In most places I’ve worked, there’s always those two or three people that are superstars, that seem to know everything and get everything done. As a result, those people also tend to be the most overworked. And at these places, it seems like management always makes the same joke, “We need to figure out how to clone Person X!”.
The issue seems to be that the managers don’t mean that, what they really mean is, “I want to hire another Person X.” But as we talk about a lot in this blog post, hiring a unicorn is very rare and data shows us that this plan does not have a high chance of success. So let’s plan on growing another Person X then. The question now becomes, how do you do that?
Hire for the Correct Traits: The Ability to Learn
Firstly, you need to adjust your hiring criteria. Don’t look for a duplicate of Person X, because that unicorn doesn’t exist. Instead, hire people who have the proven ability to grow and learn to become the equivalent of Person X. That means looking for evidence that the candidate can learn new things and can be trusted to take on tasks and finish them. As Joel Spolsky would say, “Smart and Gets Things Done.” (https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2007/06/05/smart-and-gets-things-done/)
Allow Time for Shadowing
So now that you’ve hired that new person, you need to start the process of growing them into that “Clone of Person X”. And what better way than to have them just shadow Person X? This sounds very simple but is surprisingly nuanced. As a manager, you need to be willing to invest that cost of the person’s time to learn. Think of it as training dollars, or R&D investment. It also means you need to let the new hire shadow. I’ve seen people get hired for this exact shadowing plan in mind, but within a week or two the managers were tasking them with a huge workload of other tasks and they never were given the time to shadow and learn from Person X.
Be Intentional About the Shadowing
You also need to ensure that Person X is intentional about the shadowing. In the short-term, this can add stress because it means “one more thing” for Person X to do, but hopefully, this superstar will understand the importance of helping to grow future leaders at the organization. Also, the shadowing needs to be more specific and focused than just, “follow me around”. This is an opportunity for standard operating procedures or runbooks to get authored, as the new hire observes Person X in order to learn what all the tasks are. The new hire also needs to be given opportunities to perform the tasks (under the watchful eye of Person X), not just sit quietly in meetings not saying anything.
Companies do have the ability to “Clone the Superstar”, but it takes an intentional investment of hiring, time, and budget. As a leader, when you find yourself in a situation that you need to grow new talent within your team, then consider this as an investment in your ability to grow and deliver your organization’s capabilities.