Can You Afford a Competent Squatter?

RJ Morris Change Management, Culture, Recruiting, RJ Morris, Talent Strategy, Uncategorized

If there is one thing that just screams out fun, it’s when someone hits you up at an after-work happy hour for HR advice.  That’s sad stuff—it’s not like we are doctors and someone wants advice about an achy knee.  Still, it happens.  Recently, just as I was going to dive into a nice bourbon, a young team leader cornered me and asked:

“Can you afford to hire someone who is just going to do the job you hire them for but never anything else?”

Ah, the competent squatter.  Good at the job, not moving anywhere.  They are “at level” and make that worse by not adding to their skill set.  Ever. The squatter has never heard of the term “discretionary effort.”  Think 22-year government records clerk.

This young manager was ready to make some first-time hiring decisions.  She had been told to only get “A Players” and “Top Talent,” but she understood that she also needed to get stuff done.  She met candidates who had the skill set, but whose careers showed limited growth or who, themselves, showed little interest in more than a 9-5 job.

Can you hire someone to come in, punch the clock and not much else?  For me, I think companies can rarely afford it.  Capacity and desire to grow are requirements in my mind.  Here’s my take on situations and whether you’ll see a squatter:

Start-up or wannabe startup culture—No chance.  Teams need to be nimble.  Structures are still being determined, and no one knows what your job really is.  Plus, employees expect to go from intern to VP-Product Development in three months.

Small company in a moderate to high change business—Not really.  A competent squatter here will get eaten alive as the firm grows.  Job titles are loose, growth is required and the company is still small enough that the top leader will value every head.

Small team in a large company in a moderate-to-high change business—Maybe.  A weak leader here will let a squatter hang out and hide; a strong leader will demand someone who can flex and grow.  Either way, squatters will stick out.

Large team, large company, dynamic industry—Maybe.  A squatter will find their way to a process or production spot—basic accounting or tech production—something with low innovation and high repetition.

Large team, large firm in low change industry—Yep.  Imagine Milton from Office Space.  Division of labor prevails so someone can specialize, and the business is mature enough that not much changes quickly.  Discretionary effort and innovation not required.

When we are honest with ourselves, we know not everyone can be whatever the latest euphemism is for a top performer (A Player, top talent, rock star, ninja (don’t ever call people ninjas, btw!).  Most of your team is closer to average than any of them want to admit.  That does not mean, however, that you should tolerate complacency or low change-orientation.  That person who just wants to come in and ride it out… very few companies can afford having that person around.