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The Right Job for the Tool

We all have strengths — let’s think of them as tools — with which we approach everything in our lives. The challenge is to be sure that every job is undertaken by the appropriate tool.

In a recent blog post on this site, George Taninecz wrote on the importance of finding the right tool for a job. He nailed it, but I’d like to try my own twist on George’s topic: finding the right job for the tool.

We all have strengths — let’s think of them as tools — with which we approach everything in our lives. And within our organizations, or our families, usually there are others with skills complementary to our own. My controller is a better accountant than I am, and my wife is a better cook, so we get better results when I don’t do the bookkeeping at work, or the cooking at home.

The challenge is to be sure that every job is undertaken by the appropriate tool — and the first step should be to make sure that we understand exactly what job needs to be done.

If you have a sore back and go to see a surgeon, the odds are pretty high that she’ll recommend surgery. If, instead, you go to a chiropractor, the odds are similarly high that he’ll recommend manipulation. But it’s important to know which of them is providing the correct analysis of the situation. In both cases, unless you’re completely cynical, you can assume that the recommended treatments are based on each specialist’s patient-centered diagnosis. They have seen what they are trained to see, and they want to do what they are trained to do. The problem is that …

When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Does that matter? It’s certainly possible that either treatment could fix your back. But it’s also possible that either treatment could make your problem worse. The wrong tool for a job can cause more damage than it repairs.

Now take that concept to work. A colleague of mine says that there are three distinct types of people in various professions: Finders, Grinders and Minders. Think of them as three different tools. If you’re hiring a sales manager to help you grow your business, the tool you need is a Finder, to go out and locate new customers and reel them in. If you’re hiring a sales manager to help you perfect the details of a complex customer service problem, the tool you need is a Grinder, to follow procedures consistently and thoroughly. If you’re hiring a sales manager to keep established customers satisfied, the tool you need is a Minder, staying in touch with key accounts, responding to their whims, and keeping them happy. Those are three very different skill sets, and three very different tools; applying the wrong tool to the job can lead to disaster.

Why?

Because that charming, glad-handing Finder could easily be lousy at getting the details right, while the diligent Grinder may well have poor social skills. Most dangerously, each of them sees the issue solely through the lens of their own expertise. And so do you; so do we all. None of us can be expert in every aspect of every job we tackle. It’s essential that we recognize this, and that we employ a diverse range of skills and viewpoints for the tasks at hand, rather than try to do everything ourselves.

So: Be careful. Whatever it is that you’re good at, be sure not to apply that skill to the wrong task. I’m pretty analytical, and I have a basic (very basic, my wife would say) understanding of mechanical systems, so it seemed obvious to me that I could handle a bathroom remodeling project myself. No need for expensive plumbers or electricians, and think of all the time I’d save — not to mention the sense of pride I’d feel when the project was done.

Do I need to tell you how that turned out?

Not well. In fact, the job took four times as long as I had thought, and cost twice as much, and resulted in half (or less) as much pride. Every time I use that room (which, with professional help, turned out beautifully, by the way), I am humbled.

Don’t be a tool. Find the right job first.

Alec Pendleton took control of a small, struggling, family business in Akron, Ohio, at an early age. Upon taking the helm, he sold off the unprofitable divisions and rebuilt the factory, which helped to quadruple sales of the remaining division within seven years. These decisions — and the thousands of others he made over his time as president and CEO — ensured that his small manufacturing business thrived and stayed profitable for the generation to come. The culmination of a lifetime of experience, accumulated wisdom, and a no-nonsense approach to looking at the books allows him to provide a unique perspective. Big Ideas for Small Companies featuring Alec Pendleton is one of a series of blogs provided to IndustryWeek by The MPI Group.

TAGS: Talent
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