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The 10 Things You Must Do to Make Hiring Top Talent No. 1

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Despite the lofty mission statement, most companies go out of their way to make sure hiring is not #1. It doesn’t have to be that way.


Over a 10 year period from 1991 to 2001 my firm made over 400 presentations to groups of CEOs at emerging and entrepreneurial companies. The presentations were largely the same. All focused on how to select people to grow the company.

One big idea was to map the types of people the company was hiring to its business strategy. The other point, while not as grand, was more important: If hiring top talent is important to your company’s growth make this the primary measure of how you reward and promote your hiring managers. Although 90% of the CEOs believed in the concept, few did anything to make this part of their company’s culture.

Fast forward 15 years…

Last week I got a call from a CEO who attended one of these long ago leadership workshops. He told me he wanted to inspire his new management team on the importance of hiring for quality. I gave him this quick refresher–10 ideas to make hiring top people No. 1:

1. Grade hiring managers on their ability to hire and develop top people.

Make hiring top people primary objective of the manager’s performance review and don’t promote anyone who doesn’t do it well.

2. Implement a raising the talent bar committee.

Don’t let managers who aren’t able to hire people stronger than themselves make the decision alone. Either include the manager’s boss, or create a raising the talent bar team, with one member involved in every hiring decision to ensure talent standards are always met.

3. Banish traditional skills and experience-based job descriptions.

Make sure your managers clarify the actual performance objectives for each new job before the job requisition is approved. Use these as the screening and selection criteria rather than box-checking skills and experience.

4. Create the employee value proposition before starting the search.

Ask managers why a top person who is not looking would want the job. Exclude generic statements. Instead, highlight the importance of the position by tying it to the company strategy or a major initiative.

5. Conduct exploratory interviews before the in-person interview.

Don’t let managers meet candidates in person first, ever. More mistakes are made in the first 30 minutes of the interview than any other time. An exploratory interview over the phone increases objectivity if and when they do meet.

6. Control the first 30 minutes of the in-person interview.

To minimize the impact of first impression related errors, I ask the candidate to write a quick summary of two major accomplishments related to actual job needs. I then ask hiring managers to review these right after conducting a quick work history review. This step plus the phone screen reduces hiring mistakes by over 50%.

7. Conduct more panel interviews.

A well-organized panel interview is a great way to increase objectivity and assessment accuracy. Dig into the candidate’s major accomplishments using The Most Interview Question of All Time with the panel members acting as fact-findings. A panel interview where everyone asks their own pet questions is a waste of time.

8. Implement a formal debriefing program.

Under no circumstances add up a bunch of yes/no votes to decide whom to hire. Gladiator voting is a sure way to turn the interview into a popularity contest and reward the weakest (they vote no) or the most dominant interviewers. Instead, use this talent scorecard systemand assign different interviewers different factors to evaluate. The key: use evidence to score the candidate, not feelings or emotions.

9. Clarify actual job needs during the on-boarding process.

As long as you prepared a performance-based job description as described in point 3 above, this is easy. Just clarify and prioritize the performance objectives listed. Since these were discussed throughout the interviewing process the performance expectations will be no surprise. Better: most of the interview was based on the candidate’s ability to meet the performance objectives, so success is more likely.

10. Integrate your company’s performance management system directly into the hiring process.

This is what the first nine steps above are all about: clarifying job expectations before a person is hired, evaluating a person on his or her ability and motivation to do this work, and reviewing this in detail during the on-boarding process. By managing, directing and developing new hires using the performance-based job description throughout the year, you’ve effectively integrated the hiring and performance management process into one seamless system.

Most CEOs will contend that hiring the best talent is the most important thing their managers need to do. But this is just lip service. To make hiring No. 1, hiring managers must be measured and rewarded on how well they do it. As we told every CEO who attended any one of our 400 workshops, it starts by defining the work a person needs to do and then formally measuring how well their hiring managers hired and developed people to do the work. This was true 10 and 20 years ago. It’s still true today.