For those of you who have built and led teams, I’m sure you can remember a time you’ve pursued a “rock star” from somewhere within your organization for an open position on your team. And why not? The person is proven. They’ve delivered results. They clearly know how to navigate the organization. It completely makes sense to try to convince them to join your team, right?
Here’s the problem – every other hiring manager in your organization who has a spot to fill is thinking the same thing. All of you are pursuing the same rock star. This dynamic decreases your chances of landing this individual and therefore the expected value of your time spent recruiting them diminishes with every incremental manager who’s seeking out the rock star. The problem gets compounded by the fact that you will probably get somewhat myopic in your pursuit of this individual because of course they’re going to take your role, right? And if they’re going to do that, you’ll extend the offer so why spend any time screening other candidates? Yeah. And then the rock star spurns you and you’ve lost 2-4 weeks of valuable recruiting time.
“But Mike, if I land the rock star, it makes it all worthwhile.” Really? Here’s something to consider – how easy will it be to keep that rock star challenged and more importantly, how will you fend off the hordes of other managers who will try to hire the rock star away from you? And if you’re not challenging the rock star, the likelihood of you losing them to a competitive offer goes up.
So what’s a hiring manager to do?
Me? I prefer to buy “damaged goods.” There’s nothing wrong with these people. It’s just that somehow along the way, they had problems and people extrapolate that problem into a broad trend. These individuals become organizational pariahs. Managers don’t invest in developing them because they’re not “worth it” and hiring managers don’t pursue them because they don’t want to introduce “performance risk” into their teams (see Leading Through Risk Taking: “But he’s never done that job.” “I know.” for more on another manifestation of this dynamic).
So why buy damaged goods? I’d be taking on a “known problem” and have to invest significant time in managing and developing the individual. On top of that, they might not perform in the role and the business could suffer. I must be insane and I know I’m creating questions in your mind about my leadership approach. Let me address a few of these concerns.
- First, the individual should be easy to hire in a very short recruiting timeline (much easier than hiring the rock star). Why? Nobody else wants to buy damaged goods. This approach saves time and effort.
- Second, many times the “performance problem” the individual had has been greatly exaggerated or misunderstood. This is part of the “it only takes one oh shoot to wipe out 100 attaboys” effect (I’m pretty sure that’s the current exchange rate on shoots/attaboys these days). If this is the case, hiring this person is like buying a stock that’s overcorrected for some less than disastrous news – the returns can be fantastic.
- Third, as a manager and leader, IT’S YOUR JOB TO DEVELOP PEOPLE. This person presents a perfect opportunity to do your job.
- Fourth, it’s low risk in all honesty. From the performance standpoint, you’ll be providing significant coaching and oversight until the person is over the performance bar therefore there’s little risk to the business from things going awry (this doesn’t hold true if you don’t do your job of managing them though). From a leadership standpoint, it’s low risk with huge potential upside. If the person is truly a performance problem, you’ll know that soon enough and handle it (i.e., clean up a mess someone else failed to clean up). Ultimately, this helps the person move on to a role that will better suit them. It also reflects positively on you as a leader because you had the fortitude to do something about a problem you were brave enough to take on. No one will blame you for poor leadership – they all knew the performance problem was a preexisting condition before you hired the person.
- Fifth, and most important, if it works out and the person does well, that’s a fantastic outcome. The “damaged goods” are no longer damaged. Heck – you might have turned them into a rock star. It’s good for the individual (at some point all of us will need a second chance in our careers – do what you can to create those chances for other people). They’re now motivated and committed to the organization. It’s good for the company. You haven’t spent a lot of time and money recruiting and you’ve reduced the cost of turnover. Additionally you’ve improved the organization’s bench strength. It’s good for you. You’ve demonstrated strong leadership and development skills (which should be rewarded by your organization).
Hopefully you see the merits of the approach. To recap why it’s good to buy damaged goods: easy to recruit and hire, significant performance upside, little business risk, ability to showcase your leadership skills, more committed and engaged team members and increased bench strength.
If you do this frequently enough, you eventually become a net exporter of talent because other managers will be coming after your throngs of newly-minted rock stars (for more on being a net exporter of talent, read Leading Teams: Build your team! Get rid of them!). And don’t underestimate the value of the loyalty to you doing this engenders in the person you hire. I have a couple of folks (who used to be considered “damaged goods”) who still stay in touch and will always support me no matter the circumstances. Why? Because I took a chance and believed in them. One of them is one of my best friends now.
What are you waiting for? Go give someone a second chance. They deserve it. Go buy some damaged goods. I can almost guarantee you’ll be happy with your purchase.
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC