Tag Archives: talent

Recruiting…Saban Style

Heard an excellent interview earlier today.  It lasted less than 7 minutes and captured so many great insights into leadership and recruiting.  Granted, it was sports talk radio, but the lessons for business are absolutely clear, timely and completely translatable.  It was Colin Cowherd interviewing Colorado State coach Jim McElwain.  Not too impressive to the average person, however the conversation centered on McElwain’s 4 years working with Nick Saban at Alabama during a stretch when they won 2 National Championships.  Regardless of what one feels about sports, college football or Alabama, there is no question Nick Saban is one of the best leaders, recruiters and coaches in any field.

Paraphrasing of course, but these were the main themes when it comes to recruiting:

Recruit to the Position.  Know what the role you are recruiting for is, what that role requires, then hold to those requirements.  It is a timeless issue in recruiting and the war for talent, people wanting “the best person” for the job, yet having no real handle on what the job is, what it entails, what skills are required, what behaviors it demands, how success is defined, and what role emotional intelligence plays.  When a client starts off by saying “let me tell you a bit about the role”, it is a pretty good indicator that the search will go well.  However, when it starts with “here is what we want”, it raises concerns.  Know what the position requires, then go find the player.

Get them BEFORE they peak.  It was the best line in the interview, “don’t want the kid who peaks his sophomore year of high school…we all knew that kid”.  Harsh, but true, and frankly the most common pitfall we have seen over the years, companies wanting to go after the person who is already at the height of their profession.  Yes, you want the folks who are really good, but you want them to have runway.  It is about what they will do, about how the person can continue to grow, improve, learn and develop.  If they have hit their ceiling, then the best you can hope for is more of the same.  Do not hire someone for what they have done, hire them for what they will do for you in the future.  The competition is always working to get better…they will catch and pass those who have plateaued regardless of how good they were.

Have an extensive process that involves multiple people.  Do not “fall in love” with a candidate too early and avoid the myopic notion that only one person can truly evaluate talent.  Make the interview process extensive and evaluate equally throughout the process.  Candidates should get better throughout the interview process.  If they start strong and fade, that is a warning sign.  If you identify flaws relative to the position requirements, make the call and move on to other candidates.  But above all, have multiple people involved, and allow them to give their input.

It is a great interview, and it clearly shows two keys to organizational success – leadership and recruiting.  Will visit the leadership piece tomorrow, but for now the lesson is recruiting.  Granted, they were talking in the world of college football, but the evaluation of talent is universal.  Know what you need, find those who can do what you need when you need it, and then have a team of folks you trust evaluate the talent.  Simple really, and clearly one of the reasons Nick Saban is at the top of his field.

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Filed under Business, Coaching, Hiring and Interviewing, Interviewing, Sports

Linsanity, the Marshmallow Test and Hiring

From the Wall Street Journal today came a column by Arthur C. Brooks entitled “Obama’s Budget Flunks the Marshmallow Test“. Not to worry, we are not going to take a turn down the path of political commentary. However, what we will borrow is the Marshmallow Test:

In one famous study from 1972, Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel concocted an ingenious experiment involving young children and a bag of marshmallows. He put a marshmallow on the table and told each child that if he (or she) could wait 15 minutes to eat it, he would get a second one as a reward.

About two-thirds of the kids failed the experiment. Some gave in immediately and gobbled up the marshmallow; videotape shows others in agony, trying to discipline themselves—some even banging their little heads on the table.

But the most interesting results from that study came years later. Researchers followed up on the children to see how their lives were turning out. The kids who didn’t take the marshmallow had average SAT scores 210 points higher than the kids who ate it immediately. They were less likely to drop out of college, made far more money, were less likely to go to jail, and suffered from fewer drug and alcohol problems.

So what does all of this have to do with identifying, hiring and retaining talent?  Actually everything.  Think about Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks.  As an organization the Knicks had a choice – bring Lin up from the Developmental League and give him a chance, or shop around and trade for some point guard from another team.  They chose to go with Lin and two weeks later it is Linsanity.

Clearly, it is not always going to turnout that well when it comes to hiring, but there is a lesson to be learned.  It is safe to say that as a child if Lin was given the Marshmallow Test, he would have sat and waited for the reward.  His history indicates he is not an instant gratification person.  He “gets” sacrifice, hard work and patience.  Those are the traits, along with a ton of natural athletic gifts, that have made him successful.

The other side to this scenario is that there were options for the Knicks – there are other guards out there with the physical skills and size.  In this one case the Knicks avoided that classic pitfall of hiring…going with the “qualified” or “experienced” candidate; the safe hire.  The recycling of candidates, the shuffling of people from job to job, company to company, is the single greatest mistake made in hiring.  The philosophy that if someone is in the role currently,  they can naturally fill that role at our company.  Yes, they probably will do okay, but they will probably never be great.

Going with recycled talent in hiring is the path to immediate gratification – it is the “easy and safe hire”.  And based on the Marshmallow Test, immediate gratification is not an indicator of long-term success.  Apply the test to the candidates and yourself next time you have to add someone to the team – you just might find that great hire.

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The Professional Interviewer

We have all seen them, the person who passes through your professional life. They are there, but then a short time later they are gone. At times they come with great fanfare, yet at others it is like they never really join the team. It is the job hopper, the ubiquitous person who seems to thrive by simply coming and going.  The person who has quite literally turned interviewing into a profession.  A profession that pays and remarkably leads to careers complete with benefits, advancement, increased compensation and a staggering collection of business cards.

Granted we see the traditional job hopper more than most; it is just part of being a recruiter and coach.  But the rise of the Professional Interviewer has been something we have come to notice over the last decade.  It really is a unique phenomena.  It is the ultimate irony in hiring – everyone wants to hire the “right person”, but all too often “right” becomes synonymous with “experienced”, and thus a journey down the well-worn path in recycling talent.  It is in that all too familiar and comfortable world of “experienced candidates” that one finds the Professional Interviewer.

Think about it next time you are going with the “experienced” candidate. If they have been around the industry, changing firms every few years, might there be a reason? Granted, things happen, but patterns should not be ignored.  The Professional Interviewer is actually quite good at interviewing (they have an enormous amount of practice).  Every job change has a story, a well rehearsed and perfectly logical line of reasoning.  They have been very successful at each step, have a vast array of contacts, amazing 30-60-90 plans, are masters of follow-up, and will have an immediate impact on your firm.  Oh, they will tell you all of that and much more.

Peel the onion, get below the surface and dig.  Ask the hard questions early and challenge them.  The right hire is rarely the easy hire.  Sustained success takes time – years.  If someone is changing jobs on a regular basis, there is no physical way they have the time to really have a lasting impact.  It takes months to onboard, to learn the company, the clients, the process and the culture.  It also takes months to search for and land a new job.  Do the math, if they are changing jobs every two years, take away the onboarding and next job search/interview time, the vacation and holiday time, what are you really left with?

There are exceptions to everything, but beware of the Professional Interviewer.  They are easy to fall in love with when you are hiring.  They are the answer to all your needs, or so it appears.  They are good at telling you what you want to hear – they are professionals after all.

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The Student, The Grinder and The Natural

The Edge, Jack White, and Jimmy Page – the Student, the Grinder, and the Natural.  While watching the movie It Might Get Loud in which the 3 guitarist discuss the instrument and their experiences and techniques, the below clip is what stayed with me:

It is interesting, I keep thinking of those 3 as a textbook illustration of hiring in business.  The Edge is the classic technical/fundamental student of his craft.  Very gifted, but he is always working at it, studying and learning, using all of the latest technology and innovations.  Jack White is the grinder – able, but he makes it off of sheer force of will and effort.  Then there is Jimmy Page – an absolutely gifted genius in every respect.  He sees it, is a student of his craft, of its history, and simply  is just one of those special few that come along once in a very long while.

In the end it is all about fit – both for the candidate and the company.  What type of person – a student, a grinder or a natural is needed for the company and their role.  Conversely, a candidate must know what sort of person they are – a student, a grinder, or a natural and select the right roles and corporate cultures.  Typically any of the three are successful.  However, make no mistake, there are very few naturals out there – very few.  Just watch The Edge and Jack White – even the best know when they are in the presence of a natural – it is a special moment.

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