Here are a few things I find amazing:

  • We promote people we personally know based on their past performance and future potential, but when we hire people we don't know, we require they have an overdose of skills and experiences.
  • In the early stages of their careers the best people--those who are assigned the most complex and important projects--tend to be lighter on skills and experiences than their peers. This is why they're considered the best--they accomplish more with less. We ignore this when we select people to interview from the outside.
  • When changing positions, the best people always make the decision based on the job that offers the most personal satisfaction, the biggest challenge and the most upside opportunity. However, when we hire people from the outside we assume they have an economic reason to switch jobs and it's OK to offer them lateral transfers.
  • When we hire people from the outside we expect the best to take less than they're worth, force them to endure a demeaning application and interviewing process, and expect them to take jobs below their capability. Then hiring managers complain HR is not capable of finding enough good people, and HR complains that managers are narrow-minded and can't tell the difference between a plum and a prune.

To address each of these issues, here's my radical "six point plan" for hiring stronger people you might want to try out:

1. Use the same internal process for promoting people when hiring people from the outside.

This approach is quite predictable in determining if someone will be successful since we know the person's reliability, past performance, ability to learn and adapt, how the person fits within the culture, and how well the person works on teams. There is no reason this same criteria can't be applied for hiring people whom we don't know. (Here's the full manual for those who don't want to read the rest of this post.)

2. Pull the performance management process into the hiring process.

It seems rather odd that we define the work the person is expected to do after the person is hired. Most companies have a performance management system describing the major objectives each employee is expected to achieve. Why not use this same approach when opening up a new job or replacing someone?

3. Use performance-based job descriptions to define the work rather than defining the person doing the work.

When opening up the requisition, stop thinking what the new person must have in terms of skills and experiences. Instead figure out what the person must do in order to be considered a great hire. Start with the top two to three performance objectives from point No. 2, and then define the critical sub-tasks needed to accomplish the main tasks. For example, if an engineer needs to complete the design of a new product in the first year, some critical sub-tasks would be to complete the product spec with marketing in 60 days and test alternate design concepts 90 days later.

4. Conduct a pre-hire performance review to replace the traditional interview.

The key to this is to ask candidates to give detailed examples of comparable accomplishments for each of the performance objectives listed in the performance-based job description. Here's a post describing exactly how this needs to be done.

5. Offer a career move, not a lateral transfer.

As long as the person has a track record of handling bigger assignments and everything else fits, the person is someone you should hire. Use the gap between what the person has done and will be doing to demonstrate the learning and growth opportunity. A gap of around 15 to 20 percent is usually sufficient. You might need to modify the job a bit to achieve this. Consider both stretch (bigger job, more impact) and growth (more future opportunities) to create this gap.

6. Use the performance-based job description as the foundation of the on-boarding program.

Clarify the performance-based job description during the first week on the job to ensure expectations are understood. Supplement any coaching requirements with formal training to ensure the person is given every chance to succeed. Since it represents actual job requirements, the performance-based job description is a great tool to manage the person throughout the year.

Google's Project Oxygen and Gallup's Q12 demonstrated that clarifying expectations upfront is an essential aspect for maximizing performance and job satisfaction. There's no reason the same ideas can't be applied to every new hire before the person starts. This doesn't seem too radical an approach to me. But when implementing change, tradition, inertia and excuse-making somehow trump commonsense.

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