Hiring and Development, Down to a T

The T-shaped worker’s skills and knowledge are both deep and broad.

Do you have Google envy? Google went public a decade ago, and the stock price has risen nearly 1,000 percent since then. One of the secrets to the company’s success: Its employees really like working there.

Hiring and Developing: Down to a TIn workplace satisfaction surveys over the past four years, Google has consistently ranked near the top of all high-tech companies. Is this because employees are getting wealthy off their stock options? No. Research suggests high stock values and salaries are relativelyminor considerations in overall employee satisfaction.

One key to Google’s high employee satisfaction is likely because of its prowess at using data analysis to hire the right kind of “T-shaped” employees in the first place.

The T-shaped worker is a metaphor for someone whose skills and knowledge are both deep and broad. These employees have a specific area of deep knowledge — the vertical line of the T — along with a broader understanding of a range of areas, as well as soft skills like emotional intelligence and empathy — the horizontal line — that they can connect to their specialty. This T-shapedmodel enables employees to collaborate in ways that spur creativity and innovation, as opposed to a more traditional “siloed” organization structure that does not.

Organizations want to hire employees with specialized knowledge who can also think broadly across disciplines, and apply their knowledge to new settings. This is why Google’s interview process is so successful — it’s data-driven to precisely identify the essence of T-shaped skills.

The concept is not new. In 1991, David Guest wrote an article for The Independent newspaper in London about the demand for “hybrid” business managers who possessed both IT and business skills. “T-shaped People … are a variation on Renaissance Man, equally comfortable with information systems, modern management techniques and the 12-tone scale,” he wrote.

When T-shaped training was first proposed, it was based on a psychological study suggesting it would increase job satisfaction. Early adopters included IDEO, a design consultancy that has been ranked by Bloomberg Businessweek as one of the most innovative companies in the world.

Workplaces are increasingly adopting T-shaped hiring concepts andT-structured training for employee development. IBM embraced T-shaped hiring as its job descriptions became more complex. A paper by the University of Cambridge and IBM calls T-shaped employees “adaptive innovators” who are more productive and able to “hit the ground running.”

Big data is one area where experts see benefits in T-shaped hiring. Many industries are looking to harness the exponential growth and availability of structured and unstructured data to help guide and grow their businesses, and big data analysis can lead to smarter business decision-making.

Computer and information research scientists are in high demand, but the skills sets often fall short of what big data requires. For IBM, skills critical for big data hires relate to budgets and finance, communication, multiple data sets, reasoning and statistics. It is not enough to be just a computer whiz anymore.

Today, technology is necessary. So are employees who are both technologically proficient and business savvy. Enterprise faces monumental challenges — ever-faster product cycles, distributed workforces, tighter margins and cutthroat global competition. The only constant is change. To quickly adapt to change, today’s workforce must be collaborative and conversational across departments, skill sets andgeographies.

What does today’s ideal employee look like? He or she is shaped like a T.