The value of experience can be hard to judge. You only know for sure when you find yourself in a situation that demands it, and you perform – or not. The same goes for your staff. Will their lack of experience let them down? Or will their experience enable them to deliver in a tough situation?
When a challenge arises, staff with less experience tend to get bogged down in unimportant items and spread themselves too thinly, they don't have the prior experience to just know what needs to be done and how.
Other symptoms of lack of experience include people coming into a situation with a belief that "the answer is X", where X might be process mapping, improved accounting software or product line profitability, etc. It might well be that they are part of the solution, but a fixation with preconceived ideas is dangerous.
In many situations, you can work your way through. Experience is less important as you have time to consider your next move. It's only in crisis situations, where there can be little margin for error, that experience is worth so much more than even its weight in gold.
Back in my auto industry days, I recall the words of the grizzled manager running the body assembly area, Derek Godsell. Talking about man-management skills, he said: "You need a good selection of tools in your box; you need to know how to use each of them; and you must know which one is for which job."
I think it applies to many areas, though of course one can't be expert in all of them. Bringing people into your team who have the relevant experience will strengthen your performance.
The challenge – with start-ups in particular – is often lack of resources. So fewer people (perhaps just you) have to cover many bases. Secondly, even if you want to recruit expertise, it can be hard to tell whether someone really has it. The truth is only revealed when that crunch moment arises and they're put on the spot.
So what are the key benefits of experience? What I value most in experienced staff is:
- Knowing what to do instinctively – picking what to focus on and what to leave out.
- Knowing how to do things – in particular handling a variety of people.
- Having a nose to sniff out whether something is a big issue or not.
- Having a big contact base – being able to call up others for advice straightaway.
- No – or at least few - surprises. They are less likely to be shocked by something and therefore more likely to stay calm in crisis situations, with clearer thinking and lower risk of panic measures.
For most people it's inevitable that the older you get the more experience you have, so it really does pay to have older employees around you (preferably mixed in with younger ones).
Supplied by Hilary Briggs, a profitable growth expert with more than 15 years of industrial experience. For the past 10 years, she's worked with SMEs to improve their profitability.