Tuesday, December 22, 2009



I read somewhere that 90 percent of acting is casting. The idea was that plenty of actors are capable of performing well in the right role; the trick is matching the actor to the role.

I'm struggling right now with a mismatch between actors and roles.

For economic reasons, I need to reduce the number of roles in a given area. Most of the work in that area will still need to get done, so the responsibilities will need to be redistributed. That means the remaining roles will change, in varying degrees. But the alignment that makes the most sense on paper doesn't match the actors. In effect, I'd have to ask Meryl Streep to play Bill Clinton. Great actor, great role, but no.

One school of thought says that you play to the strengths of the people you have. When you have the right lineup, that can work really well. The catch is that people leave, and then you're stuck with roles that don't really make organizational sense. ("Wanted: The Next Dave." Good luck with that.) And you don't want to have to reorganize every time someone leaves.

Another school of thought says that you keep personalities out of it, and go with what makes sense institutionally. If that means firing Meryl Streep and hiring Tom Arnold, then that's what it means. But I have a hard time believing that the path to prosperity is to kick out the Meryl Streeps and to promote the Tom Arnolds.

So I'm stuck.

Obviously, I'd rather not have to go this route at all. But necessity is a mother, as they say, and it won't go away just because I wish it would.

Worse, in this situation, defining the roles is part of the solution. It would be easier if the roles were pre-defined. "Okay, who here does a good Arkansas accent?" But in this case, the roles themselves have to be changed. Tipping them one way or the other can affect the casting decisions. And while it's attractive, at one level, to define the roles to work around the best actors, the roles still have to cover the work of the plot. Even if I've got a bevy of heroes, someone has to be the villain.

I don't have a snappy conclusion to this one. Some decisions are just no fun at all.

My private-sector organization recently went through a change of ownership. With that change, they kicked out a number of overhead folks that they felt didn't fit properly with the direction the company was going.
Any chance of turning one or more staffers into "character actors" (that is, doing something fairly unique for more than one department)?
I think you need to distinguish between someone who is good at their current role, or good in some specific role, versus somebody you actually need. As The Boss it's not your job to make sure your employees are necessary to your organization. That's their job. Even if they are good, smart people, it's still their responsibility to make sure what they are doing adds value and fits into a clear role there. If not you can replace them, sideline them, or retrain them. I normally wouldn't accuse you of being anything other than dispassionate but that seems like the problem here.
I can't figure out who said this, but it has been said that what distinguishes great golfers from not-so-great golfers is not the quality of their good shots, but the quality of their bad shots. The great golfers' bad shots are much better than the not-so-great golfers' bad shots.

The administrative lesson I take from this is that you assign roles based on trying to minimize the likely badness of the poorest aspect of fit of each individual to their role, rather than trying to maximize the likely goodness of the best aspect of fit of each individual to their role.
a part of doing business - the important thing is to be able to make the decisions necessary instead of letting them make themselves without taking into account the bigger view
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