Most of the contemporary literature on hiring and gaining corporate advantage stresses the importance of recruiting top performers to drive companies forward. In the upcoming “war for talent”, the story goes, successful companies will be the ones staffed with “thoroughbreds” who can outperform other employees and competitors.
We have all witnessed the staggering difference in the productivity, creativity and impact between the very best and the merely good. It seems obvious that all of our recruiting resources should be spent hiring the top-performing drivers who seem to move the world. However, it doesn’t always make sense to do so.
In many contexts, top performers are not the best fit. Kirschner Cameron often helps clients who have worked hard to develop stable, mature work environments. Certain industries, or companies positioned in particular sectors, are stagnant, with no room for significant growth. Other companies are, for a variety of complex reasons, simply unwilling or unable to change. Sometimes particular departments in hard-charging companies are purposely slow-moving and methodical in their day-to-day work style. In these and other similar situations, top performers or drivers will generally cause more harm than good.
In a recent assignment, Kirschner Cameron conducted a search for a General Manager for a metal distribution facility. The location was the Canadian satellite branch of a larger, American operation. The company was a well-run, conservative family business, tightly controlled by the family executives. In this context, a top-performing driver would not have worked well. The company executed its business decisions methodically and carefully, and the role of the General Manager was to implement the policies from the head office in as smooth a manner as possible.
The nature of a thoroughbred
Thoroughbreds, top performers, change agents and the like are typically doers who are hard-wired to push the world in one direction or another. They need to affect the environment around them. Although these personality types are classically associated with sales professionals, top performers are properly defined by their need to make things happen and can be found in any discipline. One of the greatest change agents we ever saw was an accountant – and there are many effective sales people who do not fit the driver mold. Top performers from all disciplines are united by their need to be centrally involved in corporate change.
What makes the case for hiring top performers so compelling is that these people tend to be smart, charismatic and inspiring—especially in interview situations. We are naturally drawn to those candidates who exhibit the most dynamic and likable personalities. However, after the interviews end and the day-to-day reality of work sets in, the problems associated with top performers that have no channels to dispel their energy will become quickly evident. A top performer working in a static or tightly controlled environment will feel stifled. It is essential to match the candidate’s dispositions with the context at hand.
Sometimes a steward is the right choice
Certain positions call for stewards, people who do not rock the boat and are quietly proficient at completing their work. They may not be the leaders of tomorrow, but stewards are essential players in virtually every organization. A company comprised of only top performers will be an unorganized and unrestrained train-wreck. Stewards remind change agents to make sure their actions comply with corporate goals, ethics, and business practices.
The key to successful hiring is to identify the right set of dispositions for the position at hand, and not to be lured into the glamorous world of top performers unless you are sure your particular situation necessitates that level of intensity. Be introspective; be careful what you wish for.
Success in hiring comes from the ability to accurately identify your general culture and specific requirements and to assess the candidate’s ability to fulfill these requirements and fit into your culture. Most companies invest significant resources in candidate evaluation (detailed hiring systems, psych tests, aptitude tests, interviewing specialists, search firms, etc.), but tend to ignore self-assessment. If a company is not honest with itself then no amount of candidate vetting will guarantee a good fit. Whether choosing between a top performer or a steward, or any of the many other decisions that go into staffing requirements, successful hiring begins with an accurate depiction of one’s own corporate culture.
Hiring self-assessment questionnaire
Use this Self-Assessment questionnaire to be sure that your needs align with your wants.
These are straight-forward corporate culture analysis questions. Answering these questions will not only allow you to identify the types of candidates that will successfully fit into your department or company, but will also enable you to pinpoint broader cultural improvement initiatives. Honesty is the key.
1. Concisely describe your organization’s management style? Is it traditional and directive, or progressive and decentralized or a combination of styles?
2. Do department heads make key decisions or do they implement top-down orders?
3. How do employees/managers that do not embrace your organization’s management style fare in the company? Are they tolerated or terminated?
4. How much growth is expected in your company/department over the next two years? Five years? What will be the impact of growth (or no growth) on your corporate culture?
5. Describe the nature and extent of office politics in your company/department? How far reaching is the impact of office politics on your department/company? Who are the instigators of office politics?
6. Does your company/department embrace or fear change? Who are the change management specialists and how are they valued by the department/company?
7. Are new ideas and dissenting opinions encouraged in your company/department? How comfortable are managers/employees in discussing their opinions or ideas?
8. Is your organization internally competitive? Describe the factors that contribute to competitiveness? How does internal competition (or lack thereof) play out in the careers of winning and losing employees/departments?
9. Are employees challenged and enabled to excel in your environment? Explain.
10. How does your organization recognize the achievements of individual contributors? Be specific.
11. Which managers take credit and/or assign blame for the actions of their employees? Which managers give credit and/or take the blame for the actions of their employees.
12. Are your employees motivated to be top performers? What factors drive or inhibit their performance?
13. How would you rate your company’s internal communication skills? What could be done to improve internal communication?
14. How would you describe your organization’s commitment to and capital investment in employee development?
15. To what extent does your organization provide employees with formal training or learning plans to ensure that they develop the skills they need to excel in their job?
16. To what extent does your organization use training and development, and formal succession planning initiatives (skill building, career planning, etc.) to help employees achieve their long-term career goals?
17. To what extent does your organization analyze why good performers leave? Does your organization conduct a formal exit interview? If so, what is made of the exit interview?
18. To what extent is senior management involved with training and development to ensure investments are consistent with organizational strategy, priorities, and goals?
19. To what extent do your current succession planning practices allow you to identify and develop leadership talent across the organization?
20. What types of opportunities exist for managers to be highly motivated in their career development?Tags: recruiting, recruiting advice, recruitment