I’ve known John Burton for a long time, and we’ve worked together closely during various phases in our careers. He’s a strong, multi-dimensional strategic thinker, and it was great to see him at the BMA presentation last week. Here are his thoughts on the reluctance companies demonstrate in hiring a mix to people to spur diversity in strategic thinking:

I had the pleasure of hearing Mike’s strategic perspective presentation last week. One point he made struck a cord with an idea I have been thinking about in recent weeks – Do companies make hiring decisions to be complimentary or complementary?

Mike mentioned that an aspect of “awakening strategic thinking” is a having good blend of participants. You need some that have experience, some with strong functional knowledge and a few with dynamic, creative energy. This is just like basketball, where you need to blend a point guard with shooters and big men. In both cases, the key to success is to have people play complementary roles in the process, creating a bigger whole than any one aspect can bring on its own.

However, a business sometimes forgets this point when putting together its leadership team, especially when it comes to sales and marketing.

A business was recently going from small company to major player in a fragmented business service segment after a number of acquisitions. Leadership knew it needed to add strategic marketing and sales resources to help position the company for continued growth. After defining a senior position and recruiting candidates that fit the bill, they backtracked and decided to hire someone whose primary background was sales management.

Why? They felt they had to have someone the new person’s most important direct reports (regional sales VP’s) would respect and feel comfortable with. In essence, they went for the candidate that would get “compliments” for being familiar versus someone that would “complement” the organization by bringing new skills and insights.

Sometimes, success comes not from creating a comfortable, “complimentary” environment, but putting a team together that forces everyone to live with a little discomfort. – John Burton