At a recent industry awards event, the CEO of a small technology company regaled his audience with tales of his firm’s rise to glory. Included in his remarks were the perfunctory ‘lessons learned’, which included the revelation that hiring should be kept simple. As the CEO said, “Given the demands on my time I tend to distil things to their essence. When it comes to hiring, if you want a smart company, just hire smart people. Keep it simple folks”. He then moved onto another subject.
The comments reminded me of two other ‘keep it simple’ leaders from my past.
Not that long ago the coach of my son’s modestly performing sports team announced he would not return for the following season. The parents were subsequently assembled to meet the new coach and to learn about his credentials, program and philosophy. In his opening remarks, the new coach made it clear that none of the current team members would be guaranteed spots on his squad though all would receive equal and fair consideration. He would not immerse himself in the ‘politics’ of team or family dynamics nor would he concern himself with burdensome evaluations of children’s personalities, character, or references from previous coaches. Instead, the team would be assembled on the basis of ‘talent’, nothing more or less. He would keep it simple by selecting the best players available. The rest would look after itself.
The second situation occurred many years ago when I worked for a fast-growing IO psychology firm. One day the company’s Managing Director announced that henceforth we would no longer interview candidates as part of our own selection process. Instead, we would hire staff by administering a full battery of our own psychometric tests to all candidates and those individuals scoring the highest would be hired. We would only meet our new teammates on their first day of employment with the firm. As he said, somewhat inelegantly, ‘It is time for us to eat our own psychometric dog food’.
I cannot comment on whether the young CEO will continue to be successful in his ‘hire smart’ strategy though I can report on the other two situations. In the case of my son’s team, the coach assembled an undeniably athletic group of players who came together to form a toxic sludge of personality conflicts, competing egos and clashing values. Fights broke out in the dressing room among factions of team mates, kids quit, morale was non- existent and the team performed even more modestly than the previous year’s team. It was an unmitigated disaster.
The industrial psychology firm fared no better. An array of individuals were hired and, as promised, introduced to us all on their first day of work. Perfect on paper they proved to be far from perfectly fit to the organization and over the next twelve months our new staff turnover approached 90% of those hired. The firm’s own dog food proved to be as unpleasant as the metaphor.
There are many instances where less is quantifiably more, where simplicity trumps undue complexity. Hiring executives and assembling teams is not one of them. In fact, when it comes to talent acquisition keeping it overly simple can be just plain stupid.
About the Author
Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.