Hiring for Value and Growth

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The problem

Too many employers these days are infamously looking for "a purple unicorn" - an employee that delivers everything from technical to personal skills in a single package, starts at full production speed immediately, and never fails or even has an off day. This is an obviously unrealistic goal. When employers narrow their criteria to this extent, they run into a multitude of problems:

Competing at the highest levels doesn't always deliver best value

Sure, you can hire "Only A-Players", but you'd better be ready for your "Only A-Players" to demand A-scale salaries, benefits, and retention packages. You may find greater value and loyalty in employees that you hire based on their skill and trajectory, and invest in with education and training.

Rejecting flawed candidates means employers miss out on the possibility to blossom.

Over my career, I've worked with hundreds of people and I can't name a single one that didn't work hard to deliver benefits for their employer. If a highly desirable candidate is missing something crucial but trainable, you may find that internally investing in the candidate will have greater long term benefits for your company. If you never take a chance, you'll never reap the rewards.

Hiring isn't about superstars, it's about the team

Consider how candidates might fit into your team as a whole, and how they might be changed by it. Ask a professional athlete whether they'd rather have a high maintenance superstar or a consistent team player and I bet you'll hear consistency every time. A candidate's ability to learn as just as important as any skill they already possess: consider any subject that can be obtained in three to six months to be within the grasp of potential hires with skill gaps.

Impossible standards lead to impossible situations

Does the person you're looking for even exist? I've been asked if I had X years of experience on an X-minus-two-year-old system. It is crucial to understand what exactly you are hiring someone on for, instead of looking for a list of skills and experience. Having strict expectations without solid reasoning will also severely limit your chances for long term talent retention in a pool of otherwise trainable and talented workers.

No provision for coming up to speed

Judging a new hire based on their interview performance alone is like judging race card drivers by how they look sitting in the car. In a complex business, it may take three to six months before an employee really shows their true colors. Whether they turn out to be a hidden gem that grows into a valuable asset or an abrasive liability that drags morale off a cliff, it is important to allow your new hires to "breathe" and get a grasp of the company.

A solution

This isn't the solution, it's just my solution.

Hire the same way you would purchase an investment, not like you would purchase an appliance:

Invest for value

Look for employees that other companies don't desire but that can deliver substantial value. Often these people just need a second chance under good management to be a great deal - would you hire someone for 30% less money if they delivered 90% of the value? I know I would, in a heartbeat.

Invest for growth

As anyone who has looked at "entry level" jobs can tell you, two years of experience isn't "entry level". Hire someone who has good potential and a desire to learn and grow and you'll buy yourself a reliable, long term employee who can grow with your company. Hire people based on their trajectory, rather than accolades - after all, past results are no indicator of future success.

If you can't buy it, build it

Training people to do a job is time consuming and difficult, but it delivers dividends over the long term. Not just in terms of those employees by themselves, but by building your company's reputation as a place for learning, growth, and interesting challenges. Instead of just paying lip service, you'll create a positive long term attitude, keeping your workforce motivated and encouraged.

Optimize for lifetime value not short term ROI

Promotion from within is one of the strongest ways to create a stable and ongoing company culture that delivers results. Nothing sours a work environment faster than diluting all that hard work you put into creating a safe and challenging workplace. Consider what your already talented staff wants out of their career and encourage their growth for the combined benefit to themselves and the company at large.

posted on August 25, 2016 - permalink


About the author

Justin George

Principal, software developer, and process manager at the Alder Point Group.

Prides himself on a hands-on approach to understanding business needs, involving learning as much as possible about the business before attempting to reach any conclusions.

Over 10 years of small and medium business experience with startups, sole proprietorships, and multiple different subject areas.

Has led and mentored other business people, development staff, non-technical colleagues, and has helped managers understand technical and business process analysis results.

Personally sets standards of excellence for all work produced by the Alder Point Group.

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