Builders vs. Maintainers

Leroy Wall, Wall Consulting Group

The magnificent grand pianos that grace the stages of concert halls, jazz clubs and music schools are handcrafted by artisans who bend wood, string wire and glue felt to build each instrument. Once the piano builders are done and the finished pianos leave the workshop, it’s up to piano tuners to maintain them; making regular adjustments to ensure they continue sounding the way the builders intended.

In any endeavour, be it providing a musician with a consistently exemplary concert grand piano or providing an asset manager with a best practice back office, there’s a certain harmony in knowing which roles are best left to builders and which are the purview of maintainers.

As well, knowing where you fall on the spectrum of builders and maintainers can help you manage your own career goals and expectations.

Those of us in the investment operations field have likely worked with some great builders and some equally great maintainers. But builders and maintainers are only at their best when they perform roles that are the right fit for their personalities. Leaving a builder in a maintenance role for too long can sometimes lead to boredom and stagnation. Someone with a builder’s personality might need a daily dose of risks and challenges that they won’t face in a maintenance role. Eventually the need for something new trumps all other needs and they tune out and move on. Those piano builders so used to working with their hands and tools to proudly create each unique instrument might not find it so satisfying to spend hours every few weeks monotonously adjusting each wire to maintain the instrument’s sound.

Likewise, putting a maintainer in a builder’s role for too long is likely to create unhealthy levels of stress and anxiety. Imagine the average piano tuner trying to build a piano from scratch. The piano makers at the venerable Steinway and Sons factories famously build the instruments from memory and experience, not a blueprint or plan in sight. Put a maintainer in a builder’s role without a blueprint and you’ll have a person likely paralyzed by fear and slow to make decisions.

Of course, some of the best piano tuners are also technicians capable of practically rebuilding damaged instruments. Similarly, in the world of finance, people are rarely completely just a builder or just a maintainer; they fit somewhere on a spectrum. Roles are also rarely exclusively one or the other; they too fit on a spectrum.

This means it is imperative that when you are designing roles, recruiting talent or motivating employees to achieve success, you need consider not just technical skills, but also personality match for the specific position.

Know where you fit and you will become happier in your career. Know how to define your team members and you will place the right people in the right jobs to be successful.  Most importantly, identify the mismatch when it occurs and fix it right away. Doing that will help you to hit the right chord for success in any endeavour.

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