Recruit & Hire For Learning

Last week we looked at the first step to building transformational teams in managing your team’s learning curve  Today we are going to look at the second step that being: Recruit & Hire For Learning.

My brother has just returned from a family trip to the USA. And whilst secretly he would say that seeing Springsteen on Broadway was the highlight, I was taken by his exuberance towards Montana. Even though I was born in North America, I did not know much about this idyllic paradise. So I did a bit of research and found that it’s fame is derived from the mining boom that emanated in Butte, Montana. There were some early successes, but Butte didn’t live up to expectations elevated by its early gold rush. Despite this, t is still referred to as “the richest hill on earth.” Why?

Within a few decades of the initial rush, disappointed speculators were selling their mining claims in Butte for dirt-cheap. A handful of people began to buy up and consolidate claims and mining operations, content to extract wealth at a more leisurely pace than the earliest settlers had hoped for. Importantly, they began to discover and exploit copper – a low-end resource at the time. The development of several technologies, principally electrical wiring, made copper valuable – extremely valuable.

The few who by then held most of the property and mineral rights became some of the wealthiest people in the world as they reaped the windfall of discovery-driven resource exploration and development. They are collectively referred to as the Copper Kings. Butte presented an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but that potential wasn’t recognized by the gold seekers with their dreams of instant gratification.

It seems that managers could refer to Butte when they can’t find qualified candidates. Rather than complaining that Universities don’t turn out graduates with the right skills, or that they have an opening that is just impossible to find maybe it is time to dig deeper.

Think of a role that is currently open in your company or on your team. What are the requisite capabilities? Are these the minimum competencies required, or are you stuck in the rut of expecting top-of-the-curve expertise? Are you seeking the gold standard? Or will silver do? How about copper? There are compelling reasons to go for copper.

Here’s what usually sets the stage for a new hire: we’re shorthanded and overwhelmed. A key employee has moved within the company, opted for a fresh start elsewhere, or taken a leave of absence. Maybe business has suddenly ramped up with the signing of a new client or the winning of a large contract. We need help in the form of a body who can step into the role today and do the job now. Someone to salve our pain.

Desperate we hire the person who we perceive to be the most qualified to fill the void, and for a time, they do. “Marry in haste, repent at leisure,” goes the adage. Because we hired someone at the top of the curve, within months they are bored and looking around for a new suitor. Soon we’ll be back at square one: overwhelmed, on the rebound, and poised to hire in haste again.

That’s not a great use of resources. Utilising resources profitably begins with recognizing potential, followed by a period of exploration, discovery, and development. This is how we learn what works and what does not; this is how we uncover what is possible. When we think of people, truly, as human resources, rather than expecting them to be ready-made products, we follow a similar approach. Hiring for potential rather than proficiency is the foundation for building a transformational team.

I recognize that this approach antithetical to some HR practices. Think about the last job requisition you posted. You probably tried to hire someone at the top of the learning curve who already knew how to do everything the job required – plus the kitchen sink. It’s natural for busy managers to think to themselves, “I don’t have time to train someone; we need someone who can do the job on day one.”

There are downsides to hiring this way. One is that the ‘wish list’ approach to job qualifications turns off many employees who don’t fit the bill. Another downside is that when we recruit by advertising for maximum rather than minimum qualifications and hire the most qualified candidate in the applicant pool, we have already shortened their shelf life. With little room to rise, the new hire will be feeling stale in no time. While they acclimate to a new culture, their lack of challenge likely won’t immediately be obvious, but after a few months they will be predictably bored.

We will then either find a new role for them to fill, or they will leave (more than 40% of employees who voluntarily leave their jobs to do so within 6 months of their start date, and half have moved on in less than a year). Considering the cost of recruitment and hiring and the investment required in initial training, this is a mind-boggling waste of resources.

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