Rocket Scientists in Your Mailroom

The bigger a company gets, the more mundane hiring becomes. Recruiting departments and hiring managers make a mold, assign a price tag and run a parade of candidates through a multi-layered interview process that answers one question: who is the best fit at the best price?

In the higher ranks of management and for roles with complex skill sets, part of being a great fit is to not fit in, i.e. being an independent thinker who creates value and is willing to risk reputation and job security to do so. Corporate VPs are not going to receive instructions on how to do their jobs, and they wouldn’t want to. It’s the same with medical researchers, nuclear physicists, software developers and rocket scientists – they are there to be the best in their field and change the world.

Aggressive growth companies know this all too well because they are currently fighting brutal talent wars. In the face of 8-9% U.S. unemployment rates, there is a dearth of talent available with robust skills and game-changing leadership ability. But there is an abundance of talent available now that very few companies are tapping into: the middles. They aren’t those top-tier people you focus on so much – they’re the ones who want too much money to fill jobs that you don’t view as strategic.

But ask yourself this: what if you staffed your mailroom with rocket scientists? Hired successful executives to be order processors? Put accomplished business process gurus on the customer service hotlines?

If you’re thinking “that would be stupid because our budget for those positions is $10 an hour”, you will be the first to lose out on a big chance to make your company more agile and competitive. The point is that your $10/hour budget is netting talent that gets the tactical jobs done the same old way, and sometimes even fails to do that. But if you staffed your mailroom with rocket scientists, you would have a team that executes well and finds ways to innovate their space with tangible bottom line results. If seasoned executives answered customer service hotlines, your customer loyalty rating would dominate the marketplace.

You’d be way over your staffing budget (slight loss), but you would be more competitive (huge gain). So who cares if you’re over budget?

Staffing the mailroom with rocket scientists is more metaphor than reality, but only because of the scarcity of rocket scientists. If you tap into the reservoir of middles, you’ll get people with management and improvement experience who renovate your frontlines. These clerical roles might seem low-value, but the processes they execute are meaningful to your strategy. $10 scrubs don’t understand this and are only there for a paycheck. But you can grab some people for $50k and have a team that executes like rock stars and disrupts itself to give your company breakthrough results.

Think cycle time reduction and customer loyalty. Think competitive advantage.

These middles aren’t literally rocket scientists, but they understand they are part of a value chain. They get how their output affects your organization’s success. They use empowerment effectively to solve problems at the frontlines. They can drive and execute innovation. All this, and you don’t have to micromanage any of it. This is true because middles are ambitious – they aren’t interested in preserving a low-value job in exchange for a safe paycheck; they want to play a meaningful role in innovation. They will gladly participate in continuously eliminating their own jobs. Compared to those $10 an hour employees, they’ll seem like rocket scientists.

There are two ways to leverage the over-achieving middles labor market: find them and hire them yourself or outsource to a provider with the same philosophy (i.e. value, not labor cost reduction). Whatever method is right for you, act fast so you don’t lose in the next big talent war.

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