiring above the mean skill levels of existing employees as an alternative to hiring people who are better than at least one existing employee ( hiring above the min) .

My issue with this strategy as explained is the fact that it seems to rely on a single factor model of skill levels. Individuals who do senior roles typically need a set of skills and it isn't easy to assess whether on a cumulative basis they are above the mean or not. The multi-skill issue applies both to broad categories like technical and soft skills but also to subdomains within them. For instance Technical skill itself further breaks down into all sorts of different areas for an architect ( application, data, technology etc) and so do soft skills ( communication ( spoken and written, empathy, persuasiveness etc). A typical person may be above average on some but rarely on all equally and it is hard to tell whether they would raise the overall average. One could obviously model weightages for each of these factors but that just seems to me to be taking judgement out of the equation. On the whole, I just don't see how this would actually in EA ( or anywhere you hire into positions which are relatively senior and require multi-skilled individuals). No one would disagree that hiring above the mean of current capabilities is a great idea - but is it really possible to do this consistently in practice ?
PS - This is the reason for the name. The link is tenuous to say the least.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Paul Tsang said...

There are four angles here: Firstly that hiring above the mean is actually a good idea - surely that depends on what you wish to achieve. Org behaviour and theory and the performance of groups is quite well known - and not always are more 'intelligent' people actually the right answer for improving performance. Surely what is important in teams is that the team outperforms, rather than individuals. This may be slightly different in EA - or may be not.

Secondly, is the angle based on network theory and competitive environments. That a competitive environment (and compoetitive individuals) drives better design. And network theory/innovation theory that having intellectually stimulating conversations with peers will eventually percolate into the step-change breakthrough in ideas - the nuclear fission approach.

Thirdly, the other angle I see is that of 'fit with the environment'. An idea driven by complexity theory, it suggests that success is not only match with a desired end-state, but also needs to fit with the rest of the organisation. The venerable link to business. An EA group that comes up with outlandish ideas is pretty useless to the business if there is no fit to current business, and/or is practicable. So, in a larger 'team' sense in my first point, the EA group needs to play its role as organisational integrator for the greater good. Therefore - maybe choosing the 'brightest' individuals, or the 'best' team members are appropriate - rather the best combination of bright,best and mutually supportive of the business implications leads to the best team, and therefore choice of individuals.

Lastly - purpose. The vision and purpose for the group. An EA group as a niche consultancy outfit is very different in design and composition to that of an internal EA group for an MNC. Their raison d'etre is fundamentally different.


In summary, Does the Lake W strategy work? Yes. No. Maybe. It Depends.

11:37 pm  
Blogger Piyush said...

Good points Paul and very well made - the team dimension is crucial.
If any organisation really followed this strategy, they would never recruit admin staff or at different levels within the organisation. I think it's a catchy name a nice theoretical construct but apart from very small and homogenous groups, I'm not sure it is practicable.

6:51 am  

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