Rundles wrap-up: Jack be nimble

There’s a kid in my neighborhood, a younger friend of my son Ry, who is one of the neatest kids you’d ever meet. Cute as a button, high energy, always on the go – and in any given year, he sports a cast on his wrist or arm that never seems to slow him down one bit. His name is Jack, and I’m pretty sure his picture should accompany the entry “Kid” in the encyclopedia.

Just to give you an idea of his general nature, the following is an exchange he had with my son, five years his senior, on one of Jack’s many doorbell visits to our porch:

Jack: “Hey, Ry, you wanna play?”

Ry: “Can’t. I’m leaving for a baseball game in two minutes.”

Jack: “Wanna play for two minutes?”

No disappointment. All Jack saw was the opportunity, no matter how small. Even though he’s still in elementary school, I want to hire Jack to be a business coach. His job – aside, of course, from going to school – is playing, and he embraces it with every ounce of his being. Jack doesn’t view himself as a metaphor, but I sure do. I wish more people – especially businesspeople – were like him.

The issue here is one of productivity, and in my research about business productivity I can see that businesses themselves, businesspeople, and people who work for organizations all concern themselves with productivity. In fact, productivity seems to be at a premium these days as companies have pared workforces, and all of us are at least trying to do more things at work with fewer resources.

I found an organization called I4cp – the Institute for Corporate Productivity – and in reading through a bunch of the literature and white papers I found a lot of the usual academic-research-sounding but empty mumbo-jumbo about Strategy, Leadership, Culture and Communications. This all sounded like the stuff that HR people put together for corporate team-building retreats and seminars that, I believe, simply baffle and bore most people – and make them less productive.

This is mostly because, since such events are put on by company leadership, they glorify the current leadership when in my experience that is the area that needs the most work. In other words, it’s hard to improve productivity by imploring people to be better “followers.” They’d be better and more productive without the seminar if they had better leadership. It’s rare for a manager to identify himself or herself as the impediment to progress, and this generally gets worse the higher up in the organization you go.

But there was at least one thing I found that maybe had some merit. One of the Five Domains of Productivity in one white paper I read was Talent, and it said that the high-performing organizations had employees with “a passion for work,” “a positive attitude toward peers and customers,” and “a desire to set and achieve goals.” The low-performing organizations featured workers with “intelligence,” “confidence in work abilities,” and, “excellent job skills.” The recommendation was to “hire for attitude (vs. aptitude) and train for skills.”

I really like that a lot. I think about all the people I know looking for work, and all of the newly minted college grads trudging out on the job-seeking path, and everyone is competing for skills (or fudging on them) or pondering the age-old question: “How do I find a job that requires experience if I have no experience?”

I also think about the people I know who are hiring, and when I ask what they are looking for they invariably rattle off lists of skills and experience. They obviously don’t know Jack.

There’s a church marquee I see on the way to work some days that says: “Remember, an amateur built the Ark. Professionals built the Titanic.” Noah didn’t have a ton of initial skills; he acquired them. But he had a ton of passion for his work. I think I’ll remember that the next time I am flooded with resumes.

One of these days my friend Jack will be grown up and looking for work. Anyone interested in productivity would do well by tapping into his attitude.

Categories: Management & Leadership