We all hire people. Unfortunately, statistically, we’re quite bad at it. Between high failure rates of the position and overall cost of poor personnel fits, the impact to clients of inadequate hiring is one of the highest undocumented expenses most companies face. The question I keep asking myself is, how can we get better at this?
While there are great methods available to better hire for specific roles, I’ve found that the key is to realistically define what you are trying to do. When talking with managers who want to hire someone, my first question is almost always, “What are you trying to solve with this position?” The answer to this is harder than you may think.
Hiring needs for long-term success
Imagine that you’re a support manager for a software company. Let’s say you just lost one of your best people- we’ll call him Bill- who left to take another job elsewhere. Bill is an easy-going guy who has been with the organization for 10 years. As the manager, you quickly want to hire a replacement as Bill handled a lot of Support tickets and was a key member of the team.
What would the hiring manager in this example respond to the question I posted up above? Typically, the answer I get is, “I need another Bill.” Keep in mind that Bill just left after 10 years and took his knowledge of the product, the company and the client base with him. Hiring another Bill is practically impossible.
Hire to obtain tremendous impact
Although merely hiring a new person seems reasonable, it’s actually very hard if Bill was your benchmark. Let’s break it down: Bill stayed with the company for 10 years, so he was most likely not the same Bill in his first year, as he was in his later years.
My assumption is that you don’t want Bill in years one to two as he was in the midst of learning the company’s complex products and finding effective ways to work more efficiently. You also probably don’t want Bill in years nine to ten as he may have been disenfranchised as he was looking to leave.
What you want is a Bill in his prime; an eager performer, progressively getting better, wanting to learn but already knowing enough to have an immediate impact. In other words, you want to hire a person that is going to have an anticipated three years of specific training and who is able to fit in with the team. A tough job, and you will likely not know you have a “Bill” until year three.
Don’t settle for a warm body
When confronted with the reality that the likelihood of finding another Bill is clearly very hard, managers will often revert to, “Just get me another person, my existing people are overwhelmed.”
But do you really want just any other resource? If all you’re looking for is a warm body, you should be able to do that quite easily, but hiring someone out of desperation is the last thing you should do. In these situations, you are more likely to face the same issues, as the wrong hire generates long-term impact. In fact, the issue was created months ago, if not years, when you did not have a proper development plan for your staff.
Build them before you need them
Often employees are looking for a senior person to come in and have an immediate impact on their company, someone who can help them reach the next level. If you’re a fast-growing company or if you’re terrible at developing people, this is probably the only option for you.
In the first scenario, you don’t have the time. In the second, you don’t have the skill. I can understand the first, but if you fall in the second you will never recruit quality. The people you will hire are good at getting hired, good at not getting fired, but rarely good at having a positive impact on your business.
After many years of trying various things (and as obvious as it may sound), I believe the key lies in developing your own people. You can bring experienced staff into the organization but you will sometimes spend just as much time “un-training” them as you would training them to begin with.
These individuals will want to impress you with what they do know and not mention what they don’t. You will spend more time figuring out what’s going wrong and why things don’t get done when you should be focusing on building a great company.
When undergoing the hiring process, you should concentrate on finding and adding people based on core skills and overall drive. You want them to give you more options down the road when the Bill’s of the world move on. To me, drive is the main catalyst in propelling able-bodied, smart people into the realms of “great” and “top-performer.”
Don’t raise the bar too high on your hires
In software, the ability to match intellect with work ethic is highly valuable; assuming you can filter on intellect, the key variables you should hire for are: drive, focus and a willingness to constantly get better.
The hiring process is hard enough to manage already- especially for critical fits. You need to make sure you hire with an eye for the next potential position, not only the one in front of you.