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Promoting Leaders - How Much Proof Do You Need?

 

I am a big Malcolm Gladwell fan and I am thrilled that his podcast, Revisionist History, is back. He has a unique way of telling a story which informs, entertains and touches you. I just can’t get enough of it. (http://revisionisthistory.com)

In one of the early episodes of Revisionist History’s 3rd season, Malcolm discusses the topic of proof. He does so by examining how much proof is needed before one can take action. The example he uses is centered around Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that occurs when one receives too many blows to the head and is closely linked to football. Specifically, Malcolm discusses how there have been instances where football players have committed suicide and autopsies determined that they had CTE. This could lead to the conclusion that football players are at bigger risk of developing a disease that could lead to several mental illnesses, including the chance of them ending their lives. However, in order for this to be proven, continuous research needs to be done throughout many years, with control groups, and verified by medical researchers. Malcom’s question to us is, how much proof do we need in order to start taking this mater seriously? How many lives will be put at risk until we have 100% proof? Shouldn’t we act sooner, regardless of proof?

After the episode, I started thinking of times in my life and my career where I might have been delayed to act due to the need of having 100% certainty. It made me immediately think of the typical corporate recruitment process. I have seen countless organizations and managers (myself included) spend crazy number of hours trying to decide whether a person is a perfect fit for a position.

When looking to hire someone to fill a position within an organization, we as leaders have become increasingly picky as to who to hire. Given the ease that it is to post available positions, and the number of applicants that each posting garners, hiring managers have started passing on great candidates in the pursuit of someone that checks all the boxes needed to fill a position. 

This is especially true when we are looking to fill a leadership position. We want someone that can lead people, but that is also an expert in the business. We want multiple years of experience in a specific segment of a particular industry, and that a candidate is engaging, personable and tactful. We want someone that is ready to contribute now and make an impact. There is no room for waiting. We want 100% certainty that this is the person for the job. 

When I was working as a supervisor, I had a young woman report to me early in my career. I knew from the moment I met her that she was a leader. She was concerned with the well-being of her teammates and clients, she put in extra effort in building a positive culture, she was bright and hard working. She also happened to have multiple small mistakes that put her capabilities in question. This delayed her promotion and ended up resulting in enormous amounts of energy from the leadership team in discussing whether she would become a good leader or not. Although I was ready to move on with the proof I had seen, there were others that were not sold until they had more proof. Eventually she was promoted, and became an amazing leader, but did we miss out on her contributions because we did not move sooner?

The reason lengthy hiring processes have developed is because of the high cost of choosing the wrong person. That means that an increased effort in finding the right person should result in more successful outcomes, right? In my experience, not quite. Regardless if the person you are hiring to be part of your leadership team fills all of your requirement boxes, there is no guarantee that they will work out. 

Maybe we are focusing our efforts in the wrong side of the hiring process. Maybe it is not about finding the perfect candidate, but spending significant time, energy and resources on ensuring that the candidate you pick works out. 

I would like to make a case for grooming. Instead of looking for a perfect fit, we should invest in finding leadership candidates that fit our culture and that showcase the intangible skills that would make them easily integrate within our organizations. It’s about building a team through the draft rather than hiring superstar free agents. If we are to make it work, we need to ensure that we are setting them up for success. 

When it comes to long term success we need to have some skin in the game when developing our leaders. Even the purple squirrel that meets all your requirements for a posted position will falter if not provided with direction, training and support. So instead of asking whether the candidate is the perfect fit for the position, start asking what YOU could do to ensure their success. 

Will this candidate have the appropriate training to fulfill their job to expectations? Will they be introduced to and learn from the people they will be working with side by side? Are they clear on what is expected of them and the company? How often will you meet with them to ensure there is alignment and development?

If we start providing structure around these questions, we will start becoming less reliant on the technical skills we are hiring for, and more focused on the best fit for the organization. We know that we can afford to see less proof because we will ensure that our selections work through our assistance. We will create self-fulfilling prophecies. Proof is no longer in the pudding, but in the process that will make it delicious, regardless of the flavor. 

So next time you are anguishing between candidates, take a step back and focus your attention on how you can ensure the candidates’ success. It’s no longer about them. It’s about you. How much proof will you need then?

Andre Mello is a Business Development Coach and trusts his gut when it comes to hiring. He has been in Marketing and Leadership for over 17 years. To connect with Andre please visit www.wysecoaching.com.

 
Andre Mello