We are a habitual people. We love routine and clear parameters. Most organizations have some type of model or playbook they use for hiring. These models ensure they are hiring people who will drive the organization to success. The models are based on years of historical company performance.
For example, at one organization I was apart of, they preferred brand marketers that came from one of about a dozen undergraduate programs, 8 business schools and who’d worked at a handful of specific companies. That was their recruiting model. If you didn’t come from one of those institutions, it was much harder to break in.
In my own interview with this company, I was told, one of their biggest concerns about me was that I didn’t “look” anything like their profile for a marketing leader. I went to a Big 10 school, not named Northwestern, had no MBA and never worked for Kraft, Johnson & Johnson, P&G or any of their other approved organizations. In short, I was a walking red flag. But, the woman running the division wanted to change the culture. She wanted people who didn’t look like the rest of the organization. She didn’t want another proverbial “Ken Doll” where we all have the same thinking, the same problem solving approach and the experiences to leverage. In this company’s culture, this was a risky bet.
There are 2 inherent problems with this approach to talent building:
- As the great General George S. Paton, once remarked, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” When everyone you’ve hired as been taught to do things the same way, you’ll always solve problems using the same approach. While this creates some level of operational efficiency, because people don’t need to learn the company’s problem solving methodology, it also leads to a dramatic slow down in breakthrough thinking. In a digital world that changes exponentially faster every day, you can’t afford to copy and paste your solutions.
- The rationale for why you should keep hiring roughly the same person over and over is predicated on how your company has performed and what it’s looked like in the past. If the Apple / Microsoft and Google / Microsoft battles have shown us anything, it’s that a strategy of doubling down on today at the expense of tomorrow, is a quick path to mediocrity and stagnation.
I’ve always loved this quote from Scott Anthony’s Fast Company article, “How Do You Create A Culture Of Innovation?”
If you are trying to transform your company or your industry you likely need to bring in at least a handful of outsiders who will look at the world in new ways.
Getting the right talent in place is paramount to achieving and hopefully, exceeding your goals. There are two areas of talent you need:
- Core Team: Those under your direct supervision. These are the people you are hiring, you are managing, you are leading and you are enabling.
- Enablers: Those who are part of other teams, but in roles that are critical to enabling your team to succeed. I’ve often found this to be the more important of the two areas. For every 1 of these, you need 5 less people in your core team. It this reason, that I’ve always felt you need a horizontal approach to building a digitally fit organization.
In my last 3 roles, I’ve had the charge of building and transforming organizations. As I wrote about in December, this usually takes 5 years for things to fully gel.
The teams I built were high performing teams, but we were definitely “aliens” and looked nothing like the traditional mold for what a great hire looked like. At Campbell we hired people who had never worked in “Corporate America”, were bloggers by trade or who grew up in ad agencies. At Walgreens, there wasn’t a single person I hired who had traditional “pharmacy” or “retail” experience. I did however hire one of the smartest social analytics people in the business. He had worked at All-State, which at first you might say, seems the exact opposite of Walgreens. But, from a customer loyalty and retention standpoint, they’re very similar business models. Even at MARC USA, we brought in aliens from corporations like PNC Bank or those who were right out of school and didn’t have habits that needed to be unlearned.
As you build your organization, here’s 3 things to think about:
- Understand the tolerance of your organization for aliens. Some companies will tell you they want to change, but in fact, they really don’t want to change the important aspects. The changes they want are surface level or cosmetic. This is crucial. If your organization isn’t ready significant change, quickly, you’ll be setting your new hire up for failure, if they don’t fit the desired mold for max assimilation.
- Focus less on what they’ve done in their previous experience and more on what they’ll do (and how) to be successful in your organization. You’ll learn how they plan to leverage their own experiences and how they’re mind works. This will also force you to not look for a cookie cutter hire that fits an arbitrary predetermined set of requirements.
- Look for the 5 key skills that make up a Digital Unicorn. Yes, I’m serious. Digital Unicorns are a rare breed. If you can find someone that has 3 of the 5, you’re lucky. If you find 4 out of 5, go play the lottery. And if you find someone with 5 out of 5, send them to me ☺
There’s no guarantee when it comes to talent. Hiring the “best” doesn’t always mean you’ll be successful. Have you seen the performance of the Yankees lately?
But, what is a guarantee is that you’ll always get what you got, if you always do what you always did. Keep hiring the same person over and over and at best, you’ll keep pace with historical performance. However, a more likely scenario is that you’ll see a small drop off every year.
Look for the aliens. They’re out there. They’ll make you feel uncomfortable. But, ultimately they’ll make sure your organization thrives and doesn’t just tread water.