A recent Harvard Business Review article “How To Hire” by the always on target Patty McCord (former Chief Talent Officer for Netflix and now a very in demand consultant) challenged many of the perspectives that I had around how to successfully hire and build high performance teams.
In the article Patty McCord calls out what she says are many of the faulty assumptions that companies have about hiring.
Through the great examples she provides from her experience at Netflix, McCord provides a new way of thinking about how all of us hire.
Rethink Why You Only Need “A” Players
Patty McCord bristles at the notion that an organization should fool themselves into thinking that they only hire “A” players. She says that this belief locks a company into missing out on an important determinant – context matters.
“In truth, one company’s A player may be a B player for another firm. There is no formula for what makes people successful. Many of the people we let go from Netflix because they were not excelling at what we were doing went on to excel in other jobs.”
In truth, one company’s A player may be a B player for another firm. There is no formula for what makes people successful. Many of the people we let go from Netflix because they were not excelling at what we were doing went on to excel in other jobs.
Finding the right people is also not a matter of “culture fit.” What most people really mean when they say someone is a good fit culturally is that he or she is someone they’d like to have a beer with. But people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need done. This misguided hiring strategy can also contribute to a company’s lack of diversity since very often the people we enjoy hanging out with have backgrounds much like our own.
Making great hires is about recognizing great matches—and often they’re not what you’d expect.
The important lesson to be learned here is that the best teams are built by having the right people matched with the right set of responsibilities so that they can do their best work. Nowhere in this equation is there a controlling factor that only an “A” player will work. The subjectivity of what and who is an “A” player will lead to many mistaken hiring decisions. Examples are abundant in sports and entertainment where superstar teams, casts, or bands end up greatly missing the mark because the chemistry is wrong.
Your Best Talent May come From Places That You Do Not Expect
Following up on dispelling the myth that recruiting should only be for “A” players, McCord then presses forward with challenging how we think about where to source candidates. As she discusses in her HBR article, Netflix had a unique business model where they needed candidates who possessed a unique set of technical skills. This pushed her recruiting team to be more creative and get past simply having their applicant tracking system match ideal candidates by keywords.
This pushed Netflix to begin to use a deeper level competency and interest assessment approach to identify who would be an ideal hire for an open position. For example, what Netflix found was:
We always tried to be creative about probing people and their résumés. Bethany (the recruiter mentioned in the HBR article) once decided to analyze the résumés of our best data-science people for common features. She found that those people shared an avid interest in music. From then on she and her team looked for that quality. She recalls, “We’d get really excited and call out, ‘Hey, I found a guy who plays piano!’” She concluded that such people can easily toggle between their left and right brains—a great skill for data analysis.
The Best Hiring Model Is A Full Collaboration Between The Hiring Manager and Recruiter
Patty McCord drives home an important point regarding one of the biggest problems facing companies looking for top talent – the fact that they treat recruiting as a lower level priority:
The sad truth is that most companies treat recruitment as a separate, nonbusiness, even non-HR function, and many young companies outsource it.
The technical nature of our business meant that managers needed to be highly engaged in the hiring process. But that should be required at all companies. Every hiring manager should understand the company’s approach to hiring and how to execute on it, down to the smallest detail.
Our recruiters’ job involved coaching our hiring managers. The recruiters created a slide deck to use with each manager, one-on-one. They would ask, “What does your interview process look like? What does your interview team look like? What is your process for having candidates come in?” People don’t have to approach interviewing or recruiting in the same way, but we insisted that they have a plan and not just improvise.
In the end, the manager would make the hiring decision. Team members provided input, and my team and I also weighed in. But the ultimate responsibility was the manager’s, as was the performance of the team he or she was building.
In my mind, the important point the Patty McCord is making is that recruiters (internal or external) should be an important part of the talent identification, screening, and selection process. Too often, they are not trusted by their business partners to find talent or they are second-guessed on the recommendations that they make. All this leads to a losing solution.
By working together, both groups can flourish. For the hiring managers, they must work with their recruiters to make them fully fluent in the business because this will help guide them to better screening and selection. This can be done with lunch and learns, customer visits, or having them attend key business meetings. They will better help the business if they are part of the business.
It infuriates me when hiring managers dismiss the value of good HR people. Usually, when I asked managers why they weren’t engaging more with recruiters, they’d say, “Well, they’re not that smart, and they don’t really understand what’s going on in my business or how the technology works.”
My response would be “Then start expecting—and demanding—that they do!” If you hire smart people; insist that they be businesspeople; and include them in running the business, they’ll act like businesspeople.
Always Be Recruiting
This is pretty straightforward. Everyone in the organization should always be thinking about how to bring other well-qualified people on board. While there may not be any open positions in the present, there may be in the future. The goal of everyone in the organization should be to fill the talent pipeline.
This not only means that someone should be recruiting for new candidates but they should also be engaging with people who come in for interviews and people who have had interviews with their company (regardless on whether they were hired). A case in point, I wrote a LinkedIn article about interview candidates being ghosted after they interview. The responses that I received on the article overwhelmingly showed the frustration of many who have been given this poor treatment. What does this say about the recruiting and talent management philosophy of the ghosting company?
Do Not Let Compensation Models Block You From Opportunities
In the HBR article, Patty McCord discusses a thorny issue on whether an organization should go outside its pay grade to hire a superstar. This is a tough call. While the star performer does hold the promise of bringing some big results, their higher compensation can fuel resentment, envy, and turnover amongst the rest of the organization.
McCord admits that she was conflicted about this thinking that increasing candidate offers to match the market was basically letting the competition dictate your compensation strategy. Her advice? Identify the positions within your organization that have the greatest potential to boost performance and pay top dollar for them.