Greetings, loyal leaders. Capt. Fletch at the line of scrimmage for another edition of the Leadership Toolbox! Last month, we examined the importance of a good communication framework and its benefits for organizations both internally and externally. This month, I look at the impact of position descriptions, and required experience and credentials for new hires.

We as a drilling community often talk about the challenges of hiring in our industry. The construction industry as a whole shows evidences of similar challenges. As an engineer, when I see a problem my first instinct is to ask, why? Recently, I sat in on the interview panel for two assistant project manager positions currently open on our staff. As I read the questions, I considered the possible answers elementary facets of construction to recognize and understand. However, as the interviews commenced, I quickly learned I assumed incorrectly.

The three candidates could not explain what we derive from a geotechnical report or the importance of that information. Nor could they explain the purpose of a schedule of values or a critical path method schedule. The candidates varied in how honest they seemed about their lack of knowledge. As I listened, I wondered how we expect people to come to our industry when we build barriers like these at the entrance. Do these questions really tell me if someone can succeed in construction? Part of me has always believed in the potential of the blank — or nearly blank — canvas. In other words, just because someone may not know key concepts, or does not have the experience or credential we write on a position description, it does not mean they cannot succeed at a role.

Ironically, this touches on exactly what I talked about last year before Super Bowl Sunday. Last year, I highlighted Dick Vermeil’s leadership and looked at how he staked his coaching career on taking risks on people that no one considered relevant. Interestingly enough, due to team injuries the San Francisco 49ers were forced to give a young kid deemed irrelevant a shot.

How does this culture begin? By looking beyond pre-qualifying a person based on metrics and information on paper. If a person cannot tell me the importance of a geotechnical report, does that make them untrainable? Does it make them uncreative? Does it make them disorganized, not personable or not hard working? We face a major hiring issue in drilling and construction. A big part of addressing it means a willingness to look beyond the barriers raised at the entry gate. Often, you find such barriers, written and established long ago by who-knows-who, only keep going because of the tired mantra, “We’ve always done it that way.”

The Air Force used to refer to this way of looking beyond the on-paper candidate as the “whole person” concept. When evaluating performance, instead of focusing mainly on physical training test scores or the amount of volunteer work someone did, they sought to look at each person as a whole. Of course, as can be the case with large organizations, it produced mixed results there, but that is a discussion for another time.

The data measures abilities on a common scale, but the numbers do not tell me whether a player fits inside a team system and culture.

I hold tryouts for my baseball team in three weeks. To prepare, I developed skill evaluation sheets and downloaded apps to mark scores and produce numeric evaluations for players based on a scale. People keep asking, “So, are you going to pick your team using only data?” No. The data measures abilities on a common scale, but the numbers do not tell me whether a player fits inside a team system and culture. I quote hockey great Herb Brooks to my boys: “I’m not looking for the best players. I’m looking for the right ones.” Does this mean we abandon skills qualifications for jobs and give anyone a chance? No. Much like my baseball metrics, let candidate qualifications and credentials serve as a standard measurement, but also seek the intangibles in new hire decisions. After all, even the most skilled potential hires can turn out to be combative, dysfunctional teammates.

Our industry is a team game. If we want to be successful and attract more people, we have to adopt a mindset that embraces a person’s potential even if they require a little more training and investment.

Ultimately, I recommended two of the candidates I interviewed for positions in our department. Neither could tell me the importance of a geotechnical report in building construction. However, both had personalities I considered as strengths for the available roles. I noted they would need extra training in their first six months if hired, but that I believed in making the investment.

Returning to my blank canvas analogy, a bit of inexperience gives us the opportunity to mold a person into a good teammate. As you sit down to get your fill of witty commercials on Super Bowl Sunday, think about how you judge potential new hires and whether you are ready to take on a couple blank canvases. Take a chance and you might find your company’s Kurt Warner or Tom Brady.

Until next time, Fletch over and out.