Are we Biased AGAINST Top Talent?

We all want to believe that we are looking to recruit, select, and develop top talent.  We spend lots of time reading and writing articles on the topic.  But, what if hiring managers are not interested?

This article throws a bit of cold water on the topic.  It documents a study where hiring managers were shown to doubt the organizational commitment of those deemed the most capable.  It was almost as if they were saying, “Why would someone really good want to work for us?”

There are several issues at work here.  But, what they boil down to is a bias among hiring mangers that negatively affects their selection processes.  Sure, I can imagine anecdotal evidence (“Yeah, we hired that one really bright person, but she jumped ship as soon as she got a better offer.”), but I don’t think that this is a data driven decision.

What this also underlines is the importance of developing a culture that encourages top talent to stay.  There’s no question that selecting the right people will drive business performance.  And having a culture that acknowledges and rewards high performance will do so as well.  When hiring managers feel that top talent will not stay, it is really an indictment of the culture rather than an accurate prediction of management’s view.  How can you fight this?

  1. If managers do not think top talent would be committed to your organization, they should NOT be involved in hiring. 
  2. Those who are doing the hiring should be able to provide a realistic preview of the organization, but should also be able to succinctly describe why people stay.  And I’m not just talking about a good cafeteria.  They should be able to provide examples of people who have found challenging work over time in the organization.
  3. If you are speaking with hiring managers who show an anti-talent bias, ask them what needs to be changed so they would believe that top talent would want to stay.
  4. The best way to fight bias is with data.  You should be able to study turnover rates by talent bands (contact me for tips on this).  This way you can either show people that top talent does not leave any faster than other employee groups or demonstrate to executives that this is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Organizations should strive for selection processes that identify top talent and cultures that nurture them.  Do not let bias against hiring top talent work against these two initiatives.

What Do We Really Want From CEOs?

There is a parlor game in some circles which asks whether any organization would hire Steve Jobs using “traditional” selection tools to run a company. The conversation can be held for any person who is seen as an outsider who succeeds. Part of this discussion is moot as founders of companies don’t get “selected” and the skill sets required for a founder and a CEO of an established company are totally different.

For me, it begs the question of what do we really want from our CEOs? After all, we can’t really discuss what we would measure in a candidate until we know what the job entails. This came to mind while I was reading a story about Larry Page this weekend and how he fulfills his role at Alphabet, Inc. (holding company of Google). This is not to say that his role as CEO is typical, but it is instructive.

According the article, Page sees his role as the innovator-in-chief who looks for new opportunities for his company, or existing ones that can be purchased. Just as importantly, he is charged with finding the people to run Alphabet’s innovative businesses. Note that none of this relates to his ability budget, lead and motivate others, manager capital, etc. Of course, the article simplifies what Page does and this blog entry simplifies it even more. However, if Alphabet were to replace him, at least this provides a road map of what they would look for:

  • Openness to New Experiences
  • Curiosity
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Persuasiveness
  • Evaluation of Talent

And it would be very different for hiring a CEO of a financial services company, or a hospital, or a non-profit, etc.

So, the question in the title isn’t meant to be a broad generalization. Rather, for your organization, it should read, “What Do We Want from Our CEO?” Using that thinking, perhaps you would hire Steve Jobs. Or, someone better for your business.

For a deeper conversation about selecting executives, contact Warren Bobrow.

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