Resourcefulness: everybody wants it in their employees, but few know how to make a resourceful employee. It isn’t like honesty or diligence where you can just resolve to tell the truth or to work harder. You can’t just decide one day to start being resourceful. So how do you build a culture on resourceful people when it’s not something you can just demand? Let’s talk about how to recognize it when you see it, so you can hire and promote for resourcefulness.
Resourcefulness is the ability to creatively and effectively navigate your way through new and unpredictable situations. It is not a personality trait that you are born with, but it’s the manifestation of other virtues that can be developed over time, these being: experience, curiosity, and a creative mindset.
These virtues improve leadership and the ability of a company to run smoothly, even if the main leader is on vacation, at a conference or on another job. So even if you have visions of distributed leadership that can make decisions without you there, if you can’t find and develop resourceful people, all this talk about building a company that can run without you is a far-off dream.
So let’s talk about each virtue and so you know how to spot it. Because if you know what it looks like, you can hire for it, promote for it, and build it into your culture.
Experience is more than just the passage of time. And while time can affect experience, it is not the cause. Imagine two men, Bill and Frank. Bill and Frank are both passengers on a plane that crashes, and they end up stuck on an island for two months with the other surviving passengers. Bill rises to the occasion, organizing people, getting them to gather food, find water, and build a shelter. Frank spends the majority of his time on the beach, curled in a ball, weeping. After two months of this, who has gained more survival experience? They were both on the island for the same amount of time, and one could argue that Frank actually felt the situation more acutely than Bill. He really lived through it.
But experience is more than just living through a particular problem. It means learning how to deal with that problem; it requires a sort of reckoning with reality. While Frank spent his time crying and wishing he wasn’t in a bad situation, Bill accepted it quickly and then worked from there.
You can accelerate experience too. Bill benefited through first-hand experience, but that’s not the only way to gain experience. You can also get it through reading and study, by engaging content from those with experience and implementing it in your own life. Second-hand experience is what police and military rely on in training. The closer the second-hand experience is to the real scenario the better.
Know it When You See It
Experienced people bring a kind of confidence. But overconfident people can too. So how do we tell the difference?
- Experienced people have nothing to prove to themselves, and consequently are much more level-headed in tight situations.
- They can quickly analyze problems and propose solutions, without letting the pressure get to them.
- They tend to have backup plans that they know — from experience — will probably work.
So if they’re uptight and worried at every stage of the conversation or have a hard time being nice to people when things get tough, they might lack experience.
And right away, we see how hiring from within can be so important: you can observe people on good days and bad days. You can really get to know how they handle things. Does their handling of problem show experience or betray a lack of confidence?
Nobody trusts the unengaged doctor who asks very few questions and ends the visit by telling you to take some Advil and give it a week. He’s just not curious enough about the problem to treat the root issue. He just assumes he knows, based on superficial evidence. But just as dangerous as a lack of curiosity is poor judgment about what, exactly, to be curious about.
Einstein once said, “If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.”
A good problem solver should be more interested in the problem than the actual solution. This might seem strange, but imagine a doctor who is intensely interested in cutting-edge medicines, but doesn’t really care if you have cancer or the flu. On the other hand, if you have a doctor who spends most of his time digging as deep as he can into the root of the problem, then chances are pretty good you will get a simple and specific diagnosis, rather than a list of problems that it might be.
And construction is no different. Curious people identify the root problem and solve THAT problem. And that’s who you want in leadership.
Know It When You See It
When diagnosing a problem, there are a few key questions that you should start with.
Why is it a problem? Seems rather obvious in the abstract, but it is a perfectly good question for a sixteen-year-old girl to ask when she sees that light that looks like a genie bottle flashing on her dashboard. Clearly the dashboard light looks like it might be a problem, but why?
Is it worth solving? Let’s say Sarah, the girl with the flashing lights on her dashboard, googles the problem and learns that she is out of oil. Her next question is, does that matter? Can she just ignore it like she does the rest of the lights? What’s the worst that could happen?
Who is it a problem for? For all Sarah might know, being out of oil might mean that her car will start shooting fireballs out the exhaust pipe, posing as a safety hazard to any bicyclists tailing her too closely, but she will be completely fine.
What makes it a problem? No doubt this answer is the one she will receive in a lecture format from her mechanic when she confesses that she has been driving this way for a month.
So when you see your staff focusing on the right things, rather than things they can’t change, things that are in the past, or the shortcomings of other people, it shows good focus.
But that’s just the start. We need people who can obsess over the problem, getting the technical specs of the problem, understanding why it’s a problem, and whether it’s worth heroic efforts to solve.
These are the decision-makers you want to entrust with a project.
A creative mindset is the ability to divorce the conventional use of a tool from the thing itself. You may have seen something like this before in a spy or detective show; the kind of show where the main character makes a homemade bomb in four minutes by using nothing more than some nail polish remover, baking soda, and peanut butter.
A creative mindset sees items as a composite of individual parts, all of which have many alternative purposes. This may seem abstract, but could be as simple as using a coat hanger to get your keys out of a locked car.
For example, to the untrained eye, a pencil might just look like a writing utensil, but for Jerry it is a little bundle of wood, metal, and graphite. On one rainy afternoon, Jerry gets himself locked outside his house when his lock decides to stick. He searches through his car, looking for anything he can use to help, and stumbles upon a pencil. Knowing that graphite can act as a lubricant, and a pencil is made of graphite, he breaks off the tip, shoves it in the lock, and with a bit of elbow grease, makes it into his house just in time for the game.
A creative mindset is a necessary component of resourcefulness because, on top of having a solid understanding of the problem, a creative mindset is able to solve the problem with common objects, which will most likely make the solution much cheaper.
Know It When You See It
A creative mindset doesn’t need to be as fancy in practice as it sounds on paper. It might be as exciting as duct-taping your exhaust pipe back on. One sign that a person lacks a creative mindset, would be if the only solution they see is the first option that pops up on Google. If their only way of fixing a problem is to order the exact missing part online, they are probably not your best bet.
In fact, if you want to see some really innovative, smart uses of common materials to solve household problems, don’t look for this coming from a Harvard grad, but instead add the word “Redneck” to the beginning of your search. Look up “Redneck pool heater” and you’ll see what I mean.
And watch for people to jump in when there’s a problem and find an alternative use for a tool that they have in their truck to avert disaster on the job site.
And then promote that person.
Build Your Culture of Resourcefulness
Look for employees who are confident in their abilities but not afraid to ask for help, who can reduce problems to their simplest forms, and who can find quick and economical ways to fix those problems.
Every employer wants employees who can work on their own, solve problems, and train others, without their boss having to breathe down their neck throughout the entire process. While you can’t make an employee resourceful if they aren’t up for it, you can look for these traits among potential new hires, but even more by watching existing employees at work day in and day out.
Leaders navigate through the uncertain. Cultivate it in yourself, reward it in others, and watch your company start to attract leaders from without, and grow leaders from within.