For a New Start, a New Hiring Process
By: William C. Taylor
As individuals, we often ask ourselves big questions about our jobs and careers: Am I in the right role? Am I at the right company? Equally important for companies and their leaders is to question their hiring best practices -- how they recruit, evaluate, and select the right people.
Be honest: How many companies do you know that are as creative, as disciplined, as businesslike about the people factor in their business as they are about finance, engineering, and marketing? Over the years, as I’ve traveled the world to evaluate the changing state of business leadership, I’ve searched for those companies -- and haven’t found many.
Indeed, I haven’t met all that many CEOs who could provide a compelling response to a simple question I like to ask whenever I visit an organization for the first time: Why would great people want to work here? (The answer, I add, can’t be about salaries, bonuses, or stock options.) What is it about the ideas your company stands for, its point of view in the marketplace, the ways in which employees interact with customers or collaborate with each other, that becomes irresistible to the best people in your industry? How does your company’s standing in the talent market enhance its position in the product market?
These are not brain-teasers. They are the building blocks of long-term prosperity. For one thing, you cannot have happy, satisfied customers if your organization is filled with unhappy, dissatisfied people. Moreover, if you believe that companies compete on the power of their ideas, then you also have to believe that they compete on the brainpower of their people. Because (to spin that old slogan from the NRA), companies don’t have ideas, people do. The most direct way to fill a company with great ideas is to fill it with great people.
So as you get ready to start work in the New Year, ask yourself these simple questions to evaluate how well your hiring process is working:
1. Why should great people join your organization? The best leaders understand that the best rank-and-file performers aren’t motivated primarily by money. Great people want to work on exciting projects. Great people want to feel like impact players inside their organizations. Great people want to be surrounded with and challenged by other great people. Put simply, great people want to feel like they’re part of something greater than themselves.
We all spend lots of time wrestling with that age-old question, What keeps you up at night? But the more powerful question, especially for the most talented people, is, What gets you up in the morning? What makes you more energetic than ever, more determined than ever, more creative than ever, in a world that seems more uncertain than ever?
2. Do you know a great person when you see one? I’ve seen it time and again in the hiring practices of great companies (from Southwest Airlines to Zappos.com) that are serious about filling their ranks with great people: Character counts for as much as credentials. In other words, who you are as a person is as important as what you know at a moment in time -- these companies “hire for attitude and train for skill.”
There’s a hard-headed business logic to this soft-hearted mindset. Companies with a distinctive set of ideas about how to create value in the marketplace need people whose values are in sync with the strategy. That’s why Southwest tests for the “warrior spirit” among prospective employees and Zappos pays new recruits $3,000 to leave in the middle of their training program. (If you’re willing to take the money and run, then what makes you tick is obviously not in sync with what makes the company tick.)
3. Can you find great people who aren’t looking for you? It’s a common-sense insight that’s commonly forgotten: The most talented performers tend to be in jobs they like, working with people they enjoy, on projects that keep them challenged. So leaders who are content to fill their organizations with people actively looking for new jobs risk attracting malcontents and mediocre performers.
The trick (and the challenge) is to win over so-called “passive” job seekers -- people who won’t work for you unless you work hard to persuade them to join. That’s means creating a “recruiting culture” in which people in all parts of the organization, and not just HR, are on the lookout for talent and are willing to help make the sale.
4. Does your organization work as distinctively as it competes? It’s a simple question with huge implications for productivity and performance. Leaders who are determined to elevate the people factor in business understand that the real work begins once talented people walk through the door. John Sullivan, a professor at San Francisco State University and a truly innovator HR thinker, says it best: “Stars don’t work for idiots.” As you fill your organization with stars, it’s up to you to keep them aligned -- to master the interaction between stars and systems and managing teams that defines everyday life at the most effective organizations I’ve encountered.
So here’s hoping you find a whole new take on recruiting, evaluating, and selecting the best people. Your business results this year -- and for many years after -- may depend on it.
William C. Taylor is a co-founder of Fast Company and author of the book, Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself; he is co-author of Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win (with Polly LaBarre). He has published numerous essays and CEO interviews in the Harvard Business Review and hosts a blog for HBR on being “Practically Radical”; Taylor has been a columnist for the Sunday Business section of The New York Times and The Guardian. He is a graduate of Princeton University and the MIT Sloan School of Management. For more information on the author, please visit www.williamctaylor.com.
Go to the MonsterThinking blog to read an excerpt from Practically Radical -- Hidden Genius: How IBM Spurs Innovation Through Collaboration.