Hire the Best Talent—Going From T to I-Shaped

June 2011, by So-Young Kang

People often talk about recruiting “T-shaped” people and how difficult it is. If that wasn’t challenging enough, I’d like to propose going even beyond T to the “I-shaped™” person [capital letter “I” with serifs :) ]. So what is a T-shaped person in the first place? And why go to “I-shaped™?” And why does this all even matter?

T-shaped people refer to those who have a deep spike and expertise in any given area. This could be functional (e.g., sales, marketing, leadership, finance), industry-specific or within the design world, a specific design expertise (e.g., product design, graphics, interiors, architecture, etc.). Many people develop specific expertise and have specialties. As organizations realize the need for this, they also look for people who are broad (e.g., the horizontal bar on the T) and have the ability to think across multiple disciplines and connect the dots between seemingly different concepts, disciplines and people.

T-shaped

Many design schools and business schools are recognizing this trend and the value of multi-disciplinary approaches to learning; in fact, there are now many business schools that are in some kind of partnership with design schools to educate and encourage T-shaped people. This train has left the station and is really starting to gain speed.

As I reflected on this further, I realized that something was missing. As we constantly meet new people, assess potential new team members, and review resumes, we understand that having the right skills and ability to connect as a T-shaped person, while rare and extremely valued, is still not enough. In fact, there is something much more important to me when we hire—the base of the person, their foundation. It’s the base – what people believe and their core values – which grounds people in who they are and how they interact with others that is of utmost importance.
I-Shaped

If the base is wobbly, then no matter how sharp and how broad the T is, it may teeter and totter over at some point. In many ways, I believe the base is more important than the T itself. The T can be gained and is gained through experience.

There are three reasons why I believe that recruiting the I-shaped™ person and being an I-shaped™ person as a leader are critical:

1. Alignment of purpose, values – represents the meaning and purpose and centering for why we do what we do

2. Rules of Engagement – creates the foundational basis for relationship (How do you want to engage with each other? What do you believe in? What do you care about? What do you value?)

3. Prioritization – allows you to be clearer about the critical choices you will make in how to exercise and use your T

I understand that finding T-shaped people is hard…but who wants to join me in taking on the I-shaped™ challenge?