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Hire With Your HeadUsing POWER Hiring to Build Great Companies
By Lou Adler
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-471-22329-8
Chapter OneThe POWER Hiring Approach to Hiring Top Talent
Hire smart, or manage tough. Red Scott
* A RUDE AWAKENING-WHAT IT REALLY TAKES TO GET AHEAD
I still remember this like it was yesterday. I got the call sometime in the morning on a mid-October day in 1972. It was my first management job, Financial Planning Manager at Rockwell's Automotive Group in Troy, Michigan. At the time, I was working on my first presentation to the Group President and Vice President of Finance, due the next day. It was going to be a very long night. I didn't mind, since my new wife hadn't made the move yet. My boss, Chuck Jacob, and the reason for my being in Detroit, was on the phone with a desperate plea. Chuck was a 29-year-old Harvard MBA whiz kid, just out of Ford Motor Company, trying to prove to everyone that he deserved his position as Controller for this $900 million truck-axle business. He was also my idol. I listened. He was at the University of Michigan interviewing MBA students for planning analyst positions to fill out our department. We needed these people urgently. The good news-too many had signed up for the interview, and Chuck needed me there to interview the overflow. We were going head-to-head with Ford, P&G, IBM, and every other top Fortune 500 company, who wanted the best candidates from this prestigious MBA program.He told me there were stars in this group that we needed on our team. The bad news-I didn't have a minute to spare. I protested, vehemently, pleading 14-hour days, a long night, and a critical presentation the next day. There was a momentary delay. Chuck's response still blasts in my ears today. "There is nothing more important to your success than hiring great people! We'll somehow get the work done. Get your ______ over here now." He then hung up.
I was there within the hour. Together we interviewed about 20 people, took eight of them to dinner that night in Ann Arbor, and hired three of the top MBA students within two weeks. I've lost track of Russ, Joe, and Vivek, but I want to thank them and Chuck (who passed away at too early an age) for an invaluable lesson: There is nothing more important to your personal and company's success than hiring great people. Nothing. Chuck and I got back to the office at 10 P.M. that night and worked together until about 3 A.M. to finish the report. The handwritten version was presented the next day to Bob Worsnop and Bill Panny. We apologized for the format and lack of preparation, but told them we were doing something more important. They agreed.
* BENCHMARKING THE BEST
I learned 50 percent of what I needed to know about hiring that day. Since then, I've been trying to understand the rest. I'm not quite there yet, but close. For the past 25 years, I've been fortunate to be able to work with other people, like Chuck, who always seem to hire great people, year-in and year-out. Few have had any formal training. They learned through trial and error. Equally important, I've lived and worked with managers who've made every possible hiring mistake in the book. This is their book, too. It's the collective stories of the good and the bad. What to do and what not to do. You'll find some great techniques in this book, but none are more important than your belief that hiring great people is the single most important thing you can do to ensure your own success.
Many years later, I heard Red Scott's adage, "Hire smart, or manage tough." This said it all to me. I've never met anybody who could manage tough enough. No matter how hard you try, you can never atone for a weak hiring decision. A weak candidate rarely becomes a great employee, no matter how much you wish or how hard you work. Instead, hire smart. Use the same time and energy to do it right the first time. Brian Tracy of Nightingale-Conant fame said on one of his recent tape programs that effective hiring represents 95 percent of a manager's success. This seems a little high, but with what I've seen, 70 percent to 80 percent seems about right to me. This is still enough to keep hiring in the number one position.
Every manager says that hiring great people is his or her most important task; however, few walk the talk. Although important, it never seems urgent enough until it's too late. When it comes down to the actual hiring process, our words don't match our actions. Test yourself and see how you score as a hiring manager. Rank the performance of every member of your own team. Are most of them top-notch and exceeding expectations? If they are, consider yourself a strong manager. Unless you're hiring people like this 80 percent to 90 percent of the time, you need to throw out everything you've learned about hiring, and start with a fresh slate. If you're already in the elite 80 percent to 90 percent, this book reinforces how you got there, and gives you a few new techniques that will boost your performance even further.
You might try a similar exercise with your next candidate for a management position. This should become part of your standard interviewing practices. When you're hiring a manager, make sure he or she has a track record of hiring good people. Have the candidate draw an organization chart and rank each person's performance. Ask him or her to describe all hiring successes and failures. Do this for the last two or three management positions. You'll quickly discover if the person is a good manager or not.
Most managers find the hiring process frustrating and time consuming. With this built-in negative bias, it's not surprising we're easy prey to the energetic, attractive, affable, and articulate candidate. This is the one who eventually falls short of our lofty expectations once on the job. Knowing we're prone to this problem is the first step to overcoming it.
We have developed many of the techniques presented in this book by observing people who consistently hire top people. This is a process called benchmarking, and much of the book has been developed this way. Just do what the best interviewers do, and you'll get similar results. In fact, modeling good interviewers this way is similar to modeling good performers for any type of job. Just find out what the most successful people do that makes them successful, and find other people who can do the same things. This principle of benchmarking is a theme of the book and is at the heart of the POWER Hiring performance-based hiring system we present. You don't need to be a trained psychologist to hire good people. Psychologists look for the underlying traits of high performers. Why bother? Just look for high performers. They possess the necessary underlying traits.
One critical factor has been observed through our benchmarking: The best interviewers use two different critical thinking skills, one for the hiring decision and another for information gathering. They recognize that the hiring decision must be intuitive, since there's never enough information to match abilities, needs, and interests completely. Instead, they substitute a broader group of 8 to 10 generic and job-specific factors to assess competency. Despite this intuitive approach, they recognize that an analytical, fact-finding method is needed to collect as much appropriate data as possible about these traits before making the hiring decision. These great interviewers also have the ability to suspend their personal reaction to the candidate long enough to make an unbiased assessment.
From my observations, it appears that weaker interviewers, those who make many mistakes, fall within three broad categories. A large percentage of them are too emotional. These people make quick, simplistic judgments based largely on first impressions and personality. Not unexpectedly, their hiring results are random. The overly intuitive interviewer short-circuits the process, superficially assessing only a narrow group of important traits. Every now and then, they'll hire a star, but more often it's a person strong in only a few areas and not broad enough to handle the whole job. I call these the partially competent. The technical interviewers are at the other extreme. These people are good at the fact-finding part of the process, but weak at decision making, believing they never have enough information. As a substitute, they overemphasize the need for years of experience and an abundance of skills. The result is a solid, but often unspectacular staff, since they ignored hard-to-measure potential. The key to hiring both competent and high-potential people is to collect enough of the right facts. Trouble occurs when this delicate balance is broken.
* HIRING IS TOO IMPORTANT TO LEAVE TO CHANCE
If you want to hire superior people, use a system designed to hire superior people, not one designed to fill jobs. The emphasis of too many hiring processes is to reduce costs and fill jobs as rapidly as possible. Somehow the idea of hiring the best is an afterthought. Hiring the best must dominate every aspect of a company's hiring process. This is the clear theme of the latest McKinsey Consulting research project, The War for Talent. The authors surveyed over 200 major companies. The conclusions were obvious-hiring the best is an essential component of long-term success, requiring a comprehensive and well-executed plan. Talk by itself, no matter how eloquent, is not enough.
In the mid-1990s, everyone thought the Internet was going to be the new tool that allowed everyone to hire great people quickly and at low cost. What a terrible forecast. For 2001, surveys indicate that less than 10 percent of all hires were made as a result of job boards on the Internet. And this was the best year ever! Trends indicate that this number won't grow much more. There's much more to hiring great people than posting an ad.
Hiring the best requires a system designed around the needs of hiring the best people. This is what POWER Hiring offers-five steps to hiring great talent every time. Part of the reason a formal hiring process is so important is that the people involved in the hiring process are generally untrained and unsophisticated when it comes to hiring. Some of the biggest problems-the weakest links-are the people involved in the hiring process: candidates, recruiters, hiring managers, and interviewers.
Setting up a fancy hiring system with all the latest database, Internet job sites, and filtering and tracking software does not address the problems of hiring top talent. It hides them. Systems are about managing data and preparing reports, not hiring the best. These weakest links are the cause of our biggest problems, and, as a rule, we ignore them. If these problems aren't solved first, everything else is just wasted activity. Not understanding the needs of the people involved in the hiring process, what motivates them to act, how they make decisions, and their biases and prejudices makes all of us the weakest links in the hiring process. Hiring processes will not improve until these issues are understood and addressed.
Here's how these issues affect the hiring process:
* It's too hard for the best candidates to apply for your job openings.
* Recruiters and hiring managers are looking for different candidates.
* Emotions, biases, prejudices, and first impressions dominate the hiring decision.
* The best candidates have different needs that aren't addressed.
Without enough good candidates, nothing else matters. If you look closely at your hiring process, you'll see plenty of these weak links. Here are a few I found on some recent client engagements. It takes only one or two of these problems to negate everything else you're doing. Do any of these common problems sound familiar?
Classic Hiring Problems
1. Can't find the ad. One of our clients was hiring 20 sales reps. The 30-day-old ad was on the 37th of 40 pages of monster.com listings. The top 20 percent won't spend the time going through every ad. Listings must always be on the first one or two pages wherever they are posted.
2. Boring ads. When I finally found the ad, it was boring, exclusionary, and demeaning. Ads need to be compelling-fun to read and inspiring.
3. Skills-based ads that turn off the best. "Use your CPA to see the world," is much better than, "Must have a CPA and be willing to travel 70 percent, including international." Most ads ask for too many skills. It's better if you include just a few, with more attention devoted to the challenges.
4. Skills-based filters. The best candidates have 60 percent to 70 percent of the skills, lots of potential, and the motivation to grow. You filter out the best if you ask for 100 percent of the skills. They won't even apply if you insist on them in the ad.
5. Web-based applications that are negative or exclusionary. As a test, I applied for a customer service job the other day directly on my client's Web site. The questions were sophomoric. Would I take a drug test? Would I be willing to work overtime? Would I be willing to travel? Did I live within 50 miles of the facility? They never asked if I wanted a great job, if I would be willing to put in extra effort if the company offered a challenging career opportunity, or if I would be willing to relocate for the chance to work with a company creating Six Sigma customer service.
6. Incompetent recruiters. Passive or active, the best candidates always have more than one opportunity. Recruiters must be career consultants, not used car salespeople.
7. Emotional assessments. You'll never build a great, diverse team if assessments are filtered through first impressions, personality, stereotypes, and prejudices.
8. A flawed voting system. Hiring the best is challenging enough. It's impossible if one "no" vote based on a superficial interview can outweigh three or four solid "yes" votes.
9. Selling too soon. In our haste, a great resume and a great first impression are often all it takes to begin the sales job on an apparently great candidate. A job has more value when it has to be earned. You'll drive away the best if you give your jobs away too soon.
10. No one knows the real job. The best candidates accept offers based on what they'll be doing, learning, accomplishing, and becoming-not on the use of their skills.
Excerpted from Hire With Your Head by Lou Adler Excerpted by permission.
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