The Billion Dollar Mistake in Hiring Part II

My first article, “The Billion Dollar Staffing Mistake” was received with a lot of passionate support. Several hundred people “Liked” the article; almost all the comments expressed by people showed their support for the ideas expressed in it

Yet it would be unfair if I did not discuss the bind that business feels put in.

Using a few well-known firms as an example, can you imagine the internal discussions at Facebook when someone sat around one day and yelled, “Heah, Mark! Why are we only on campus? My Mom wants to use Facebook, too.”

I doubt if it happened quite that way but you get the point.

A revolution was about to occur. Facebook was about to explode into every home in the world and some people within the firm probably felt betrayed.

“Sell out.”

“He’s just like everyone else.”

” We were special and now we are going to become (fill in the blank).”

How about the conversation around Google when they decided to bounce around an idea to implement something that became Adwords.

“Man! I thought we were (pure, a tech company, fill in the blank with your choice). We’re going to wind up just another website selling ads to people. Jeez! That isn’t what I signed up for!”

You get the idea. The more that people want to be heard, the more the boat is rocked, the more friction occurs that drives other good people away.

And that’s a problem because business views people as “human capital.”

That’s a nice way of saying you are coal to be mined and sold. Inventory. Resources. Anything but an individual.

And, if you are in the United States, coal is being pushed out by the government . . . and so is so called “human capital.”

Now before you think this is going to become rant against outsourcing, let me stop you by saying it won’t be. This is a philosophical observation.

Once upon a time, there was a Personnel Department.” Personnel became a negative code word for “those incompetents who aggravate with stupid decisions.”

Personnel Departments have been re-branded as Human Resources Departments; within them, there are people responsible for “talent acquisition” and other functions designed to manage a process as though you are being taken on a conveyor belt from initial application through to retirement or resigning your job. All of this does one thing extremely well– objectify workers and de-humanize them.

And management is complicit in the con by speaking about “career opportunities” with the firm when they are limited and trivial. The myth of growing from the mailroom to the boardroom is much much stronger than the reality.

So as employees, you are trained to think you are important when, in fact, you are a commodity to be hired, appraised, infrequently praised, and disposed of.

So what can firms do differently?

Hire, Give Positive Attention to and Reward the Rebel.

Hire people who believe and act on the belief that your business will be disrupted at some point in the near future and start listening to people who are willing to propose ideas they work on apart from their natural job to anticipate change and offer alternatives.

One of the classic B school stories is the story of the American railroad. They thought they were in the railroad business, not the transportation business, and thus missed the opportunity of owning airlines and, until recently, transporting things other than people.

Are you telling me that only business school students figured that out?

Change the culture of management to a culture of leadership

Managers help keep people in boxes. Leaders inspire their staff to enthusiastic action. Hire leaders. Leaders need to know what is going on. Most managers are kept clueless about decisions made a few levels above them and when asked by staff about what they think lie to them based upon a desire to defuse potential problems, keep inventory in place and not have to hire replacements, all based upon wishes and hopes that things will remain smooth. Communicate downward more effectively with your leaders.

Change your relationship with the people who report to you.

If you are at a Director level and above, you need to be an inspiring leader. That starts with continually connecting with your people. Start learning their names and what their lives are like. Walk around. Talk to them. If you’re in another city or country, organize a video conference using whatever tech your firm has. No corporate tech? Do a Skype or Hangout.

Ask them, “How’s it going?” “What does your manager (I’ll get to this in a minute) do well?” “What do I do well?” “Where can we improve?” Give spot bonuses for their answers, whatever they are. Your staff knows better than you some of the problems. Personal attacks should be deflected. Professional ones rewarded. Resist the urge to punish them for being honest.

Change exit interviews.

No one joins a company to fail or quit. They sometimes join to use it as a stepping stone. They will leave when they think you don’t care about them enough when expressed as giving them interesting work, a leader who hears them and supports them, and appropriate compensation for their work. They will leave if you don’t care enough to find out and support them with achieving their goals while helping your company achieve its goals.

The one question every exit interview should start with is “How did we fail you?” Listen to that answer. Learn if you are misleading people. Learn whether your staff leadership (not managers. staff leadership) are engaging in behaviors that demonstrate they should not be leading.

Make it fun to work for your firm.

There are thousands of ways to make it fun to work for your firm without spending big bucks. The good ones put their souls into their work. You’ll burn them out without an environment where laughter is permitted too.


If you are in human resources, talent acquisition or even in “Personnel,” you have an opportunity to influence the success of your firm by re-creating the relationship your firm has with the people who work with. Start with the language. You are not a recruiter but a person who recruits. They are not programmers but people who write programs. Put the people back in your firm.

 If you are an employee who has been hired to execute tasks and your organization won’t change, it’s time to join one or start one that will do things differently. You can be the change the world needs. It will be hard work but if you are that person, you can make history.



Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1500 episodes and his newest show, “No BS Coaching Advice.” He is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council. “No BS JobSearch Advice Radio” was recently named a Top 10 podcast for job search. was also recently named a Top 10 YouTube channel for job search.

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