“Would the real”…person…”please stand up”

I think Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Point author) is right in his parting comment from his ‘Mismatch Problem’ presentation , “you only know what a person is like when you have worked with them”. Gladwell criticises the recruitment selection process for sportspeople, teachers and lawyers. However he did not put forward an alternative method. Perhaps that’s in his next book! Referring to today’s hiring practices and commenting on Gladwell’s talk, Guy Kawasaki posted: “Guess what: this method doesn’t work. Jobs–of all types–are more complex, and the desire for certainty increases but is manifested in measuring the wrong things. Do you hire people based on the measuring the wrong variables?”

Jim Collins’s classic Good to Great (2001) research refers to the importance of organisational culture in creating an enduring firm, with culture forming from the founders personality, beliefs and the collective employees. Jason Powell of 37 Signals recently posted about the importance of culture in Pixar’s tightknit culture being its edge.

Collins believes that ingrain character attributes of: work ethic; basic intelligence; dedication to fulfil commitments and values are the things to really look out for in potential new employees. Collins goes on to say whilst other attributes including educational background; practical skills; specialized knowledge and work experience, remain important they are all learnable. I think the challenge is that its much easier to select based on education/experience than in identifying the real persons character.

Many of us have been through the various recruitment selection processes to weed out the best knowledge workers, including : hand written applications; panel interviews; psychometric tests (e.g. Myers Briggs) and even team recruitment days. However with practice all of these methods can be learnt, the right answers given and thus real persons character can remain hidden.

If we have not worked with the person or are unable to rely on social networks our only real choice is to very carefully go though the process, check-up on references and trust in your gut instinct. I bet the Pixar team take great care when selecting new employees to maintain their pure culture. The audience at the future of management conference seemed surprised by the significant amount of time senior management time Larry/Sergey and Dr. Eric Schmidt of Google spends on screening up to 80-90 candidates weekly. Interestingly one of Google primary criteria for new recruits is educational background and achievements.

The dangers of bringing people that don’t fit can have a far reaching and significant knock-on impact on employee culture. If the people in the company are really the most important asset then the selection process must also be one of the key priorities for the firm. Perhaps winning the right people is even as important as winning new business.


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