Skill Assessment: The Downsides of Experience

I recently sat through a high-level meeting where I was consulting a company on their corporate communication techniques. The key leaders in the room were discussing some of their main value statements. A major point for most of their future clients was their experienced staff. I.e. the more years their staff had, the more trusted, credible and valuable the organization became.

This is a well-used and, in most cases, valid characteristic for companies and organizations. However, it is also one that carries with it problems. Here are a few of the top issues:

1. Experience does not always equal expertness. A simple example is my golf game. I have been actively playing golf for 17 years. However, my skill level is that of a five-year golfer. I.e. the value of the number 17 is not reflected in my golfing ability. How many people do we know like this? They have been in the industry for 20 years, but they aren't any more knowledgeable, skilled or valuable than they were 10 years ago.

2. The cost of experience (in some cases) is higher than the received value. Experienced staff are expensive. They demand a higher salary. They aren't always willing to adopt new practices, more efficient technologies or industry changes. Experienced staff can tightly align their job behavior with their job description. They aren't as willing to go above and beyond for the company as they did when they were younger.

A great example is a friend of mine who recently started teaching at a small school. She contacted me after a few months there and asked for some advice on how to respond to a difficult situation. More than one veteran teacher approached her privately and suggested she stop being so excited, creative and hard-working. These experienced, higher-paid educators were actually costing the school more than they were worth not only because they were complacent with their job, but because they were also strong arming the newbies to basically stop making them look bad by working so hard.

Two takeaways from this lesson:

a.  If you are an experienced staff member, think back to the "rookie you."  Were you more energetic?  Thirsty to learn?  Open to new ideas?  If so, recapture that spirit.  Combine it with your current knowledge level, advanced industry understanding and deep network.  You will see marked improvement in efficiency, new ideas, output and value.

b. If you are a manager, supervisor, boss, etc., make sure you equally evaluate, coach and serve your experienced staff and your recent hires. Experience has its upsides, but the downsides demand your attention, as well.

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