Recently, my company was stuck on a hiring decision. Our choice came down to two candidates. One candidate had great vision but came with too much experience for the intermediate-level position. The other person didn't have enough experience but had lots of creativity. Each candidate met with the marketing group, the chief of operations, and our vice president, but at the end of the process we were still deadlocked between too much and too little experience.
The clock was ticking to choose, but did we have to choose at all? Couldn't we just follow the "Goldilocks Principle?"
Fairy tales are not commonly associated with best hiring practices in business. However, "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" teaches an important idea about making the right choice. In this 19th-century fairy tale, a young girl with golden locks trespasses in the house of three bears and tries out the bears' porridge, chairs, and beds. In the end, she only chooses what is "just right" and does not settle for second- or third-best. The same principle applies when hiring.
According to Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, great companies follow a similar principle: "When in doubt, don't hire--keep looking."
Why you should wait to hire someone who is just right
There are two main reasons you should wait to hire someone who is just right: higher engagement and lower turnover.
Employees who are not the right fit for a job have lower engagement than workers who are the right fit. Lower engagement leads to lower job productivity and can also disrupt the productivity and chemistry of teams.
According to a study by Attridge Consulting, Inc., "Actively disengaged employees aren't just unhappy at work--they are busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their more engaged coworkers try to accomplish." Gallup has estimated that disengaged employees cost U.S. companies between $250 and $350 billion a year.
Employees who are not engaged also tend to turn over more quickly. Costs of turnover have been estimated in various studies to range from 100-300 percent of the salary of the position.
On the other hand, if you hire the right person you will most likely have a more engaged employee. In a 2016 case study by Gallup, it cited that highly engaged employees had lower turnover, fewer on-site accidents, and increased profit and productivity for the business.
How do you hire someone who is just right?
Typical human resource behavior is to use the meritocracy approach when hiring, basing most of their decision on background, skills, and work experience. HR also takes in account a job must be filled by a certain date.
However, according to Collins, great companies hire for the right fit, not the right skills. These companies put more weight on a person's character, work ethic, basic intelligence, dedication to commitments, and values than an individual's skills. Skills can be taught, but character cannot.
When hiring, great companies act like universities choosing someone for a tenure-track position. They will invite an individual to spend all day at the company and spend time with the team.
This way the company can get a better sense of the individual than what one might see in a typical hour-long interview. You can also see what the person is like in different social situations, or what they are like when they are hungry or tired.
But what if you need someone right now?
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that "right fit" idea sounds great if you have all the time in the world. But what if you have work piling up and need someone to do it?
If you need someone to fill that position right now, there are three options: part-time hires, tours-of-duty, and staff coverage. First, you can hire someone on a part-time trial basis. If the trial work period is a success, then you can look at full-time employment. In the meantime, the work gets done.
Second, you can hire for what our company calls "tours-of-duty." Typical tours-of-duty can last a year. This way a position is filled and both parties can renegotiate terms at the end of the tour if they wish to continue (which works well in our state of California where many people are at-will employees.)
Finally, you can do what great companies do and follow the Goldilocks Principle: Get by with the staff you already have until the "just right" person comes along.