Strategic Hiring: Argg!


"Strategy...fugetaboutit!. Making good hires is all luck."

That isn't true, of course, it's just how one very frustrated soon-to-be-client felt after yet another new addition to his team failed to deliver any wow. The company had developed an impressive five-year strategic plan and this business unit leader was tasked with finding the right people to make it happen for his group. Things weren't going very well and he was convinced that the whole notion of making "strategic hires" was a pipedream. We helped him turn things around, but I understood his consternation.

Strategy seems to dominate as the catch phrase of our times, just as TQM and co-branding dominated an earlier generation of business discussions. The position description for almost every search we conduct requires that candidates be able to contribute to the strategy discussion, as though it is something new. And yet strategy has always been a part of the business conversation. Perhaps it has finally sunk in that maintaining - much less growing - revenues require more energy, more planning, more really creative thinking and, probably, less sleep.

Today, in our global economy, it is clearer than ever that people are the differentiators between successful, dynamic organizations and those struggling to recover along with our lumbering economy. This is particularly true for professional services firms whose "differentiators" walk out the door every night and hopefully return the next day. But making smart judgments about people in or about to join your organization is no small task. For years, all the popular business books have included at least one chapter on people - finding, developing and retaining them. What I recently realized is that they all say finding the right people can make the difference between success and failure, but the writings on just how to accomplish that task are really quite skimpy. In 2008 and 2009, my colleagues at The Alexander Group and I interviewed a host of hiring managers about their interviewing techniques and their lessons learned. One thing became very clear - there is no one right, certifiably successful way to accomplish this difficult task.

If I can offer any advice after conducting hundreds of interviews for a variety of positions in numerous industries, it would be this:

  • Make sure that you know what is most important to you and your organization - a particular technical skill set, certain educational credentials, people or project management skills, or a select personality or temperament type. Write it down and get the necessary buy in.
  • If your organization uses testing tools, take advantage of them. Personality and skills testing shouldn't make your hiring decision, but it can provide very useful information about work styles, people skills, and reasoning abilities.
  • Involve others in the process. In addition to having candidates meet people they will work closely with, have them meet others whose judgment you respect and who are willing to tell you things you would rather not hear. Naysayers are not always impediments. Often they're the ones with enough courage to take the heat.
  • Don't disregard your gut or the je ne sais quoi quotient that comes from developing good antennae through experience. Just make sure you can back it up with tangible, objective reasons for your decisions.
  • Gather as much information as possible, let it stew around in your head, and then make a decision and be at peace with your decision.

Hiring decisions are the hardest to make and the most critical to get right. I doubt any executive can honestly claim a perfect record and part of your growth as a manager will come from what you learn from your hiring mistakes. But if your hiring record is less than perfect, take heart. Even Jack Welch estimates he only got the people decision right 80 percent of the time, and that was after a stellar 20-year career as CEO of General Electric.
(Judgment, Tichy & Bennis, 2007)



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