March 24, 2010

Hire for skill or hire for passion?

A blog post, Product managers should know how to write code, got me thinking about non-profits and their employees. Is it enough to have the right skill set or does an employee need to believe deeply in the organization's mission to succeed? How much background is needed if you are part of a group that is charged with creating a new organization.

Jake Kuramoto, who blogs over on AppsLabs, says that product managers knowing code was one of the themes he discovered at SXSWi  (He describes the interactive part of the festival as including "very bright people in web design and development, emerging technologies, entrepreneurship, and game development and design.")

He explains why knowing code helps:
"The ability to understand what’s possible leads to better design, and this becomes much easier if you get dirty with the code, at least at the enough-to-be-dangerous level."
So, a PM must understand both the user and what s/he needs the product to do and what the product can actually do.
You have to be passionate, which leads to breaking, modifying, hacking and bending product to your will. You can’t do any of this without getting dirty with code."
 That's where I'm at with non-profits and employees. Is the skill set useful if there is a basic lack of respect for the organization? Can you promote an organization if you don't understand the principles behind the movement?

Can an employee adapt, quickly embedding the mission once hired? What does an organization need to provide to get an employee there?

As a lifetime Girl Scout, I am surprised (still) to discover people employed by Girl Scouts who don't know the basics. Since the organization requires its volunteers to go through an orientation, I expected that also was required of staff members. But as I work with different councils, I am discovering that most staff orientations don't include a grounding in Girl Scout basics.

Even more scary to me is when people who don't know the organization are involved with creating a new organization to better serve the community.

Without knowing that a Brownie is a Girl Scout or cookies sales are more then a fund-raiser, how can someone be "breaking, modifying, hacking and bending product" (in this case, organization) to create something better?


  1. Would there be any reason not to hire for both?

    The only perspective that I can see easily that would make the argument for hiring people who don't have any experience in the field they are going into is that they would be there to bring a new perspective to an organization that had become stuck in its ways or had otherwise failed to adapt to the times. The argument would be that you should be readily able to pick up whatever elements of the culture are essential by being immersed in it, but the specific set of previous experience that brought you to the job doesn't have to come from the identical industry.

  2. You're right - the best candidate has both. I see the value of bringing in someone from a different industry. What I don't see is much attention paid to understanding there is a culture and that only by understanding an organization's culture can you effectively remodel it.