Use Gender Advantage: Recruit Women

In an earlier post, Building a Great Knowledge Management Team, I discussed key factors in recruiting and retaining a KM team that consistently outperforms the competition. One of the cautions emerging from the study I cited was that it wasn’t enough to simply recruit “stars” since many stars are incapable of reproducing their success in new work situations. One key reason for this is that their success is inextricably tied up with their support network at work. If they change jobs and don’t bring their colleagues with them, these stars will have to recreate a comparable network in their new organization in order to replicate their earlier success. While it isn’t impossible to design a new support network, it does take time. Unfortunately, time is a rare commodity.

The authors of the study I cited now offer a new strategy for managers who are determined to recruit stars in order to boost quickly the performace of their knowledge management team. According to Boris Groysberg, Ashish Nanda and Nitin Nohria, recruiting female stars can provide a distinct advantage:

Star women … maintained their shine even after switching companies. Unlike their male peers, they thrived in new work environments. … Analyzing the data further revealed that there are gender differences in how well stars do after they jump ship. In fact, the decline in performance was pronounced only for star men. Star women who switched firms exhibit no decline in performance.

Their explanation of why women retain their performance levels after changing firms is instructive:

Women tend to do better after a move for two reasons.

One is that they are more invested in external than in in-house relationships. There are four main reasons why star women maintain external focus: uneasy in-house relationships, poor mentorship, neglect by colleagues, and a vulnerable position in the labor market. External focus makes them more “portable” in terms of making a positive move, but can cause problems if they want to progress within their own organization, because you need a solid internal network and good political capital to get things done in organizations. Anyone who focuses mostly on external relationships will not have that.

The other reason is that women do far more due diligence when they receive a job offer than men do, because women need to ensure that the company is good for women and that they won’t be treated as token females. In the process of due diligence, star women learn a lot of valuable information about the company that helps them make good strategic decisions. They scrutinize prospective employers on receptivity to women, managerial support, latitude and flexibility, and performance measurement. There’s no downside to that strategy—it is one that men could benefit from just as well.

This suggests that if a manager is successful in recruiting a female star, that star is more likely to retain a high level of performance and more likely to stay. Viewed in these terms, recruiting male stars seems like a foolhardy exercise.

There’s one other piece of advice for managers wrapped up in the advice the study’s authors give male stars:

Don’t let yourself be blinded by the money! A company that is willing to double your current salary, but will not invest in your long-term success, is not a good choice. Investigate a firm’s management, its culture, its resources, the commitment it is willing to make to you. These are the things that will ultimately make you a star—and keep you one.

This advice makes it clear that a key to success for managers is to create an organizational culture that makes a commitment to invest in its employees and their success. With this commitment in place, it should be possible to create and retain a stellar knowledge management team.

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