Aug 172016

You Are Whom You Hire









Who touts itself as the book to solve one’s “#1 problem.” It is a book on the importance of hiring correctly and how to go about the undertaking. It relies on three focus areas to achieve its goals. Those are Scorecard, Source and Select.

A Method, which is the authors’ methodology, is for hiring an “A Player.”

The book begins impressively with substantial quotations before delving into its process and formula. Naturally, as is par for the course nowadays, there is an ulterior motive at play and in the introduction the authors fit in an advert for their business, which does consulting for recruitment and human resource management. One’s confidence, however, is soon restored when the authors cite the largest statistical study on the topic of candidates who became successful employees, which comes courtesy of the University Of Chicago, as the basis for their theory and book. The authors, and their researchers, interviewed CEOs, billionaires and successful people to find out what makes one good at hiring. One notes that the list excludes actual HR folk from its list, which hints at the senior levels with which it concerns itself. With that said, the authors make no distinction about the importance of a very tight process in hiring regardless of level and neither should they.

Each hiring mistake costs the company 15 times the amount of a salary in hard costs and productivity, we are told.

On page 6 the book’s entreaty is for hiring persons to break existing bad habits and cease what it calls ‘voodoo’ hiring methods. There are ten of them and number three is the funniest.

  1. The Art Critic (instinct)
  2. The Sponge (multiple uncoordinated interviewers)
  3. The Prosecutor (aggressive questioning)
  4. The Suitor (selling to and impressing the candidate)
  5. The Trickster (gimmicks in lieu of interviewing)
  6. The Animal Lover (dotting on pet questions)
  7. The Chatterbox (idle chit chatter)
  8. The Psychological And Personality Tester (self-explanatory)
  9. The Aptitude Tester (should not be used in isolation) and
  10. The Fortune-Teller (asking hypothetical questions about the future)

The book occasionally is funny and especially so in the earlier chapters.

Reading the book my mind occasionally arched back to HP and all the disastrous CEOs they keep hiring from outside. Do large companies really hire so badly? The stakes are so much higher when hiring CEOs, right?

One criticism attributable to the book is one that is the by-product of hiring to exact rules – hopefully people are smart enough to hire to variety – despite the book’s insistence that the end all, be all of the universe is “A Players” and not B or C players. The last two are never defined or even seriously contrasted from one another however. When one process exists and all hiring is done in similar or alike fashion blandness will set in – even if the book rationally insists that there should be a written scorecard based on outcomes for the job. This cannot be a good idea when you need to the team to be complementary and offer a variety of perspectives and experiences. One company that hires – or thinks it does – with a diversity of thoughts is Salesforce. Something not addressed either is the importance of an enabling structure and environment for employees to succeed. This book is not concerned with what happens after the hiring has happened. A Player has happened and all is A-OK. It is all about the superstars. Page 12 does give the definition of an A Player (they mean the grammatically correct ‘A-Player’).

A candidate who has at least 90 percent chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10 percent of possible candidates could achieve.

The book goes further and asks ‘who cares if there is a 90% chance of achieving one’s/the company’s goals when anybody could accomplish them? Er, I do. I do. I, and many other people, would be happy with such results. Who cares, in that case, if we have A-Players or Z-Players?

Getting into more details the example on page 13 is silly. One does not need a system to not hire someone who gives an answer like the one used and yes everyone asks questions at interviews. According to the example, a candidate sent an email to all colleagues saying the boss was incompetent.

Pages 30 to 32 list twenty plus qualities of A-Players. These include Efficiency, Honesty (which the book already had ironically nixed), Ability To Hire A Players, Calm Under Pressure, Work Ethic, Attention to Detail, Persistence and so forth.

As mentioned, a written Scorecard that features outcomes and written objectives and not descriptions of who to hire is necessary. Moreover, Who insists that linking business plans to people’s jobs are also part of the parcel.

Page 65 of the book changes focus and considers how to source candidates. These the book lists as Referrals from outside the company, referrals from inside the company, deputizing friends of the firm, hiring recruiters, hiring researchers and having a sourcing system, which lends discipline to your own search effort.

Paying attention to interviewing, the authors put forward four interviewing techniques. These are:

Screening Interview – on the phone which asks about career goals, fortes, weaknesses and opinions of the last five bosses on a scale of 1 to 10.

Topgrading Interview – a chronological walkthrough of a candidate’s career that asks five questions for each job the candidate has had in the past fifteen years, which are what were you hired to do, which accomplishments make you proud, who was your boss and who were your colleagues and what will they say when I call them and finally why did you leave your job? Additionally, the authors discuss the three P’s. These are clarifying questions about how was the performance compared to the Previous Year, how was the performance compared to the Plan and how was the performance compared to the Peers?

Focused Interview – where one focuses on a topic and gathers more information on it. One drills down on a specific outcome, asks about accomplishments in that area and asks about insights learnt based on mistakes and failures in the area.

Reference Interview – Not ever skipping reference checks, of which seven need to be done, the hiring manager asks references for context of relationship with the candidate, the candidate’s biggest strengths, areas of improvement, rating on a scale of 1 to 10 and where the candidate struggled.

Noteworthy are several points this book makes. The candidates should not be allowed to parrot you and interviewers should disqualify ‘website’ speak. There are no strengths in disguise. Only actual weakness are allowed when asked. The interviewer has to be clear that he or she will speak to former bosses. It is not a matter of ‘if,’ but a matter of ‘when.’

Page 116 offers red flags too. Not wanting candour candidates should not speak ill of former bosses, and the candidates should not seem more interested in compensation than in the job itself. Other red flags are when a candidate is self-absorbed and is unsupportive of change. In my opinion, it is corporate-speak to claim all change is good. Nothing in and of itself is ‘good.’ Look at this book’s claim that hiring some with or without certain qualities, which is a change, is bad. See?

Undeterred page 118 displays some ego by insisting that ever starting an interview answer with ‘no’ or ‘but’ or ‘however’ is unacceptable. All of the interviewer’s ideas must be met with a ‘yes.’ Otherwise, say the authors, the candidate has an “overactive ego.” That is, “yes that is a great idea” is the only favoured answer. This implies that the interviewer has the overactive ego in my opinion.

All in all, Who is fastidiousness and displays rigour. Having said that, as a hiring manager the biggest problem is finding candidates who are 50% let alone 90%. The sourcing tips of the book sure will get a workout and so does its insistence that compromise is a dirty word here. One cannot help becoming much more involved, intense and process-oriented again having read the book.

The book is a methodology, but one is again reminded that it is also a sales collateral. As with the beginning of the book, the conclusion reminds the reader that the authors and principles are available to be hired to run their recruitment seminars, be a “keynote speaker” and consult.