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Hire as if your survival depends upon it.

Aside from visionary management, this is your most important job.

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Many of us go through the motions of hiring to fill a position, trying to use our intuition and skills to find the best candidate for the job.  Sometimes we use consultants or recruiters; often we use internal talent to fill most positions.

And over the years, we students of business success have learned that there is a science to the hiring process that continues through the life of an employee’s tenure with the company.  Bradford Smart captured this succinctly in his book, Topgrading. His thesis is that “A” players amount only to the top ten percent of the talent pool at any given time, and that your job is to find, recruit and retain only “A” players to make a successful business.  It is hard to argue with that.

What is hard to find, is the rare CEO that makes the process of hiring top recruits such a priority that he or she spends personal time deeply involved in the specification, resumé review, interview and selection of top employees.  Most of us are “far too busy” to do all of that.  And yet, aside from managing the vision of the enterprise, the most important job of a CEO is to find, recruit and make productive “A” players for the team.

[Email readers, continue here…]  As an investor and board member for numerous companies, it is increasingly easy for me to quickly evaluate the quality of senior team members in an organization as I probe for strengths and weaknesses in the enterprise.  Teams where the CEO is comfortable enough to delegate to “A” players and manage the strategies for growth stand out as rare and powerful.  Conversely, it takes very little for a CEO to derail what could be a great team and company, by ignoring the details involved in finding the right talent for each senior position, and by failing to communicate the strategies and empower the team to execute.

A successful hire is not just the responsibility of the recruiter and manager to whom the recruit will report.  Many companies require that finalist candidates be interviewed by company contemporaries, good employees who fill similar level positions. Some even encourage interviews with those the candidate would manage.  Agreement among the interviewers becomes an empowering experience for those conducting the interviews and agreeing to the decision to hire, and paves the way for a quicker assimilation of the new employee into the organization whose cohorts are already prepared to receive and encourage the new hire.  This is not an inexpensive process when considering the cost in time and productivity of the interviewers.  But finding “A” players is not an easy job, requiring a stretch of resources at each stage of the process.

Weeks ago in these posts, we explored strategic planning within the enterprise. We spoke of developing strategies and tactics that are measurable for each department.  Now is a good time to complete that chain by suggesting that paying significant incentive compensation to the people empowered to execute those strategies and tactics is critical to the success of the plan as well as to the organization.  Aligning everyone toward the same goal and using the practice of rewarding for achievement of milestones defined by the tactics from planning, makes for a great business, managed by a leader who understands the process.

What makes a great leader great?  Of course, it’s great execution by great employees acting as a unit in the best interests of the enterprise.  No-one can do this alone.  No CEO can do this with “B” players or less.

  • Again, Dave, very timely. I’m in the process of hiring my real launch team now and it is so important to see that yes, I am the one to create the job description and fill the bill. And even being told I should test a CEO before hiring, so that is good. Thank you for your always brilliant insight into my world!

  • Michael O'Daniel

    Hiring good people is job # 1A, right up there with a clear mission and proper management of your time and money. This is a subject about which I could write a book, or a complete blog post. But since this is Mr Berkus’s blog, it would not be appropriate for me to do that.

    Although my own job title generally began with “Marketing,” in every position or consulting engagement I held from 1985 on, I had at least some input into, if not full responsibility for, recruiting, hiring, and training. Personally I feel this makes eminently good sense. If you consider yourself a market-driven company, then your entire workforce — not just the C-level guys — has to buy into the vision / brand and cooperate in driving the marketing, fulfillment, and customer service that are your differentiators when it comes to winning or losing.

    One particular thought I would leave with you is to take special care in hiring your customer-facing people. Not just the CSRs themselves, but the receptionists, the sales support people, the tech support people, the A/P and A/R people (why? because one bad experience with your finance department can kill all the goodwill all the other people in your organization have generated).

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