Raising the Talent Bar

The moment Sean’s audition was over, the rest of us looked at each other with a single word in mind: whoa. Strong, rhythmic, tight and articulate, Sean’s drumming would be  a quantum leap for our band. Our original drummer had left us – the victim of real life intruding –  and we’d been conducting auditions for weeks without seeing anyone with half of Sean’s talent.

Better yet, he was an easygoing guy with an abiding love for all the same music we loved – and, it seemed, an encyclopedic knowledge of drum charts. Put simply, Sean was better at his role than anyone else in the band was at his; if we invited him to join, in one move, the drum seat would go from being the band’s greatest weakness to its greatest strength.

Would that be an issue? What would happen to our band dynamic?

2-4-6-8, Everyone Recalibrate

After all, we’d started as a jam band over beers in my basement. Everyone was mutually supportive of everyone else, since we all brought a particular package of strengths and weaknesses to the table. Mike, our singer, is a talented songwriter and guitarist but had never been a frontman before. Jay was just picking up the bass. I’d played on and off for over 20 years, but of late, more had been ‘off’ than ‘on’ – and the rust showed. Our original drummer was in a similar spot – he hadn’t played in years and was contending with a newborn at home. Now we were essentially bringing in a professional to man the drum seat. We talked it out, in fairly frank fashion, among the three original members. We knew what we were getting into: everyone would need to step it up to keep Sean interested and engaged in the band. We decided to go with it, understanding that new demands would be placed on us.

What ended up happening was the best possible scenario. We all felt more supported by a locked-down drum line: Jay found it easier to drop into the groove and work with Sean as a real rhythm section. I found I could count on Sean to be on the right beat at the right time, and I stopped worrying about phrase timing and took the ‘slack’ out of my playing. Mike, feeling confidence in the music being played behind him, stepped out into the spotlight with newfound confidence of his own.

It could have been a disaster. Instead, it was the best thing that’s happened to us yet.

Recalibrate Your Team at Work

Introducing a talented new team member can be a challenge, but it’s also a managerial opportunity. Hiring someone who’s clearly a cut above creates a new dynamic within an organization.

These questions can arise:

  • Will other team members support the new hire by working closely with him or her?
  • Will they lean on their talented new associate too hard?
  • Will they rebel against the introduction of a new talent by undermining his or her efforts?
  • Or will existing team members elevate their game?

Much of the success or failure of a talent infusion is on the shoulders of the group manager. It’s a tough task: talking through the situation, as we did, acknowledges the talent level of the incoming hire and tacitly communicate an awareness that the stakes are being raised. Or you can let your new hire shine without a major discussion up front – communicating, perhaps, that ‘this is the new standard.’

Either way, you’re taking on a package of risks and rewards.

Ultimately, however, there are only two kinds of managers; those who go out of their way to hire people better than them, and those who go out of their way to avoid those people. I keep a set of Russian nesting dolls on my desk to remind me of this: if everyone hires someone better than them, we become a company of giants. Conversely, if we each go the other way – hiring someone we’re comfortable with, but who isn’t going to push the talent envelope outwardly –  we slowly diminish: in aggregate talent, in accomplishment, and in organizational performance.

Dave Mayer is EVP & Executive Director of Aristeia, Inc.
He can be reached at david.mayer@aristeia-corp.com

Image Sources: carmencja.artspan.com, rack1.vladstudio.com


~ by Dave Mayer on February 9, 2010.

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