A member of my staff once came to me to express concern over her assignment to serve as exercise director for our annual EOC exercise. Since here responsibilities focused on community organizing, she did not feel she had sufficient experience to coordinate the exercise.
As we discussed her concerns, it was clear that she was worried that her background in working with non-governmental agencies and the public had not prepared her for developing a public-sector exercise. I asked her to describe the tasks she would need to perform, and she went into detail about tasks such as injects and exercise flow. I stopped her and asked her to consider the basics of what she had to do. We identified three main tasks:
- Recruit an exercise design team
- Coordinate planning meetings
- Facilitate the exercise based on the results of the planning meetings
I asked her how these tasks were different from what she did on a regular basis in her work with non-governmental agencies and saw the lights come on as she realized there were no differences. She already had the skills she needed to coordinate the exercise; all she needed was to mine the experience of her team. She went on to develop a very effective exercise.
We place a premium on experience and rightly so. However, we sometimes forget that skill sets are transferable, and a lack of experience does not mean that someone can't get the job done. In fact, it can often introduce a fresh perspective into problem solving by helping to avoid "group think".
Don't get drawn into the either-or debate about skill sets versus experience. Instead, make sure that what passes for experience (e.g. we've always done it that way!) is valid and consider whether allowing someone the opportunity to apply their skills to a new problem will help overall team development.