The Entry Exit Problem

Last month I wrote the Star Wars Guide to Recruiting New Talent, in which I gave a nod to NSCA’s new IGNITE initiative and their efforts to drive interest in the AV industry with technology minded young people.  It’s an important initiative, as industries that grow “gray” typically face huge challenges.

Look at the gaming industry.  They are facing a crisis as the average age of both their customer base and their content developers continues to increase.  According to an article in Fortune,

“They have failed to innovate on both the hardware and content side of the business, alienating potential young consumers while angering older gamers who crave something newer than just another Call of Duty.”

New blood drives excitement, brings new perspective, and fuels innovation.  I think we all agree on that.  It is not an unpopular or contested theory or statement.  I assert however, that we have an equal problem in the AV industry that is not only stifling innovation, but also ebbing the flow of new talent into AV.

It is an exit problem.

entry exit

Let me first state that if anything I am about to say insults you in any way, you may be “that guy”

You know, “that guy” who has been in the AV industry for years and knows everybody but still can’t seem to land in a job.  “That guy” who has never sold a thing, but somehow lands in a new sales role every 12 months somewhere anyway?  “That guy” who gets hired because he knows where the bodies are buried, but despite that knowledge cannot make an impact on his company.  “That guy”, who is a completely sexist and insults half the people they come into contact with.  “That guy” who is impossible to work with in every way?  “That guy” who can’t project manage his way out of a box or program anything that ever works.

We all know at least one person like this who has been in AV 25 years and shouldn’t be around for year 26…but he will be.  Somehow our small community shelters these people, passing them around from company to company, somehow giving them a career when we should have showed them the door.

If you were a young person looking at a career in tech, what would you think?  You look in and see that your path to promotion is blocked.  You see the person holding the position you eventually want is inept but even when he is exposed as “that guy” the company will just bring in another version of him from the industry “that guy” pool.  Your only chance is that in 25 years you’ll get your shot when “that guy” finally retires or dies.

Employee churn on a large scale is bad for business, but there is such thing as good turnover.  And I’m not talking about company turnover.  I’m talking about industry turnover.

Now I know that in a small industry it’s hard as it is more personal.  But we can’t sacrifice the future of our industry because “that guy” is nice but can’t ever get the job done.  I overheard a major AV company talking about having to let go of a sales person everyone liked but just never did their job.  It was hard to do, but the decision has paid dividends and the person that replaced them came in from outside AV.  That entry only resulted due to an exit and the industry is better for it.

Now to be fair, I know a lot of people in the industry and the percentage of it “that guy” makes up is relatively small.  Just getting rid of those folks won’t solve the whole problem.

The other problem is that with so many small companies in AV, it is hard for young people to see a path to their own career growth.  I worked at companies where I KNEW without a doubt that the only way to get promoted was for the owner to retire.  How many young, ambitious people will pursue a careers in AV in companies like that?

The answer is a lot…if there is a succession plan.

If you are a small company wanting to attract young talent, layout the potential opportunity on paper.  Let them know what the career path in a firm like yours will be and what time frame that may happen in.  That will inspire driven individuals to build the skill sets required to take the reins someday.

The problem with this is that many of the people who run these smaller AV companies can’t and will never be able to exit.  They are so into the day to day business of their company that they can never give up control with any sense of confidence.  Instead of helping their potential employees build the necessary skills to take over some day, they exercise a death grip on the company that assures once they are no longer able to run the business, it will most likely flounder or die.

I have a friend who worked days, nights, and weekends for over 12 years for an AV company, the whole time being assured his hard work would pay off, and in just another couple years he would be rewarded with a piece of the company and eventually be able to buy it.  The owners finally told him that was never going to happen.  He was their most dedicated and hard working employee, and upon realizing there was never a succession plan, he left.

I concede that sometimes people are just in the wrong company or in the wrong role.  I’m not advocating a one strike and you’re out rule.  If you have good, smart people they are an asset.  Find them the right seat on the bus.  Keep them in the industry.  We need them.  I’m also not advocating early exits or discounting years of experience running an AV business.  We need sharp, passionate individuals of all ages, sexes, races, and backgrounds in this industry to succeed.  We don’t need term limits on executives.

What I am advocating is getting serious about the health of our industry.  An aging industry loses it’s edge.  Keep the seasoned veterans who have built this industry and who continually find ways to add value.  Show “that guy” the door.  In a small industry there are only so many roles.  If we want talented young people to come in, we need to demonstrate that we can help them realize their potential, that there is a path to a career, and that we are serious about keeping our edge and being innovative.  The only way to do that is to make room for them inside.

If you are “that guy” and I’ve upset you, there is a comments section below, although I doubt you’ll be motivated enough to type anything in it anyway.