Take Stock First At What You Already Have

If there could be only one rule to hiring great technology talent, it might be this: identify carefully the strengths and weaknesses of the people already in your organization, and hire to fill in the gaps.

Imagine if the Chicago Bulls had had twelve Michael Jordan’s on their roster. Would they have won all those titles in the 1980’s and 1990’s? Probably not, because a successful basketball team needs role players in addition to leaders, and everyone in between. The same is true for a school. If everyone is innovating, then who is implementing? Conversely, if everyone is in a support role, then who is seeding the faculty with new ideas? A great school needs point guards and bench players.

Technology positions are the “Anthony Kennedy’s” of a school: they could swing either way. In some schools, the best technology leader is someone who launches new initiatives and cultivates mindset changes among the faculty. At other schools, the best technology leader is someone who recognizes that the playbook is already filled with great ideas and thus takes on the role of conditioning coach rather than general manager. This might all sound obvious and simple, but it’s not easy to resist pressure to hire the wrong kind of talent.

Many schools are renaming their Director of Technology position to something akin to “Director of Education Innovation.” Sometimes technology directors themselves are leading this charge to rewrite their title and job description. It may sound noncontroversial to transform an old-school “Director of Technology” into a “Director of Innovation,” but how many schools really need this? Going back to rule #1 above, the answer can in part be determined by looking around at your Dean of Faculty, Academic Department Heads, Program Heads, and better yet the overall culture of your school. If you already have a bunch of talented songwriters on staff, it might be time to hire some musicians to start playing those tunes. Otherwise, expect a quiet party come dance time on Saturday night.

There’s an age-old debate on how professional should sports teams draft amateur talent: whether to pick the most talented player available, or the player who fills the most glaring need of the drafting team. A team with the first pick in the draft may find an amazingly talented quarterback available, but what if that team already has a fantastic quarterback and simply needs a better defense? Taking a linebacker can feel like squandering the first round pick. Unfortunately, schools don’t have the luxury of trading draft picks for future years.

So in essence, every time you hire you are essentially faced with the decision of whether to hire a quarterback or a linebacker. And as the analogy suggests, if you hire the quarterback, be prepared to start reorganizing your technology landscape and rethinking how you deploy (or whether to employ) your other quarterbacks, because the last time I checked, there’s never been a play that had Peyton Manning passing to Tom Brady.