Brandt On Leadership -- You Are The Key To Effective Hiring

Three questions can help find the treasures, eliminate the jerks.

It's a new year and, if the pundits are to be believed, a new bottom for the economy. Yet ugly as the current view is, I'm taking perverse encouragement in the fact that if we're at the nadir of the business cycle, we must be about to climb out -- which means it will soon be time to hire again. Three questions to ask when you're out shopping for talent: What do I need? The first step in finding great talent is to take a small sheet of paper -- a Post-it note will do-and make a list of what you're truly looking for. I'm not talking about the newspaper ad list written by the recruiter, which will be heavy on qualification screens and acronyms (B.S., M.S., 623 years of experience preferred) but light on anything that really matters. And I'm not talking about the HR position description list, which will include so many positional capabilities and team functional responsibilities that you'll need a Ph.D. just to read it, much less live up to it. I'll also assume that you're already treating things such as character and brains as givens. What I am talking about are the three truly indispensable things you need in this hire, things with simple names such as "major-company management experience" or "ability to lead a diverse team." If your list has more than three things on it -- or, worse yet, if it spills onto a second Post-it note -- you're overcomplicating your business and your life. Get out of the office, take a long walk, then sit down with a new Post-it and trim the list to three. Next, look at your list, take a deep breath, and then get over yourself. If you've done an honest job of writing down three indispensable things, you'll quickly realize that you'll never find all of them in one person, at least not at a price you can afford. So look one more time and decide which "indispensable" you can live without or, better yet, train for. Then go find the other two. What does my team need? Every team -- sports, business, non-profit -- has a chemistry. Every team member -- employee or manager -- contributes to that chemistry positively or negatively. Before you hire, look at your team and ask yourself this question: Do we have a chemistry and cohesiveness that will make this a successful team? If so, make sure your new hire fits the current team like a glove. Allow a representative sampling of team members to interview a prospect, and invite their honest feedback as to how he or she will fit in. If your chemistry is lacking -- for example, if you're turning around a troubled business or department -- be ruthless in eliminating problem workers and in hiring new employees who don't fit in. Many a manager, after agonizing over whether to eliminate a troublesome employee, has found him- or herself surprised to receive thanks -- or even congratulations -- from the terminated employee's long-suffering co-workers. One of my most important career guides has been this seven-word phrase: Life is short. Don't work with jerks. Make sure neither you nor your team has to. What does my new hire need? After a downturn, some leaders get so drunk on the wine of hiring that they forget to finish the job. Remember that there are three commandments of talent management:

  1. Thou shalt hire well;
  2. Thou shalt train like crazy; and
  3. Thou shalt get the hell out the way.
The best hire in the world will fail if you throw him or her into the deep end of the swamp without instructions as to the care and feeding habits of alligators. Mandate a 40-hour-per-year training commitment for new hires (actually, for all employees), provide a clear plan of where you want to the business to go, and then make yourself scarce. The whole point of finding new blood is to generate new energy and new ideas. The last thing your new talent needs is to be stifled by an old talent like you. And the last thing you need is to hear your new hire quoting some columnist in reference to you, as in "Life is short. Don't work with. . ." John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is president and publisher of the Chief Executive Group, publisher of Chief Executive magazine.
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