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Hiring Nerds? Then Prep the Managers

The incumbents in the Miami Dolphins locker collectively said ‘no nerds,’ which, the last time I looked, isn’t a protected class.

November 11, 2013

If there’s anything certain about the Jonathan Martin-Miami Dolphins situation, it’s that we don’t even know enough to be dangerous.

The simple details are out there for anyone to peruse. Martin, an offensive tackle, gets hazed as a rookie well into his second year, finally has had enough and leaves the team with the allegation of over-the-top hazing that’s basically a harassment claim. A voicemail from teammate Richie Incognito is leaked to show the craziness and intimidation. That teammate is put on administrative leave pending a National Football League investigation.

Why did the Dolphins situation go so wrong? It went wrong because a new type of player was onboarded, and the managers responsible for the team were disconnected related to giving that new type of player the support he needed with a group of incumbents that looked very different from him.

The incumbents in the Dolphin locker room collectively said “no nerds.” Which the last time I looked, isn’t a protected class.Jonathan Martin Dolphins

Martin is a nerd. He’s a Stanford University grad whose parents graduated from Harvard. Regardless of the fact that he’s 6-foot-5 and 300-plus pounds, he’s different. He’s perceived as an academic and soft in the dog-eat-dog world of the NFL.

Like so many workplaces that bring in recruits with different backgrounds, Martin’s managers (in this case the Dolphins coaches) appeared to have taken a hands-off approach to managing Martin and onboarding him into the organization.

It’s a man’s world in the NFL. Figure it out for yourself; make your own way.

Any new hire who appears different is a threat to the status quo, which is why when the hazing started and continued without any apparent intervention, the result was this: Martin became a voluntary termination, and a jaded one at that. Lawsuits are sure to follow.

Your company has hired nerds. And just who are the nerds in your company? Your incumbents define nerds as any hire that looked different from what was normally hired for the position in question.

Examples:

• Hiring college grads when a large percentage of the incumbents don’t have a college degree.

• Hiring people with the experience you need in unrelated industries because you want to broaden your company’s perspective.

Every company of any size has made a move to hire new recruits that don’t look like the incumbents in a target position, otherwise defined by me (and incumbents) as “nerds.” The success of those initiatives usually depends on one factor: The strength of the manager(s) who are charged with onboarding those nerds, talking to the incumbents about why they’re coming in and troubleshooting the assimilation of the nerds on an ongoing basis.

Nerds — by this definition — are good for your company. They broaden your perspective and make you more diverse in ways unrelated to employment law.

But buyer beware: If you’re going to hire nerds or anyone different from what’s expected, you can’t have absentee managers. The nerds need support, and the crusty veterans can’t be trusted to be mentors because of the perceived threat and aforementioned differences. Diversity through your version of nerds needs active managers who build relationships with everyone.

Just ask the Miami Dolphins.

Kris Dunn, the chief human resources officer at Kinetix, is a Workforce contributor. He is also the founder of “The HR Capitalist” and “Fistful of Talent” blogs. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Dunn on Twitter at @kris_dunn.