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High Talent, High Fit: Hiring the Best People in Today's Hypercompetitive Environment

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Getting the right people in the right positions requires a "talent search," advises Oren Harari. You're not just looking for someone who can do the job; you're looking for someone who can transform the job - and the company.

To compete successfully in our global economy, your organization must hire exceptional people—probably a lot of them. This rule is true whether your organization is big or small, publicly traded or privately held, for profit or not-for-profit.

It’s not uncommon to hear company executives crow, "We only hire the best," or "People are our most important asset," but these statements are often just lip service. Even when the sentiments are sincere, we’re kidding ourselves if we believe that conventional approaches to hiring will yield the kinds of results necessary to win in these unconventional times.

As Easy as ABC? Hardly.

When I was in graduate school, my industrial psychology course emphasized that legally and statistically, the best way to hire good people is to figure out who can do the job. The process that I’ve labeled "ABC" is familiar, logical, and legal:

  1. Determine the specific components of the job—requirements, tasks, expectations, performance goals, and ultimately the job description.
  2. Figure out the employee skills, competencies, and attributes necessary to address the needs of the job catalogued in step A.
  3. Via résumés, interviews, tests, and background checks, systematically assess individual applicants for the particular skills and attributes designated in step B, and select the applicant whose profile best matches the requirements of steps A and B.

I propose that nowadays this "ABC" approach is at best a lukewarm predictor of performance success. At worst, this process will generate unimaginative—if not counterproductive—performance.

Why? Well, first of all, when you go through the "ABC" process, the jobs themselves usually wind up being defined in fairly broad, general terms, often interchangeable with comparable job definitions in competitor organizations: "Marketers do X, software engineers do Y, loading dock supervisors do Z...."

Because the job definition is so generic, the basic skills and competencies that are defined as necessary to "do the job" are usually general, lowest-common-denominator skills. They describe what’s minimally necessary to meet the official demands and the broad operational mechanics of the job.

But success in work today goes well beyond that blueprint. In today’s global marketplace, work success for an employee means figuring out new and better ways of doing the job. It means proactively contributing to the organization’s specific competitive status and performance:

  • I tell my executive clients that there’s no point in developing bold, imaginative, groundbreaking strategies if there are few bold, imaginative, groundbreaking employees to breathe life into those strategies. Executives must set the stage to hire people who understand that they’re employed not simply to do a static, commodity-like job, but to figure out ways to get their work done more effectively and help the organization do its work more effectively.
  • I tell employees—including managers and professionals—that if they’re content to do commodity performance in a commodity job, they’ll ultimately be the first to be downsized, and their jobs are in danger of being automated, divested, or offshored to a cheaper labor provider. I also tell them that if their organization actually hires and expects people to do commodity work, that organization is a sinking ship, and they ought to start polishing their résumés.
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