ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Finding, Hiring and Retaining the A Team

Finding, Hiring and Retaining the A Team
ArLyne Diamond, Ph.D.

I attended a meeting of the local IEEE TEM group the other night and the speaker’s topic was Hiring the A Team.  She was an interesting speaker, but her entire talk was geared towards hiring practices in general.  She never really mentioned the difference between “A” employees and ordinary ones, nor did she specify in any way how to find “A” players.
So, I want to talk about finding, hiring and retaining the “A” employees. 
Let’s start with definitions.  A stands for All-Star or the best.  A players are extra-ordinary, they are special.  So, when we talk about hiring “A” players at work, we are looking for those that stand out as different – in a positive way – than most people we would hire.
Therein lies the problem.  Generally speaking, people are afraid of people who are different.  Most people hire in their own image.  When I conducted my research on managing for creativity many of the C level executives I interviewed told me that not only did their managers stifle creativity, but that they made life miserable for those who had the potential to steal their jobs.
Too, if your corporate idea of “fairness” is to treat everyone exactly the same way, you are rewarding the mediocre and insulting the extra-ordinary.  You stand a good chance of losing the best and brightest and maintaining the ordinary who know how to play it safe.
When we treat everyone exactly the same in our team meetings (“You spoke for five minutes, not it is his turn to speak”) we are stifling the ideas of those who are idea people and allowing those who have nothing special to say equal time.
If your hiring process takes weeks on end, who is left at the end of the process?  Only those who didn’t get better and quicker offers elsewhere.  If your hiring process is to have a bunch of people each be part of the interview process and each have a vote as to who is hired and who is rejected, only the most ordinary will pass the screening and those that are different will be rejected.
As I write this, I am remembering some interviews that didn’t go well for me.  Let me share them with you:
·        I was being interviewed to become part of a major consulting firm.  During the second interview, the hiring manager told me he had shared my resume with other members of the organization and because of my varied and successful background, they wouldn’t hire me, because I probably wouldn’t conform – and (in his words) would be a loose cannon. 
·        On another occasion I was also called a loose cannon.  At the end of an interview process to bring me aboard as a consultant, the decision maker told me all was in order and I would get the written offer in a week at the most.  As he was walking out, he was holding my marketing materials.  He mentioned how attractive the folder was and asked me where I purchased it.  I replied that I had painted it myself (it was a subtle color wash on a duo-tang folder.)  Horrified, he said, “Oh, you are an artist – we can’t use you, you are probably a loose cannon.”
Not being called a loose cannon – but not believed:
·        I had been asked to teach the testing/evaluation courses at a graduate school.  During the hiring process they realized that I didn’t have my doctorate and for accreditation reasons they needed to hire only Ph.D. professors.  Since I had attended to get my doctorate eventually, I decided to sign up then and there.

During the interview process – conducted by a group of people including faculty and students, I was asked to describe some of what I had accomplished in life.  As I started to mention some of what I’d done, one of the women said, “How could you possibly have accomplished all of that – I certainly couldn’t have done all that.”  I was stunned.  How do you answer such a question.  Fortunately, one of the deans in the room had been one of my professors when I was working towards my first master’s degree.  He interrupted the conversation to say that I had been his teaching assistant and there was no question but that I had accomplished all I said – and more.  I got accepted.

In her book, “Atlas Shrugged” Ayn Rand tells the story of John Galt and the Twentieth Century Motor Factory.  In this story she makes clear what happens when need, not merit determines promotions and compensation.  In this story (which I can’t tell anywhere as well as she did in her book) a motor factory which had earned its reputation as being the best, was turned over to the adult children of the original owners.  These new owners wanted the great social experiment and so they decided that compensation would be according to need.  So, if someone had four children they would be paid much more than someone with no children.  Bachelor John Galt, their chief designer quit, as did all other competent people.

This was a lot of how to fail to hire and retain the best and the brightest.  How do you find them though and give them the incentive to come with you and stay in your employee?

First of all you need to clearly define what you are looking for in a candidate.  Eliminate all the silly stuff like how many years of experience, or ability to carry 40 pounds of literature, or willingness to travel, etc.  Get to the essence.  What do you need – and then go looking for that person.

Now advertise for those skills, character, personality that are the essence of what you seek.  Advertise in all the associations, networking events, magazines, etc. that are likely to be read by and attended by those who are your potential finds.

Eliminate overly long and cumbersome interviews.  Only those absolutely able to size up candidates and not be threatened by them should do the interviewing. Be sure that those involved in the decision are able to size-up people that are different from themselves, or their expectations.

This reminds me of another story.
·        I was attending a workshop in ethics, led by someone other than me.  The example given the audience went something like this:  You have been searching for months for the right candidate for a very specialized need and cannot find him or her. After months of searching you make an offer to someone who doesn’t quite meet the elements in your job description.  This person is the “B” candidate, not the “A” one.  You make the offer and the next day the “A” candidate arrives.  What do you do?
Most people said they would keep the “B” candidate and regrettably let the “A’ candidate go.  Some said hire the “A” but then you would be guilty of a breach of ethics.
I said, I would hire both.  I had a responsibility to the “B” candidate to whom I had made an offer, but I also had a responsibility to my company, the other employees and the stockholders to hire and retain the best people I could find.
Once you find your “A” candidate, compensate him or her well and create stretch growth opportunities for them.  Be sure to give them the structure and the freedom they need to fulfill their responsibilities.  Have a path to promotion and to other challenges. 

Remember, the “A” team is the all-star team.  Each person has a role in it, just as each member of a sports team has a different role.  In baseball, the catcher and the pitcher have different skills and responsibilities, as do the center field and the short-stop

If someone is an “A” team player or an “A” team employee they stand out in the crowed, thus they are noticed by others.  If you don’t let them do their best in your employee – and reward them accordingly – there are lots of other offers out there..  

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