I've had a heavy speaking calendar this month. I knew I'd be home, so I accepted a number of local and close domestic speaking engagements. I've been surprised by some fantastic stories of managers and employees.
First, there's the well-meaning manager who wants a current tester to be “motivated” to do manual testing. “How do I motivate him to do manual testing?” was the question. I asked, “What's that person doing now?” “Automated testing.” “Why would you have the person do manual testing??? If you have someone who is more capable, why would you ask that person to do less than their capabilities?” “Because the other people aren't as capable and I want everyone to feel like part of a team.”
Asking someone to do less than they can is not the way you make a team. The way you make a team is by having people work together, committing to each other. If you are not sure of the work you need done, you do a hiring strategy and a job analysis.
Next, there's the director who marched an automation expert to HR to fire the expert because he wouldn't do manual testing. Now, I have no idea if this guy was warned or if there were any other issues, but my goodness, test automation engineers are few and far between, and he seems like a reasonable enough guy. Firing someone because you are a bad manager is more bad management. Firing a rare person is the height of stupidity.
And then there is the organization who thinks that they must be the best organization in the world to work for, especially in this economy. They specialize in taking young idealistic people, putting them to work in entry level jobs, and making them turn off their brains for a year. If they are lucky, they get to do something useful the second year. In the meantime, all these bright people can do is see the waste. And look for a new job. And, because they have a year of experience at a known organization, they will get a new job. The organization's HR policies do not allow these bright young people to look for a job inside the organization until they have been there for a full year. By that time, these people are so dead inside, who can wait to look for a new job? They've had their fill of bringing self-important know-it-alls coffee and lunch and setting up meetings, and printing (yes, printing) email.
All of these situations could be avoided by first defining a job strategy and then defining a job analysis. If you over-hire for a job, you will hire someone overqualified for a job. Although, I honestly do not understand how you can have a software product and not need test automation people.
If you over-hire, do not expect to have happy people. Do not think you can do team building by having people work below their capabilities. But you have a very interesting option: building a community of practice.
If you have one “overqualified” person, why not use that person to help bring other people's capabilities up? Is that reasonable? I don't know. Can you use those capabilities in your context? In the case of the software organizations, I know that they need test automation. I'm perplexed about why they would move from automation to manual scripted testing. These are the same organizations complaining about shortened schedules, insufficient people, technical debt, and how it's so hard to get anything done. Why would you cripple a group by removing a tool (test automation) from the toolbox? Why would you remove a person with more capability? There's gotta be more to this story.
Managers, look at yourselves. Do you think you have “overqualified” people? Are you tempted to dumb them down? Consider your other alternatives. You can pair a person with more capabilities with a person who wants to learn. You can create a formal community of practice. You can invite people to learn from each other informally. And that's just three options.
These stories are all true. I wish I had the imagination to make them up. But not in my wildest dreams could I imagine managers thinking this way. Managers, “overqualified” employees are not a threat to you. Great people reflect well on you. They make it possible for you to get more work done. Nurture them. (Ok, if they are jerks, give them feedback, but we all need help on our interpersonal skills. We are technical people.)
I don't recommend hiring people who are overqualified. But if you find yourself in a position where you have people who appear to be more than you need, find a way to use them for the betterment of the entire team. Whatever you do, do not ask them to dumb themselves down, to give up their capabilities. They will leave. And, they will tell people why. Do you want to be known as the organization or the manager who couldn't handle a smart employee?