Hire People Who Can Grow On The Job

Last week looked at the second step to building transformational teams. That being recruiting & hiring for learning.

During the week I received the following email from a top ranking media executive:

It was great feedback and it highlights the need to not only hire people who can grow on the job but to amplify a diverse profile.


Referring to last weeks Copper Kings, begin by reminding yourself that the goal is to approach human resources as raw materials rather than as finished products, the same way you would other resources.

First, identify what you need done.

An empty space on the roster can put extreme pressure on your team, and their pain quickly becomes yours. Hiring someone just to make the pain go away is a powerful urge but a poor idea. Optimal hiring require time and thought both to map and execute.

Start with the question: What is my need?

This is a simple variable in the hiring equation, but we don’t always do a good job for solving for it. Rather than really thinking about what we want done, we usually assume we need someone to do what the previous employee in the role did, particularly if that person performed that part well.

Don’t accept that it has to stay as it currently is. Genuinely understand what you are looking for, then make the effort to find it. Rather than requiring the ideal candidate to possess mastery of the entire skill set for the job, hire people for their low-end-of-the-curve capacity to fill many roles, not just the top-shelf, high-end-of-the-curve qualifications for one role. What are the minimum, rather than the maximum, competencies required to be successful? Think copper, not gold.

Most candidates for a job come with a body of acquired knowledge and skills. These things will be listed on their resume and emphasized in the cover letter. These individuals also have strengths, or “superpowers”: things they do instinctively that may not be clearly articulated in their job application. By identifying some of the human qualities that we value in a hire, we make it easier to read between the lines to discern them; we can prepare to probe for them during the interview process. Let’s always be open to superpowers, even if we haven’t identified a pressing need for them. Superpowers are where an individual’s greatest potential lies.

Investment in ahead-of-the-curve exploration will be repaid with the discovery of better raw material. Be strategic with your hires – every one of them.

What percentage of team members are currently at the low end of their S-curves? Do you have 15% at the low end, 70% in the middle, and 15% at the high end? While I generally argue for hiring people at the low end of the learning curve so they have runway, if you are managing a team of novices it might make sense to hire someone more seasoned.

Also, understand how your people work together. How might a new hire enhance the capacities your team already has? Are you short a soprano or a tenor? Missing an accompanist? Is there a soloist in the choir, and is their contribution harmonious or does it grate on the ear despite the quality of their voice? Where are the gaps in good team coordination and compatibility.

Team dysfunction is like family dysfunction: it undermines individual development and is counterproductive to the purposes of the whole. Envision employee roles as sinuous S curves weaving together to form a whole cloth of great strength. Excessive friction is a barrier to progress that can hold or even push people down the curve. If you view your employees as discrete threads with little synergistic interaction, your team will fray instead of becoming a fine piece of fabric. Get the relationships right and the sum of your team will be greater than its parts.

Research on consumer behavior demonstrates that we tend to buy the same things time and time again, virtually without thought. A.G Lafley, two-time CEO at Proctor & Gamble, and Roger L. Martin examined these results while investigating why frequent rebranding – going for a “new look” – doesn’t necessarily translate into a competitive advantage. They found that in fact consumers have a reflexive preference for the tried-and-true, thus leading familiar brands to a compounding competitive advantage over time.

They conclude:

As a manager performing a hiring function, you are a consumer of talent, susceptible to the tendency to constantly and thoughtlessly repeat your consumption habits. While this may not matter much when choosing laundry detergent, it can have desire consequences when hiring.

Here are some of the subconscious emotional motivations that we rarely address head on but that we would do well to consider:

Writing job postings is more of an art form than most of us realize. The goal of a job posting should be to attract talented people who are qualified to onboard at the low end of the job’s learning curve. They won’t be experts, but they will have what it takes to learn and magnify their current position and other roles beyond it. Catching the eye of these candidates requires a change in how job requirements are typically articulated.

If we inflate the necessary qualifications, focus on high-end-of-the-curve capacity, and then hire the applicant who comes closest to meeting these criteria, we set the stage for a poor employment fit. Instead, we need to temper our over blown ambitions and look for a quality, high-potential candidate who won’t become disinterested within the first few months of employment. Write the job posting to encourage, rather than deter, such applicants.

We want to contribute and feel energised, even passionate about what we do. We want to be inspired by ideas that can solve problems. For most, the meaning of work doesn’t have to matter in the broadest sense. We don’t insist on changing the world or addressing cosmically important issues. But we do yearn to believe that we are making our corner of the world happier in some small but significant way. Make the case that the S curve you are hiring for matters; convey this sense of consequence through the job description.

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