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I Don’t Care What You Know! What Can You Do?

July 22, 2013

Kerry was one of the most qualified people I’d ever met. . .at least on paper. If there was a certification, he had it. ITIL, Six Sigma, PMP, and more that I’d never even heard of. Just about anything you could spend a few thousand dollars of corporate training dollars on and a couple weeks at a convention center in Miami, or San Diego, he had it.

And it wasn’t just the paper certs, he had also read countless business books, and could talk about them at length. He could debate the finer points of Agile methodology versus the Waterfall technique. He introduced me to one of my favorite books, “Influencer.”

He was forever finding ways to better organize his knowlege.

Kerry, what are you doing?

I’m creating a Mind Map of different concepts introduced in several different business books so that I can plot their commonalities and their unique concepts. That way, I can pick a topic, go to my Mind Map and quickly reference all the different books that touch on that topic.

How long is that going to take?

I’ve been working on it for the past month or so. I’ll have it done before annual reviews happen in February.

I liked Kerry and he was interesting to talk to but we didn’t work on any projects together. Later I found out that was because Kerry didn’t really work on any projects at all. He was basically putting in his time working on his studies and trying to get transferred to another department.

You see, Kerry didn’t get anything done.

I was new to the organization and after I figured out that the reason Kerry always had time to spend talking to me was that he never got anything done, I quit hanging around him as much.

The ironic thing was that Kerry got pretty good review scores every time annual reviews came around. Oh, he wasn’t in the top 10% or anything, but he wasn’t at the bottom either. He set goals and he accomplished them.

I contrasted Kerry with Edward. Ed didn’t hold a single certification that I was aware of. He had not even graduated from college. From a credentials standpoint, Ed was pretty weak.

Ed was brilliant. Ed wrote several book on messaging. At one point we lost all our SharePoint engineers. The market for good SharePoint engineers was so high that we simply couldn’t pay them enough to stay.

Ed, what do you know about SharePoint?

Not much. I’ve used it like everyone, of course, but I have no idea how to configure it.

Well, you’re our new SharePoint expert. We’ve got training budget, but we need you to come up to speed as quickly as possible.

Two months later Ed was designing the next version of our SharePoint farm. He was certainly a quick study, but what set him apart from Kerry were two things:

First, Ed cared more about the knowledge than the certification. He eventually took the SharePoint test to become certified, but not until he was already building SharePoint installations for us. And that lead to the second difference between Kerry and Ed.

Ed Got Stuff Done. After reassigning him from messaging to SharePoint, Ed came to us and explained that we needed to make certain changes to our configuration. He tuned our servers. He improved the search features on our internal SharePoint sites. We never had to tell Ed what to do. In fact, I didn’t KNOW what he should do, except that he should make SharePoint work, and that’s exactly what he did.

Whenever I’ve interviewed people, I’ve tried to make sure that I’m not overlooking an Edward to hire a Kerry. It’s harder to interview for competence rather than certifications. The best way I’ve found is to ask action rather than knowledge questions.

Not, “Do you know how to do this?” Instead, “Tell me of a time you did this?”

Ed was an engineer, but the same concept applies if you are hiring consultants, or Program Managers, or Project Managers. Having the certification means very little if you can’t tell me how you used the knowledge from that certification.

This week, I’m going to be talking about “action” and “knowledge.”

Monday – GSD (Getting Stuff Done) vs certifications
Tuesday – Do you hire for potential or for knowledge? (How I failed the interview but got the job)
Wednesday – Worst experience firing someone
Thursday – How paralysis by analysis cost the Project Manager his job
Friday – Mountains of perspective

Rodney M Bliss is an author, blogger and IT Consultant known for getting stuff done. . .although he calls it “Driving a Tank.” He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and 13 children.

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  1. Reblogged this on Rodney M Bliss and commented:

    Best of 2013. The story of Kerry and Ed, one with all the learning, one with all of the action, was the 4th most popular blog entry for 2013.

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