Monday, June 28, 2010

Is Anyone Ever Over-Qualified?

I grew up with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all saying various form of, “the wise person knows what they don’t know,” and “the more you know about your field, the more you realize how much there still is to learn.” Powerful messages for continuous learning!

Imagine my surprise when someone said, “You realize, you’re over-qualified for this work.” Freakin’ freaky. How can anyone be over-qualified? There’s always more to learn.

As a learning professional, I have, at times, taught the same course content over and over and over. There were times that I taught a course so many times in a row that I lost track of whether or not I’d covered key points with my current class. Even then, every class I taught also taught me something. Each was class brought new insights on learning, on how my learners dealt with the content in relationship to their work, on how effective I was as an instructor. Each class brought challenges in physical spaces, timing, class dynamics, unique individual and group needs. With each class, I learned more and more.

After 12 years of heavy classroom training, I moved into a phase of heavy instructional design and learning project management. Every project is different. Every situation has different needs assessment processes, different sponsors, different teams, different tools and methods, different designs, different development timelines and products, different iterative testing procedures… and different results. Can one ever learn everything there is to know about design and development? About learning project management? I certainly haven’t gotten to that point. There’s so much more to learn and experience.

In the late 1970s, I started working with learning technologies. In almost thirty years, I have yet to be bored by the field. As our tools “learn” better and faster, instructional designers, developers and course facilitators must re-evaluate our own knowledge and experience about what works – why and how. As science better understands the brain and the way that both humans and electronics learn, there are new horizons for professional development.

So, I continue to struggle with the concept of being over-qualified. People who are passionate about their field continue to learn from it and from each other – always. They never see themselves as “over-qualified” but as “highly-qualified” and continuing to learn.

In the end, it may be that there are two perspectives – the individual (who is always learning) and the organization. Organizations are all about matching individual resources to a perceived need. As organizations develop new functions, their leaders define needs that they are capable of perceiving and describing. Human Resources restructures that definition as position description with minimum requirements – not maximum or even ideal… minimum. This could lead to an applicant for a position having skills that so far exceed the desired minimum they are perceived as over-qualified… which in turns leads to issues like that of Case of Sal in previous blogs.

Are you over-qualified? If not today, you soon will be. Advancing skills and knowledge change our match to the minimum requirements of posted positions… and, perhaps, to our leaders’ ability to envision new work for our ever increasing skills.

However, we all continue to grow where we're planted. So, even if you too are over-qualified for your work, show your true colors by continuing to learn and grow -- even it means learning about what it means to be "over-qualified" for the available work.

The Performance PI

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hiring Excess Capacity in an Over Qualified Employee

Should QSI hire Sal? (cont.)

Look at the pros and cons. If QSI hired Sal with experience well beyond their own and beyond their expectations a number of different outcomes might occur:
• Sal becomes frustrated by the lower level work that is requested and/or by leadership that is not looking for something larger than their current status quo. Sal keeps looking and within a few months or years moves on to a position that has a better match.
• Sal works quietly to assist other learning, quality and documentation specialists inside of QSI to build their skills.
• QSI and Sal look for projects that match Sal’s capabilities and raise the bar on their customers’ expectations.
• QSI recognizes Sal’s expertise and within a few months, provides Sal with leadership opportunities. • QSI leadership recognizes that Sal’s expertise is greater than theirs. They work with Sal to build the new methods and processes they have wanted to create as part of this new initiative and they work together to build their internal team’s skills. Sal provides weekly lunch-and-learns, brings in books and articles and mentors the less experienced learning team members (and, indirectly, the learning leadership who also need to build learning skills and knowledge.) Sal brings in peers from other organizations to demonstrate different techniques, etc. Sal’s talents bring the whole team and organize to an unexpected level.
• QSI find Sal to be a disturbing influence – always trying to exceed the reach and vision of this emerging organization – so they move into performance problem territory telling Sal that others feel “put down”, “judged as beubg inadequate” or “feeling inferior”. Sal must change these interactions or suffer the consequences. Sal starts looking for another employer. If another employer with a good match is not available, Sal is likely to be terminated with a bad rap.

Any and all of these are possible; it all depends on the individuals involved and how they deal with the imbalance of knowledge, skill and organizational power. However, an organization that avoids hiring excess capacity misses the opportunity to grow exponentially by managing their excess capacity. This could be the shot of hot-air that get their balloon aloft.

Think of a consulting organization that suddenly finds themselves with 20% of their consulting staff “on the bench” (not assigned to client work and not earning revenue for the company). This is excess capacity. They are “over-qualified” for the work that is currently booked.

There may be many reasons for the excess. The reasons are worth exploring. The root cause of a problem is always worth considering and is the most common of all performance improvement efforts. However, for our purposes, let’s say that there is a team assigned to solving the cause of the excess capacity. In the mean time, the organization needs to put these employees to work on something or lay off the “excess talent” in order to save money.

What might be possible uses of this talent that will build the organization’s capabilities? These individuals might be assigned alternative opportunities such as:
• Filling empty positions while the hiring process is being executed – a useful way to provide extra work in divisions of the organization that may be experiencing difficulty in hiring qualified talent while also identifying development and work process issues within that division (e.g., call centers often experience significant turn-over, placing consultants on phones and debriefing them about that experience will provide information about what is not working well in the call center processes)
• Internal consulting aimed at improving processes and quality for internal divisions that could use some process improvement, quality assurance or needs assessments – accounting, property management, IT, marketing, sales, training all experience the need for consulting services but often can not afford the cost of external consultants
• Training and/or coaching other consultants (assuming, of course, that those “on the bench” have a history of top quality work).
• Shadowing more expert consultants, leaders, sales or marketing could provide consultants with extended skills that would pay off in the future
• Community outreach to schools and non-profits as speakers and/or short-term consultants focused on those organization’s needs
• Put them together on a special project as an innovation team(s) charged with re-visioning an aging product or service line.

Excess capacity is an opportunity in disguise; it takes great leadership to see beyond the excess and the potential for a problem. It takes greatness to use the tools at hand to create a new world that they themselves have not envisioned – to allow others to use their talents to identify issues and opportunities and open doors for innovations and a future that is different from those in which leadership has personal investment.

The Performance PI

Monday, June 21, 2010

Excess Capacilty and the Over Qualified

The normal position for performance consultants is one where the capacity is not yet high enough. But what do we do when there is excess capacity? What performance issues might we find in organizations that have excess capacity and how would we recommend that they deal with this.

How each of us defines that “excess capacity” may depend on perspective. Consider these symbols of “excess capacity”.

Images compliments of Microsoft Clipart

The “Fat Cat” viewpoint focuses on trimming the excess. Here we have organizations that lay-off their experienced employees in favor of new graduations with less experience (and less salary). This viewpoint sees increasing experience equal to increasing salary and believes that results diminish over time, since fat cats get lazy. In spite of a vision and mission that says the company believes in building knowledge capital and values its employees, the bottom line is that experienced employees cost more. Therefore, these companies do not hire experienced employees and they try to encourage experienced employees to move on. For example, they might be giving a senior employee more travel, less visibility, the smaller and less influential accounts, providing less support, or just plain laying them off (or re-deploying them… or whatever the term of the day is for giving an employee who is doing good work the boot because you want to free up their salary.)

The “Building Muscle” viewpoint focuses on putting excess capacity to work building innovations, improving processes and tools, mentoring less experienced associates, building an external credibility through professional writing and speaking. This viewpoint believes that muscle needs to continue to be flexed and tested in order to create strong muscles and retain that power for a day when it is really needed. Here the experienced employee is given ways to contribute that can only be done by someone with experience and someone who is not tied down by management responsibilities. (Note: Moving an experienced person into management does not retain muscle because managers lose a certain amount of their professional poweress in return for building their leadership muscles.) Instead, this viewpoint keeps the experienced employee working at their top skill level and challenges them to add on skills such as mentoring, training, special projects, professional writing, community projects, philanthropic works, etc.

The third viewpoint that I see is the “superhero”. Here the excess capacity, like Clark Kent, is hidden behind mundane work behaviors but comes out under times of duress. Here the superpower isn’t something to be built or maintained, it’s an endowed attributes that only a very few possess. As such the superhero must be lauded (he leaps tall buildings in a single bound) and feed crisis situations in which to demonstrate his or her capabilities. This means that only a few people have the right to be considered as a superhero. Therefore, all contenders (including those who can do the work without creating a crisis) are not needed.
There may be more such categories. Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments.

Let’s look at a common scenario – hiring new talent. Let’s try a case study.

A fictitious company, Qwerty Systems Inc. (QSI), wants to merge their small training function with their quality control function and their document writers from several different product teams. Their objective is to build a performance improvement function which encompasses training, quality and product documentation. The new division manager will be the Head of Corporate Learning and will report to the Chief People Officer (CPO). The new Head of Corporate Learning is a Human Resources Manager who has led a team of recruiters to success and now has been given the chance to build a new function. As the current employees come together in the new team, they discover some overlapping skills, some specialties and some gaps.

The biggest staffing gap is a skilled learning specialist who can provide everything from needs assessment to design to materials development to facilitation and evaluation. Since this team has never had anyone with that skill set, they do not realize that they could have someone who can manage complex learning projects, provide train-the-trainer, and mentor the incumbent team members into a more consultative approach. Therefore, the team builds a job description as follows:

Instructional Designer – 3 to 5 years experience and a high school diploma... Must be familiar with adult learning theory and must follow the ADDIE methodology. Should be a team player who can develop paper-based learning, blended learning and e-learning modules. Should be able to work with subject-matter experts and various levels of management. Should have experience with QSI LMS, Articulate, Captivate, XML, HTML, Dreamweaver, Visio, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Must be able to present to groups of 5 or more.

Along comes Sal Superhero with 15 years of experience, an ABD (All But Dissertation Ph.D. candidate) in Performance Improvement who has developed learning solutions, managed learning projects, led strategic change projects, written articles and acquired field certifications in performance improvement, learning, and project management. However, Sal’s company just redeployed a number of people with 10 or more years of experience in their company. Sal is now looking for an opportunity that will allow growth as the company grows and changes. Sal is interested in QSI’s new Instructional Designer position because it is an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a developing organization function and grow with it. That might mean growing into leadership or it might mean creating innovative products and solutions for QSI and its customers. Sal is open to those opportunities.

Should QSI hire Sal? If they did, what concerns might they have about hiring this much excess capacity at time when they are just beginning to build a new function? What concerns might they have about being able to use Sal’s expertise effectively and/or about retaining Sal? Are those concerns legitimate?

Until next time…

The Performance PI

Friday, June 18, 2010

Of Pandemic Epidemic Portions

Performance improvement is about gathering facts, identifying problems, creating solutions and measuring change. Sometimes the "facts" come is piecemeal. Piecemeal data is still data though finding the connections can be harder than it would be given a complete data set.

Consider these statements and their sources. What is your diagnosis? Is there a performance issue?

Recruiter to friend: "You might want to reorganize your resume so that it shows only 10 years of experience rather than 25."
Ex-executive to friend: "I am getting rave reviews in my new job. Even though it is called a Director position, I don't supervise anyone. I'm really doing production work, again. I don't think they realize how over qualified I am for this position."
One laid-off employee to another: "Welcome to the world of consulting, we're never unemployed; we just become independent consultants... while we keep looking for full-employment and try to find consulting contracts. It's really depressing the way {our previous employer} is able to consistently lay off... er, re-deploy 70-80% of their employees with more than 10 years experience all the while promoting the importance of building a knowledgeable and skills workforce and retaining the best of the best… and still not be taken to court for age discrimination. Weird! Really weird. "
Recruiter to candidate: "With all your experience, why are you applying for this job? Would you be happy doing work that is not very challenging any more? What guarantees to we have that
Recruiter to candidate: “Thanks for the great interviews. We have decided to go with someone else. By the way, you are really overqualified for this position.”
Jobseeker to Jobseeker: “Are you getting any interviews off your job applications? I’m sure not. I’d go with the advice to only emphasize my last 10 years of work but all these websites require the date of your college degrees, which gives away the fact that I’m over 50 and got a masters twenty years ago. Have you found any way around it?”
Jobseeker to Jobseeker: “You realize that all these web applications are reviewed by a 20-something who is trying to get a perfect match to the job description… and maybe a little bit more. They don’t understand what they’re reading when they read an application and resume with 20 some years of experience; it’s outside their frame of reference.”
Recruiter to job-seeking friend: “Well, you are overqualified. Employers don’t want to hire the overqualified because they think you’ll jump ship when a better job comes along.”
News article headlines: “Employers finding it difficult to hire qualified employees even in hard times.”
Newly unemployed to long-unemployed friend: “Yeah, they gave me 30 days to find an internal job and the quote-unquote help of a recruiter before being redeployed. Since they’re going through downsizing again, there weren’t very many jobs and everyone want someone with 3-5 years experience in that position title. It was impossible. Meanwhile, my old manager is hiring two-dozen college grads to the work that I and the rest of laid-off ‘senior’ employees had been doing. Admittedly, they are adding new technology skills to those new hires. However, if they’d put even have of their training money into us, we’d have been able to add in the new skills in less time. I just don’t get it. Well, of course, I do get the money part. They can hire three 20-year olds for what they’re paying me. But those three 20-years require a lot more supervision and management than I do… well, maybe that’s part of the problem, as well. I’m fairly independent…”
Recruiter interviewer to interviewee: “I need to go through this list of skills. Please rate your experience from 1 to 5 with 5 as ‘expert’ and 1 as ‘no experience”. Needs assessments? ADDIE? Captivate? Flash? Articulate? PowerPoint? Word? Excel?....”

We have issues, folks. This represents a nationwide performance problem of unimaginable proportions. The inability to use available resources and the constant desire to throw out skilled resources without retooling them is an issue of waste management. It’s a quality control issue of the Human Resources kind.

We are experiencing the Epidemic of the Over Qualified Employee.