Q: I was paying attention when you said that who we hire is the most important decision we ever make in organizations. What do you mean by that, and how can we do it better?
The first person an entrepreneur hires obviously changes the course and the destiny of that organization forever. That’s easy to see. It’s not so easy to see when the organization is much larger—say 4 or 5 thousand employees. But every hire changes the local culture, and hence influences the course of the whole organization.
Hiring top-level people seems more important. But it isn’t. They may be more visible. But the destiny of the organization will still be determined by the larger culture of the place. At any level, if the hire is consistent with the current culture, then that adds to the pushes and pulls of that culture—for good or for ill. If it isn’t, there will be conflict, and the new hire will either move on or cave in to the larger forces massed against her.
The real issue is how you manage the process. Most organizations recruit in conventional ways and are surprised by the mediocre conventionality of the people who come to interview.
If you want high-powered people, you have to go after them one by one. And they are probably employed and not looking, because they are not as nomadic. Most organizations I’m familiar with never recruited or interviewed to a specific role description (the part the person will play in getting the organization where it wants to go). This is a serious mistake.
The second mistake is having people other than the most committed and competent in the organization do the interviewing. It takes a winner (or keeper) to know one. Let the people who are going to work with the newcomer every day pick what they want and need.
Third, select the person based on her agenda for the future (again, by all using the same specific role description), and not on past (mostly hyperbolic) experiences or credentials. In any case, past experiences are no guarantor of future performance. Fourth, every newcomer needs a sponsor (to midwife their transition into the aims and values of their new organization), and a mentor (to guide that person’s development—not on some “career path,” but to increased and increasing competence in the role they’re in.
We’ve found that when we do this, hiring is no longer just a crap-shoot, turnover is minimal, and the organization is empowered.