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The Case Against Hiring People Just Like You
 

There's a weird tendency among business owners: to hire clones of themselves. Here's why working with extremely like-minded people can destroy your business.

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Faulty products, lame marketing, flaky suppliers, delinquent bill payments, entrepreneurs face a host of possible problems that could sink their businesses, but here's one maybe you never considered before—clones. No, not scientifically designed sheep or characters out of B-movies, the kind of clone you have to worry about as a small business owner is a clone of yourself. What on earth does that mean? Rieva Lesonsky explained the danger recently on Small Biz Daily:

Hiring your clone can mean hiring someone who has the same (or similar) skills as you. It's easy to see how this happens. For most of us, our circle of contacts is heavily weighted toward people in our industry. If you own a marketing and advertising agency, chances are most of your contacts are in that field. You're less likely to know lots of accountants or computer programmers. So when you put the word out that you're hiring, you're likely to get lots of feelers and leads from people in your industry—maybe even people you've worked with before.

The tendency to hire those like you makes sense from the perspective of hiring logistics—people in your immediate circle are both more likely to be similar to you and easier to hire—but it's also understandable from an emotional perspective. Getting a business off the ground is stressful and your impulse to keep conflict with your colleagues to a minimum by hiring those you get along with easily has some logic to it. However, complimentary but different skills (and even personalities) are better for your business, according to Lesonsky:

If you're an energetic idea generator but not good with details, hiring others who share that personality will doom your business to failure. You need to bring on a few sticklers who thrive on project management to make sure your big dreams actually come true. Conversely, if you tend to get bogged down in details, you might need a partner with "big-picture" thinking who can keep your eyes on the prize. An optimist needs a pessimist to temper the rose-colored glasses with reality. And a shy person needs someone more outgoing to handle the "people" part of running a business.

So push yourself to hire folks outside your immediate comfort zone, she concludes. It's advice that has a fair amount of research to back it up. Research out of Stanford has shown, for example, that adding newcomers to your team makes people uncomfortable (and more likely to complain) but actually improves productivity. Meanwhile, researchers at Harvard Business School have demonstrated that, assuming they have decent communication skills, culturally diverse teams come up with better ideas.

If you are guilty of hiring clones, what can you do to fight the tendency?

Last updated: Feb 28, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.
@EntryLevelRebel




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