The Feedback

Last week, we asked readers a question about “who” vs. “what.” When hiring, what should be your first consideration—the function or the person? Should you shape a job around an extraordinary talent, or should you find the best person you can for a specific task?

Thoughtful answers came in. Reader Richard B Mann, PhD suggested that there are two “what” phases, each requiring a different type of “who”:

The ‘what’ phase emphasizes the thinking process involved in deciding what to do. The key to deciding the ‘what’ is ‘who’ is going to do the deciding of the ‘what.’ The second stage, or phase, is that of implementing the ‘what.’ This second stage requires a different who. . . . The one deciding the ‘what,’ or formulation of the strategy, is different from the ‘who’ required for implementation. Others have divided the process into ‘strategy formulation’ and ‘strategy implementation.’

Although a tad reminiscent of an Abbott and Costello routine, this makes good sense, if you read it carefully.

[EXPAND More]Reader Sergio, meanwhile, offered some concrete examples:

One example of a leader who opted for a ‘what’ first strategy, is Billy Beane, GM of the Oakland Athletics. As written in the book Moneyball, the strategy of on-base percentage over hits (i.e. ‘what’) represents understanding the work and what is required to be successful. The method of finding undiscovered talent, at a low price, to fulfill this work (i.e. ‘who’) comes second. From personal experience however, I have worked in organizations where the strategy mandated a ‘who’ then ‘what’ approach. So maybe the answer to the question depends on the organization’s business and strategy.

Reader Scott Kuethen noted that the “who” and “what” can be tricky to disentangle:

We all know exceptional people who . . . underperformed in an assignment or position in one company while performing at an excellent level at another. Why is that? Can a culture misfit lead to failure? I offer an emphatic yes to that question. So then, is culture fit a What or Who question?

In a different post highlighting a column by Rick Wartzman, we asked whether Amazon was making the right moves by going aggressively into book publishing.

Reader Greg Harris had this to say:

Companies whose primary value-add is as a gatekeeper and connector are obsolete in the modern world. This is less about vertical integration and more about cutting out unnecessary waste that traditional publishers are becoming.

We’re guessing that Mr. Harris doesn’t work for Random House.[/EXPAND]