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September 13, 2006

News & Opinion: Hire Smart

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 7:45 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture


One of the most important aspects of being a leader is hiring people smarter than you. Thats why top leaders spend more time putting the right team in place to accomplish their objectives than they spend on planning, strategizing, or many other components of their job.

Some leaders have a fear of not knowing the answer to every question. They personally want to bring all relevant facts to the table every time. Thats not only impossible but also counterproductive. Effective leaders hire people who can provide the answers that are pertinent to their particular area of expertise. True leaders also know how to listen to advice and move out of the way to let others do what they do best. When I was brought in to lead a division of NCRs professional services organization, I realized I had my work cut out for me. We had to change the culture from being response driven to that of a proactive solutions provider. One of my first initiatives was to assess my team, making certain the right people were in the right positions. After a few months our team was in place. It was made up of a combination of internal talent and a couple of people hired from the outside. As a team, our goal was to become the top-performing division within eighteen months.

As a team, we increased sales 38 percent while achieving the rms highest profit level and employee satisfaction rating.

In one job, I left the director of capacity planning position open for many months until I found the absolute best person. I took a lot of heat from senior management, but decided not to compromise and held out until I eventually hired one of the top pros in the business. Not only did my job get easier, but we were also able to make better strategic and nancial decisions.

Of course Ive also made my share of stafng mistakes. One of the biggest mistakes was placing the wrong person in charge of the contingency planning department to develop methods and procedures in the event of a disaster. In retrospect, I should have taken more time up front to review the employees past performance and speak with his previous managers and peers before promoting him. After a few months, I noticed critical assignments werent getting done and the employee kept blaming others instead of taking responsibility. For the next two months I tried coaching him to no avail, and eventually I exited him from the business. The entire process took six months to conclude and put us way behind plan. The disruption to the organization, along with the added work and stress necessary to closely manage a performance problem, far exceeded the time it would have taken to hire the right person in the rst place.

If youre working too many hours and following up on every detail you may want to look closer at your team to ensure youve surrounded yourself with people who know more about their area of expertise than you do. Once I started doing this my job got easier and we accomplished goals faster than we thought possible.

How do you know if someone who works for you is smarter than yourself?

Try this. First, ask how often the people around you recommend sound ideas that you never knew were possibilities. Does this happen once a week? Once a month? Does it ever happen?

If youre hiring people who are smarter than you, you should be surprised with their new ideas and solutions. You should be constantly learning from them.

Second, in the privacy of your office, study each person in your organization who reports to you, and ask yourself, if there were no ramications associated with the answer, would I pick this person again to be on my team and in the same position? Caution! If you worry about what you would do if the answer is no, you will not answer the question honestly.

If you can answer often to the rst question and yes, without hesitation, to the second, then you have the right person in the right job.

One of the toughest jobs for a leader is hiring someone you dont know. The last thing we want is to hire wrong and then have to deal with the aftermath. Here is a secret I use to increase the probability of making the right hiring decision: During the latter stages of the interviewing process, after my colleagues and I have met with the prospective hire several times, I ask the candidate to write a one-page action plan describing what he or she will do the rst sixty days on the job. The next time we meet, I ask the person to present the plan. This not only allows me to evaluate the candidates style, approach, and critical thinking skills, but it also gives me a ready-made performance plan by which to evaluate the person in the months to come. If Im hiring to ll a senior position, I ask for a three-month action plan.

I hope these tips help. Id love to hear your thoughts.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.