hiring top talent - The CEO Magazine
Michael Simpson, CEO of Pairin

At 25 years old, six months into my first time of leading a company, my mentor asked me why I was so stressed. I said, “We are doing a good job of understanding our customers and competition, and we’re providing good service. If I didn’t have staff problems, I would have very few problems at all.” More than two decades later, after 10 years of coaching executives in four countries, and now as the CEO of a software company that engages with executives around the world, it seems to me that 25-year-old leaders aren’t the only ones that share this sentiment.

Hiring is a really big deal for you, right?  You’ve got recruiting teams working day and night, applicant testing tools, interview protocols, software systems out the you-know-what, and processes for your processes. 

So, how’s that working out for you? Is your turnover and employee retention what you want it to be? How about employee performance? Have you been told that your industry will always have retention and performance numbers like yours, and there just isn’t any way to change that? Are you wondering why it is so difficult to hire more people similar to your top performers? I mean you’ve already got a model for success, right? Are you looking into the promise of “Big Data” to solve your problems?

Since this is a people problem it isn’t “solvable” like a math equation—the variables are constantly in flux. Instead, think of it as manageable, akin to your calendar. If you have a terrible executive assistant, life can be a mess.  If you have an awesome executive assistant you can predict on a daily basis that your calendar will be full, but the meetings will be meaningful, you will have little to no wasted time, and scheduling surprises will be few and far between.

Hiring should be like that, don’t-cha think?

Imagine if your recruiters were so efficient in the selection process that they could spend the bulk of their time filling the pipeline instead of trudging through piles of disappointing resumes. The people interviewed would be quality candidates and very similar in the behaviors of your existing top performers. Your recruiters and hiring managers would be proficient and effective in the process of interviewing. And the “How the !@#$ did that person get through the process?” surprises would be few and far between.

Contrary to popular belief, this more efficient way of hiring is actually possible. But, you won’t get there if your selection processes and criterion are focused too broad as related to the specifics of the position, or too horizontal in the hierarchy of your company. Hiring criterion usually focuses on job skills, education, experience, and broad industry data, because you’ve got to start with some filter to get through the morass of resumes; however, the number one reason employees succeed, stick around and remain engaged is their direct manager.

So, why don’t you measure what makes your people successful with their specific direct management structure in mind?

You have been told that the best data is industry-wide-aggregated data that reveals patterns of the people in a particular role. Well, that’s great if you want to hire for average, but I assume you would prefer to hire for exceptional.

The trendy Texas-style attitude of “bigger is better” for information is encouraging many companies to purchase external data from aggregators without considering the data they already have. Are your top sales folks, call center staff, regional directors, etc., the same as every competitor in your industry? No? Then why are you filtering candidates based on generic criterion like “This is what a __________ employee is like”? Why not figure out what makes these top employees top employees and use that data to hire more like them?

You’ve worked really hard to differentiate your company with a unique company culture, and it’s important to understand how that unique company culture impacts the way your top employees perform. You should also examine and consider the impact of whether they work inside or outside, full time or part time, and certainly under which direct managers they thrive. If those key influencers aren’t putting their own stamp on the success of their employees, why are they in that position? Another key component to assess when hiring is the effect of regional differences on success? For example, if a very accomplished New York-based sales person moves to the Deep South and doesn’t understand that he or she might have to eat something fried and talk about family for a while before getting into business, that sales person might starve to death. I know. I’m from the South.

You see that’s the problem with Big Data influencing hiring decisions. Yes, these are big problems, but you need a microscope to identify them, not a satellite. Big Data is great for providing valuable insight into patterns and tendencies of large groups and to help make informed business decisions where you have no internal data, but, as I’ve already outlined, the degree to which your employee selection is successful is in direct relation to the level of specificity with which you can identify the qualities that determine success in your company.

Pre-employment selection offerings that focus on industry norms, without taking into consideration the unique present factors that determine success in your existing top performers; will provide normal, or average, results – not exceptional. They also give you no advantage over your competitors that use the same data.

There are science-based solutions available to identify the common behaviors of your existing top performers that are uniquely different from your average and low performers. If you doubt science can identify these behavioral traits; then think about the top five performers in a key role of your own staff. Aren’t they different than the others? Would they thrive in the exact same way under another leader who manages with a completely different style?

Little Data solutions for hiring, like Big Data offerings, reveal patterns of behavior – but, unlike Big Data, Little Data offers a granular look for more accurate results.

What type of Little Data solution should you use? Look for one that:

  • Does not require consultants, (unless you don’t mind unpredictable and high costs).
  • Has a small time impact on existing staff and applicants, and keeps testing to 10-15 minutes each.
  • Doesn’t require testing a large sample. Remember, this is about small, granular data. Identifying the qualities of the Gold medal-winning athlete does not require testing everyone at the Olympics.
  • Is based on proven science that is user-friendly for people who don’t care about science – aka your hiring managers.
  • Bases its results on your specific people, not general industry averages, but doesn’t require designing a custom system of testing and measuring.

The design of your business impacts the success of your staff, which impacts the overall bottom line of your company. That’s why it’s time to go little in your employee selection, because if you don’t go little, then your board might ask you to go home.

About the Author

Michael Simpson is the CEO of Pairin, a company that helps businesses hire talent based on science rather than a “gut feeling.” His experience includes 16 years of success in such roles as corporate strategist and marketing executive, and eight years as a trusted adviser/coach. His own life is a personal and corporate success story that led him from poverty to international recognition as a strategist working with CEOs and executives in startup to multi-billion-dollar corporations. He has contributed to books on Knowledge Management (KM), Identity/Networking, and Customer Relationship Management (CRM); been quoted more than 400 times in newspapers and magazines; been invited to speak in more than 25 countries, assisted businessmen in developing economies.


Alana Drusset's picture
The tip that I appreciate the most from this article is that those hiring should consider which candidates will be best for their team, not just which candidates seem to have good qualities in general. If you choose someone who you feel will fit in with your team, that will help keep the whole group unified and you will continue to succeed.
Will James's picture
How would a job seeker know if they are who is best for a company's team if they've never worked there before and aren't informed about the company culture? If a job seeker knew the key traits of a stellar employee at a company which they wanted to work at, it would give them a better chance at being hired, instead of feeling that they are a great match for a job but instead being declined that job and never being told why.

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