Using the Right People for the Job

Charles Steinmetz was a prominent electrical engineer and inventor in the early 20th century. However, this friend and compatriot of Tesla and Edison is best known for a story where he was asked to solve a problem Ford was having with one of its generators. The story goes after a bit of thought he marked a plate on the generator with chalk and told them that the problem was in there. He charged $10,000 for the service. When pressed for an itemized bill it read

Making chalk mark on generator    $1

Knowing where to make mark         $9,999

What is less realized is that he marked the generator at the end of the second, long day of the assignment. He had listened to the generator, took many notes and made many calculations before he moved into action. After making the chalk mark he told engineers to remove the marked plate and replace sixteen windings from the field coil.

(Reference source is the Smithsonian Magazine):

What would have happened if Steinmetz was not hired and Ford engineers tried to solve the problem themselves? We’ll never know for sure, but it safe to assume it would have caused more disruption, leading to a drop in productivity. Perhaps they would have never solved the problem.

Clearly, Ford had hired the right specialist for the job.

Lessons Learned

There are a number of lessons to be learned from this. Some of them are

  • Plan your actions before you start
  • Study mathematics!
  • Spending money on specialist expertise reduces total costs

Hiring Wrong

Most of us understand that cutting corners will cause you pain in the future, so why do employers do a poor job at hiring?

According to a CareerBuilder May 2013 survey, 36% of US employers reported that bad hires have affected their business. Breaking it down by country it includes the following:

  • China – 57 percent
  • U.S.A – 36 percent
  • Japan – 28 percent
  • Germany – 25 percent
  • U.K. – 23 percent

Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder said: “When you add up missed sales opportunities, strained client and employee relations, potential legal issues, and resources to hire and train candidates, the cost can be considerable.”

Special Staff for Special Projects

If you don’t have the expertise in-house for a special project, why run the risk of a bad hire?

Special, or interim projects, require special skillsets. To save on total cost you should recruit temporary, specialized staff for them.

Before you sign up a consultant it might seem to be the expensive route. However, the value in using specialized staff includes the avoidance of poor decision making: you’re paying for expertise not only in what they do but in what they guide your business does not to do.


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