Some executives mistakenly think of hiring as an HR function. But hiring cannot be thought of as solely an HR issue, as something separate from the "real work" of the department. Whenever a new hire fails to make a significant business impact, it is a business problem.
The only reason to hire is to achieve a business impact. Your hiring efforts should shorten the distance between having a job opening and hiring someone who makes a big impact. The first step on the path toward business impact is attracting the right candidates. In all likelihood, most job seekers first impression of your company will be your job description. But most job descriptions actually get in the way of your hiring and recruiting efforts.
Everyone wants to hire top performers, but how do you know one when you see one?
It’s not an easy question. Unless you are constantly hiring for the exact same position, you cannot possibly know who the current top performers are in your job market, what skills actually drive their results, or what their compensation should be. You certainly won’t know whether any of them would consider working for you.
At the beginning of a search, hiring managers can put themselves in a position to learn from the job market, but cannot presume to already understand the job market. Yet, most recruiting processes are based on the assumption that the hiring manager is a job market expert. The manager will say, "I have this mental picture of my ideal candidate; now go recruit them." And, of course, that ideal candidate may or may not actually exist. Two of the most common definitions of "top performer" both suffer from the same kind of faulty logic:
It’s Tuesday afternoon and Dave, your finance manager, walks into your office with an envelope in his hand. You think, “Uh oh, he’s resigning.”
He indeed resigns, and the moment he leaves you grab the phone to call HR. “I need to replace Dave. Please start recruiting another finance manager, pronto!”
Around every top performer, you need to watch out for a "zone of incompetence" - an area where other people can relax just a bit, think a little less hard, or focus on other issues - trusting that the top performer will anticipate and correct any problems that come up. The high achiever will always make sure the results turn out just fine.
When you are recruiting a top performer to your organization, there is one big question that you must answer above all others. Some think it's pay, or reporting structure, or title. Yes, those things matter, but they are not the big question. Whoever you have posting your job ads seems to think that top performers are eager to read the dull list of job responsibilities found in your job descriptions ... ummm, no - that is most definitely not the big question you need to answer.
Hiring can be made more predictable, but it cannot be made safe. Sooner or later you will make a hiring mistake. You will. You simply cannot avoid it, mistakes happen. But here is the problem: most managers work far harder to avoid making a hiring mistake than they work to ensure they hire top performers.
Are you frustrated in facing a really complex problem? Have all your attempts to solve it failed? That is precisely when you must resist the temptation to hire a "rock star" or savior - someone who can magically solve all your problems simultaneously. I often see companies who want someone to come in, understand a complex situation, create a strategy to solve it, then execute the strategy singlehandedly, then when it succeeds, hire a team to build on that success. One magical person who takes all the risk, possesses all the knowledge, has a wide range of incredibly diverse skills, and gets results without rocking the boat, causing trouble or needing much help from anyone else in the firm. They want a unicorn - a mythical creature that lives only in their mind's eye.
This post was published in February 2009, and we've tightened our definition of top performer a bit since then. Read our new definition and the latest thinking behind it here.