The topic of hiring of people and leading of people are intrinsically linked. For some reason, both of these topics have been re-occurring themes for me rather recently. I have been having numerous conversations on both of these topics with friends and colleagues. Based on some of their comments, I thought it would be valuable to share some of my observations with everyone.
I’ll start with the hiring aspect. Everyone who has been in management has dealt with this issue. One of the new tools that I have found very valuable in this process has been LinkedIn. After screening a resume, if the candidate looks interesting, I will jump on LinkedIn (LI) and search for them. So far, my hit rate has been upwards of 75-80%. This number is dependant upon how big your LI network is. There are a number of different philosophies on how to build your LI network (which I’ll leave for another post), but my network is just over 300 direct connections with a total network size of two million.
First, I’ll compare their LI resume to the one that I received, discrepancies become red flags. Next I’ll look for recent jobs of the candidate and see if I have anyone in my network that was at the same company during the same time, this is one of the built in features of LI. I focus on connections that are closest to me. If there are any that are directly connected to me, I’ll drop that person a quick email to get some feedback on the candidate. Once the candidate list is narrowed down to the final few, I’ll do a more in depth blind background check on candidates. Even if the candidate doesn’t have a LI profile, chances are that there are multiple of his previous co-workers who do, so searching by the company name and pinging key individuals based upon their roles and geographic area are easy. (Note: this is where having the business or higher level subscription to LI is valuable as you have the ability to search the network wider and send more LI messages.
All of this is not new. The concept of hiring from your network or doing blind reference checks from your network is what savy business people have done for decades. LI just gives you a tool to speed the process and access to a wider network.
What surprises me from my conversations with others is how many managers don’t do very thorough blind reference checks. Most company’s HR departments will do a background check of an individual as part of the hiring process, but actually talking to people who used to work with or for an individual is invaluable! Like so many things in life, you have to take the comments with a grain of salt, but the comments are usually more accurate and real than the recommendations that appear on LI. Through the blind reference check and doing a little digging, I was able to determine that a top candidate I was considering hiring had worked at three different companies at the same time in the recent past! Obviously, he was off our list—I did tell the recruiter who brought us the candidate and he was shocked (I was as shocked that the recruiter didn’t do a more thorough investigation himself to earn his commission…I haven’t used that recruiter since.).
In another incident, I realized that a leading candidate was interviewing at a company where a good friend of mine worked. It ended up he had been interviewed by my good friend. Since our companies were not looking for the same type of candidate, we compared notes in an open discussion. This helped us both by confirming things we both had observed about the candidate and find out items that each other didn’t know. In the end, my friend’s company wasn’t the best fit for what the candidate wanted (and both my friend and the candidate realized that) but my company was.
People are the most important asset of any company. Yet, at least in the technology business world, why do so many managers not take the hiring process seriously and invest the time needed in the process? I have heard so many horror stories of bad hires. The majority of these bad hires could have been prevented through the simple act of a blind reference check. Yes, it takes more time but it’s time well spent.
Another aspect of the hiring process, which is usually outside of the hiring manager’s control, is the “signature experience” of the company. What are the company’s unique cultural traits? How are new employees indoctrinated into this culture? I have had more and more candidates ask me this over the past 3 years. I think this is a side effect of the rocket and crash startup culture of the technology industry. So many people have been through it that they want the opportunities and challenges of that environment but under the umbrella of a more structure corporate environment. The article “What it Means to Work Here” in the March 2007 issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR) discusses this very topic.
The topic of corporate culture is one that I always try to understand myself in new opportunities. It’s been my experience that most companies pay lip service to this concept but don’t actually embrace it. They may have a formal document that describes the corporate values, but that is as far as they take it. Nordstrom is one company that I have had direct experience with regarding their “signature experience” of customer satisfaction, they do take it serious and it is part of the Nordstrom culture. (if you know a long term Nordstrom employee, ask them about the story of a customer who returned a tire to the store…).
The flip side of the corporate culture coin is the employee type. No company can be a fit for all types of employees. Likewise, if you know your culture screen out the people that don’t fit. The six types of employees the article lists are:
- Expressive Legacy
- Secure Progress
- Individual Expertise and Team Success
- Risk and Reward
- Flexible Support
- Low Obligation and Easy Income
Check out the article for the rest of the details.
This leads me to the leadership aspect. That same issue of HBR has an excellent article entitled “Leading Cleaver People”. The one truism in business is that you want to hire people that are smarter than you. The ultimate example of this is what the authors refer to as “Clever People”, the individuals inside a company that are the ones that provide true competitive difference for the company. They also provide a whole new set of challenges for managers. As the authors state “clever people have one defining characteristic, it is that they do no want to be led.”
With that as the management challenge, here are “seven things you need to know about clever people” from the authors:
- They know their worth
- They are organizationally savvy
- They ignore corporate hierarchy
- They expect instant access
- They are well connected (both inside and outside of the company)
- They have a low boredom threshold
- They won’t thank you
As the authors state: “If you try to push your clever people, you will end up driving them away. As many leaders of highly creative people have learned, you need to be a benevolent guardian rather than a traditional boss.” If you’re in a management position or strive to be, I highly recommend reading this article. There are some wonderful suggestions and tactics that are provided for how to manage clever people. By better understanding the traits of clever people, you’ll be able to identify them during the hiring stage, and provide an environment for them to work their magic.