“You can’t have Falstaff and have him thin.” —Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)
Just as there are two sides to a coin, two sides to an argument, and two sides to the midnight special at Pete’s Pancake Palace—tater tots are a must—there are two sides to something else.
And those sides are indeed co-joined in a way that is consistent, if not necessarily intuitive. Think about it: Don’t you know someone that can tell you pi to a hundred places but can never tell you where his car keys are? Or someone painfully shy in person but dazzling in front of a crowd? Or vice versa? Or someone so beautiful or talented—or both—who yet is riddled with self-doubt?
Yeah. We all do.
That’s because personality traits come in pairs, like chromosomes. Or socks. Or animals on Noah’s Ark, so no, speaking of fiction, you cannot have Sir John Falstaff, Shakespeare’s affable archetype of the loud, lewd, braggadocios, vice-full, drunkard, bloated bon vivant, and have him have the chiseled physique of Michelango’s David.
That would be out of character… literally.
In that way, we are all Falstaff: each of us is a jigsaw puzzle of strengths and weaknesses, of skills that come naturally and those that, well, don’t come at all. You are. Your boss is. Your employees are.
The problem with us being this amalgam of adequacies and deficiencies is that our jobs, while they likely play to those strengths, often steer directly into those weaknesses as well. Which leads to failure, or at least ineffectiveness. Which leads to frustration. Which leads to your career stalling out or even sputtering to a stop.
Now what if, and this may sound cray-cray, as the kids say—they are still saying that?—instead of companies finding the person to fit a job, they find the job to fit a person? They tailor the duties and responsibilities around the unique skills a candidate brings to the company. Take this completely made-up example, for instance: Suppose someone is brilliant at product design but is an absolute disaster at managing people. We’re talking an HR nightmare on Elm Street. But, hey, we’re hiring for VP of R&D and the job description and organizational chart say this person has a team of engineers reporting into it.
That leaves you, in the conventional approach, with two options, each of them themselves faulty. One, you can pass on the nightmare and find someone better equipped to deal with human beings but less equipped to create the next wiz-bang widget. Or two, you can hold your nose and hire the genius, hoping that the first grand-slam product is conjured up before the first class-action employee lawsuit is.
But why not a third option? Why not hire the genius—they’re hard to come by—and have someone else manage the staff? Or run the meetings? Or create the PowerPoint presentations? Or fill out the TPS reports? Why make someone do something he or she stinks at? Because it’s in the job description?
That’s what’s cray-cray.
And take it a step further: Go back to that jigsaw puzzle. Imagine that’s a particular goal for your team. Could be hitting a revenue budget. Could be launching a product. Could be… well, it could be anything. That’s not the point. This is: Imagine your team members are pieces of that puzzle. Who cares about job descriptions (you probably plagiarized them off Monster.com anyway, bruh)? Instead, use the piece that fits, regardless of which piece is supposed to fit.
Startups do this all the time. They can’t afford the type of creeping elegance that lets them hire a, uh, junior director of advanced quantitative logistics. Instead, they have… Carol the receptionist who happens to have a knack for numbers! Give it to her. And if there’s something she struggles with, give it to someone else.
Because nothing makes employees happier than doing something they’re good at. (Well, OK, a big fat bonus at the end of the year doesn’t hurt, but the point still stands.) And the converse of that is that nothing makes employees more miserable—and anxious and scared—than doing something they’re not good at.
So… why make them?
Take this idea for a spin. Next time you have a project around the office, divvy up the duties according to attributes. Start small and see how it goes.
What have you got to lose?