Monday, June 22, 2009

How to hire great people.

A lot of the problems I find in my consulting and counseling practice are a result of bad hiring practices. And it seems I'm not alone - the bestselling author, Malcolm Gladwell, is currently working on a book that argues there's a mismatch problem in the way we usually hire people, that we set up qualifications to try and judge how people might perform where what we should be doing is watching them actually perform.

Successful companies marry seasoned talent with people who have fresh perspectives. Many years of experience in an industry can turn out to be a detriment rather than an asset when looking for new ideas. Nanogen’s Chairman Howard Birndorf says, “Look for people who are smarter than you, who both compliment and support your own skills. You need to find people who understand how to take risks, people who aren’t afraid of change, who can go from one day to the next with a big change in either direction without being blown away.” Kevin O’Connor, a co-founder of DoubleClick says, “The thing we most tend to look for in hiring people is intelligence - and athleticism: people who love to compete, who don’t like to lose.”

Look for smart people with a combination of experience, drive, commitment and passion. Getting that mix right is the difference between companies that achieve greatness and those that merely survive, or fail. The new hire’s priority has to be making the company successful, not getting a certain title or a private office. For key hires, it’s also important to meet the prospect's spouse. If they're going to have to live with long days or frequent travel, they need to know about the company and its business plan. Have your current top people take assessment tests - then build the profile that’s worked for you and use it to hire new people - that way, you know what you’re looking for.

Creating a successful company is as much about good people as good technology. Bill Gates says, “It’s important to have someone you totally trust, who is totally committed, who shares your vision, and yet who has a different set of skills and who can also act as a check on your ideas. Some of the ideas you run by him, you know he’s going to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, have you thought about this and that?’ The benefit of sparking off somebody like that is that it not only makes a business more fun, but it leads to a lot of success.”

Hiring good people is like getting married - if you do it right, you don’t have to do it often. If you’re in a situation of excessive risk, hire somebody who has already learned to shave on someone else’s beard. Hire the people you think you’ll need five years from now if everything works out. Hire people who share your vision and agree with your business principles. Make sure these are clear to the people being recruited. Have the best candidates spend time with the people they’re going to be working with. Hire backups for key people; the biggest weakness in smaller companies is a lack of bench strength.

If you want an innovative organization, you need to hire, work with and promote people who make you uncomfortable. You need to understand your own preferences so that you can compliment your weaknesses and exploit your strengths. Never hire or promote in your own image. It’s foolish to replicate your strengths and your weaknesses. If you hire people with the same character qualities that you have, you’ll just end up fighting with them.

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