The Billion Dollar Staffing Mistake

The Billion-Dollar Staffing Mistake

By Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Most of us who have read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers” filed away this little factoid– it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate action to become successful. Specifically, he wrote “an extraordinarily consistent answer in an incredible number of fields… you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.”

The billion dollar staffing mistake

I reached the 10,000 number many years ago and have a fairly well-cultivated ability to assess talent in several fields.

Yet business sends its inexperienced HR professionals and hiring managers out to evaluate and assess talent with little more than a pep talk and an “If you screw up, it’s on you,” warning.

Is it any wonder that businesses consistently make billion-dollar mistakes when hiring?

Yes. You read that right. Businesses consistently make billion-dollar mistakes all the time.

One of my pet peeves is that firms will regularly talk with me about hiring “team players” and then go out and purely assess for skills. As one organization described it, (Bold facing comes directly from the ad) “Dependable team player who works collaboratively and cooperatively with staff in a team-oriented environment.” That’s for a District attorney’s office.

Another says, “We are strong team players, with a commitment to continuous learning, who provide quality service and products to our customers through true craftsmanship.”

Don’t get me wrong, a certain basic knowledge is necessary for all positions but probably not for all the jobs you are hiring for.

Usually, when firms talk about team players, they are speaking in code.

“We have no interest in your ability to think or challenge convention. We just want you to execute a series of tasks.”

Some of you will argue with me. “Strong analytical skills requiring complex judgments, solutions, and the ability to work independently and as part of a group.”

I will now finish that sentence.

“Strong analytical skills requiring complex judgments, solutions, and the ability to work independently and as part of a group that will homogenize those ideas to comply with standards developed by people who haven’t worked for us in the past decade but which we follow because we, too, have stopped thinking independently.”

Somewhere, an entire generation or two started to follow and become the face of the command and control mentality they so vehemently protested against when they were younger.

So, now we send the survivors of this culture out to hire people. These well-meaning people have little experience and less training and fall back on the standard interview questions they received as a road map for what to do and, after they hire someone who is mediocre but made it through the various hurdles of the process, wonder why the results received are so… ordinary.

So, let me wake you up to something.

If you are happy with the results you are getting, keep doing what you are doing. Keep sending out inexperienced HR people and hiring managers who have learned through trial and error that they need to hire more cogs in the machine who will not help your firm beyond executing a task.

Put succinctly, would your company have ever hired Steve Jobs? How about Larry Ellison? Anna Wintour? Jay-Z? Michael Dell? Bill Gates?

Several of these two-ton gorillas (horror of horrors) don’t have college degrees! Would you have thrown them back for that lack or would you have embraced them and let them run roughshod through your organization to help unlock enormous creativity and value?

I suspect not.

One of my favorite questions when interviewing is to ask someone a question and tell the person they are wrong even when they are right. I want to see them fight with me. I want to see them show fury, the fire in their eyes as they defend what they know is right against the insanity of a defense that is completely wrong.

Why isn’t that important to you?

I’ll answer that.

Many of you are focused on systems that reward collaboration and people who won’t rock the boat and will let that boat sail off into obsolescence (and acquisition by a foreign business or private equity firm that will lay off 40% of the staff) rather than shake your fist at the heavens and demand excellence.

So before you hire your next executive, your next controller, your next salesperson, stop and ask yourself:

How can we bring some fire into our ranks and shake things up?

How can we reward our hiring managers for risk-taking when they evaluate new performers?

What can we do to bring some life into our company again?

Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2015, 2021 , 2024

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