In order to raise the talent level at your company, you need to forget competencies, behavioral interviewing, traditional skills-laden job descriptions and assessment tests. Instead, you need to think results: how to measure them and how to hire people who can deliver stronger results than you're now achieving. If you continue using the tools your now using to find and select people, you'll get the same results you're now getting. Let me explain.
Last week I was in London at LinkedIn's Talent Connect conference for talent leaders in Europe. Just before I left, I visited with the CEO of a fast-growing marketing firm that's about to explode. He told me he had established an unusual results-oriented culture partially based on the Performance-based Hiring methodology I've been advocating for years. He went on to say that no one in the company has any formal hours. Instead, all they have to do is meet their quarterly performance objectives; if they do, it doesn't matter where and when they get their work done. Whatever teams the person is working with and supporting determine the time commitment and the need to be in the office.
The CEO then explained that the performance objectives and expected results are developed directly from the business plan. They're evaluated formally in quarterly operational review sessions. Managers are expected to organize their departments in the same way, assigning each team member the necessary subtasks required to achieve the overall department objectives. Even more impressive, is that everyone is assigned work that not only stretches them, but allows them to excel at something they want to do. This is a direct application of Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi's concept of flow: doing work that is highly satisfying and intrinsically motivating. Furthermore, managers are expected to coach their team members to achieve their performance objectives in a constructive, not autocratic way. Doing this successfully is one of the major performance objectives for all managers.
After one year, this unusual management approach is working. Job satisfaction and performance is increasing, along with a huge drop in turnover. This start-up is rapidly becoming known as one of the best places to work in the U.K. More surprising, the CEO is only 24 years old!
I had a similar experience a few years ago after being approached by another young CEO of a fast-growing high-tech firm in eastern Europe. His company was nearing 300 employees, and the CEO said he could no longer personally interview every person hired. He asked me to comment on his plan to delegate the responsibility for hiring top people to the hiring manager. For him, the idea was that each manager's number one performance objective would be to hire, train and develop exceptional people. Their success, or lack of it, in achieving this objective would be the primary topic of their annual performance review. Those that couldn't attract and hire top talent would not be promoted. For this group, any of their subsequent hiring decisions would be subject to peer review and could be overridden.
This CEO believed that if hiring top talent was the most important thing any company needed to do, every manager must be held personally responsible for doing it. Making hiring managers responsible for hiring people and grading their performance is an emerging trend. At Talent Connect in October in San Francisco, Salesforce.com, Google and Amazon made similar remarks.
Holding managers accountable for their hiring decisions is obviously necessary and appropriate, but what's surprising is that it's a surprise when someone actually does it. The problem is simple to understand: while companies need to hire people for both the short- and long-term, most managers hire people primarily to address their short-term needs. That's why managers prefer people who are fully-skilled and who have a lot of direct experience. Unfortunately, this approach is inconsistent with how the best people evaluate potential career opportunities. They want stretch opportunities, not lateral transfers. To address this conflict and overcome the conservative nature of most hiring managers, company intervention is necessary.
One way to bridge the gap is to define the work the person being hired must do to be successful, rather than prepare a kneejerk list of "must have" skills and experiences. It's obvious that if the person is capable and motivated to do the work they will logically have all of the skills and experiences necessary. This simple shift in thinking broadens the pool to high potential candidates who get more done with less, diversity and non-traditional candidates who bring a different mix of skills of experiences to the table, and returning veterans who have achieved comparable levels of performance in a totally different environment. These are the very people every company should be seeking, but unless hiring managers are held personally responsible for both hiring them and ensuring their subsequent success, things will not change.
Every company wants to hire people who are results-oriented. Unfortunately, they then put a lid on the types of results-oriented people they'll hire. It would be better to define the results required first and then find people who will excel at achieving them. This is how you create a results-oriented culture. Not by wishing it, but by building it one hire at a time and holding those making the hiring decisions fully responsible for them.