It’s all about the people, right? If you hire right, you’ll do well (so states the conventional wisdom). The problem is hiring high performers isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Doing so can create tremendous problems for your organization and you’re the root cause of those problems.
Hiring high performers can work out great if you do it for the right reasons and if you create the right conditions to bring them in. More often than not, however, we hire for all the wrong reasons and never think beyond our immediate needs for hiring that superstar. When we do so, all we’ve done is arm the timer on an employment bomb that will go off in our faces.
Why do we want to hire high performers in the first place? There’s the belief that their amazing skill set can either save us from the dire situation we’re in or can create that massive new growth idea we’ve been desperately seeking. We believe their stellar track record will rub off on our teams and make us all better at what we do. Sure those things might happen.
Usually what happens though is we bring that high performer in, they burn brightly at first, and then they either sputter or get frustrated and quit. Those are the problems you cause. How? It’s pretty simple…
To successfully hire high performers, you have to first understand the near-term rationale for hiring them and also think through the longer term implications of their personal growth rate relative to opportunities the organization can provide.
We usually hire high performers to fix something that’s broken or create something brand new that didn’t exist before. Prior to hiring them, clearly articulate what the near-term need is, how you’ll measure success, and why that high performer’s skill set and background are ideal for solving that near term problem.
If during this assessment you find you don’t have to hire a high performer, then don’t. If you have the talent already in the organization, give someone else a shot even if they’ve never done that job before. You’ll save money and grow the talent you already have on hand.
If the job does require a high performer, be sure to spell out these near term objectives to them during the interviewing process. These aren’t the kinds of people you hire to make the donuts every day. They’re movers and shakers. And if they don’t see how this role allows them to shake and that they can move after they’ve achieved the goal, you’ll have a hard time hiring them.
The Future Growth Path
Let’s assume the opportunity you define above is interesting enough to attract that high performer. Hit fast forward to a point when they’ve achieved the goal. The question quickly becomes “now what?”
If you don’t have an answer ready for that question, you’re already creating a flight risk. The high performer is looking for advancement and challenge. If you can’t offer it, they’ll go to another organization that can provide it. The more thorough you are about thinking through where this person will go after they’ve achieved their initial goal, the higher the chance you’ll have a motivated and excited employee.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen many organizations hit a growth plateau and they don’t have any new challenges for their high performers. In many cases, they hired too many high performers at once. When those individuals grew and were ready for larger roles, those roles simply weren’t available due to the growth plateau. I’m sure you can guess what happens next in those scenarios – the high performers bail. Given the cost of hiring, training, and knowledge transfer you can’t afford to create those situations.
Before you go on your hiring spree when the economy improves, take a moment to assess both the near term needs of the organization as well as mapping out growth and role progression for the people you’ll hire.
Think 3-4 years out beyond their initial hiring. If you can provide compelling opportunities all along that path, you’ll likely be successful in hiring high performers. If not, you’ll be turning them over like pancakes. And to be clear – that scenario leaves both sides feeling burned.
What successes and failures have you seen as organizations hire high potential candidates? Please share your thoughts and help your fellow readers!