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Making Your Company Stronger: The Robust Recruiting Model

by Apr 30, 2013, 5:57 am ET

Throughout our recruiting careers, we are always told to hire the “A players” or “the Fabulous 5%” or the “very best”; it’s to make our company stronger. While it would be a good idea to try and hire the very best, it isn’t always possible, and it may not even always be the best idea …

The False Premise: Hiring the Best is Always Best

When a business starts out and as it continues, it naturally wants to have the very best available to it to maximize its chances of succeeding in the marketplace — the best concept, the best business plan, the best location (physical or virtual), the best sales, the best people, etc. This makes perfect sense to me. However, often seems the founders, CXOs, senior executives, and others say they must have the best (and the best of everything) for them to succeed. Let’s think about this:

Is it realistic to require that everything works absolutely perfectly at all times for the business to be a success? Isn’t there a reasonable likelihood that something could go wrong at some time or another?

Since we’re recruiters, lets narrow it down to them saying: “We must always have only the best people if we are to succeed, and anything less will jeopardize our future!” If taken literally, there could never be any down time for anyone at any time during work hours, because anything less than the entire perfect team performing at 100% at all times could be injurious to the company. None of these perfect people could ever take a vacation, become ill, or be away from work for any reason, let alone leave the company. Obviously this is absurd, but how much less absurd is the desire that many hiring managers express?

The True Premise: Organizing Your Goals and Processes So You Don’t Need the Best Is Usually the Best

Wouldn’t it be far more realistic to carefully determine the bare minimum that is necessary to accomplish the tasks, (allowing for a maximum opportunity to cover the inevitable problems that will occur) and hire accordingly? This is the premise of the Robust Hiring Model:

To do so, carefully organize your goals, processes, and procedures such that you don’t require a team of superstars all working perfectly at all times to make money. If you do require this, you may be in the wrong market, because too many things can go wrong, and requiring only superstars is just one of them.

Transforming a company using the RRM is far beyond the scope of recruiting — it involves a wide variety of participants both from inside and outside the company. Promoting this would won’t be easy to do, or in many cases even possible. However, from the recruiting end, it’s just a somewhat more vigorous application of going through the job requirements and pushing back/asking for justification. One tool that can help is the “Corporate Desirability Score” which determines as objectively as possible what level of people are likely to be attracted to your company. This could vary greatly depending on the overall demand for the particular skills involved, so if you can determine a CDS for a particular skill set or position, all the better. (As a decent recruiter, we should be able to reasonably get somewhat better than this, but they’re probably not paying you enough to work miracles.)

As an example, if the CDS shows that your company is at the 70th percentile, you should be able to get 75 percentile people, but not 95 percentile people — also known as “the Fabulous 5%” which so many hiring managers insist on. Assuming that your hiring managers are rational (a questionable assumption, but one we need to make here), this should help to establish reasonable expectations, which is one of the most important thing a recruiter needs to learn how to do.

Fundamentally, what I’m proposing here is a model of recruiting based on the way people and the world really are and not how we’d like them to be and more specifically, going after the people we need and can get, as opposed to the ones the hiring managers wish they could have.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • http://www.employeeinsightsllc.com/ Jay Fritzke

    Keith,
    Thanks for keeping this issue in the foreground. As part of our hiring process we benchmark jobs. Once you look objectively at the job you may not want the “superstar” as they may not be a good fit. Your job may not offer the intrinsic rewards they need. In other words, you may expend a tremendous effort to acquire someone that is going to leave in short order. Hiring the best person for the job is not about the reputation but about how well the person fits the job and vice versa. Once companies start to look at this issue from a different perspective they will improve their retention and bottom line.

  • Cindy Postanco

    Or, you can try to achieve a balance of the two. Have REALLY talented people in key positions. People that you know have and will deliver great results, that can motivate and influence those around them. And I’m not talking about team leaders, but people that are good at what they do. No matter if it’s a foreman, or top programmer. Quality can make the rest strive to achieve their best performance.
    And after you have these people, hire the rest of the team comprised of mediocre people that will have somebody to look up to.
    Have one of the Fabulous 5% play as the hare, and the team of hounds will do their best to follow.
    And I truly agree with the scenario when you want a full set of stars to work for you, as being total nonsense.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jacobsmadsen Jacob Madsen

    Excellent post Keith, keeping up the good work I see (ha-ha)
    Hmm what to say when hearing the word ‘best’ and often used phrase ‘talent’
    What is best and is best what we as a company need and want, and how do we (the company) define best?.
    I love the word robust, it signifies something that does not break easily, goes on and on, performs solidly and with few outliers, – think BMW or Volvo’s of the 90ties, rock solid, robust.
    And that is what organisations should have, not necessarily those super high performers or those that are driven by the quest for the next big thing, those that will be the interest of every head-hunter or anyone looking for stars, then rather those that do what they are supposed to and do it well.
    We live in an era where there is a huge amount of hype surrounding much in relation to businesses, in terms of their people and in terms of always and only going for those that stand out, overachieve and breaking quotas. When coming to it much is little more than hot air, and often what looks too good to be true is so, why better to go for the robust model.
    We have come to be caught up in that only the so called top 5 or top 10% will do, that those are the desired people and that those are those that everyone wants to employ.
    However in all this and very often lost in the process are those that possess the level of personal engagement and passion that will see them put in more effort, more hours and with that come to long term be better employees because the have that intrinsic desire and engagement that makes a difference. Finding and spotting those is by no means easy and takes a solid/robust process, people who know what they are doing and why, and an approach that is robust (sorry but this IS a superb word/term) in assessing all those elements.
    Many a time solutions and those that stand out come from the quiet corners and those less heard, but often this is exactly where the gems are.
    Finally the Team GB at the last Olympic Games applied ‘aggregation of margins method’ by which they broke down all elements that made their athletes (across a range of disciplines) by just improving 1 or 2% of each element they aggregated a difference of say 3-4% – exactly enough to win medals.
    Companies/organisations can do the same, just make sure each employee perform that 1-3% better and overall the improvement/competitiveness/performance will be significant.

    Superstars may all be well and good, but fact is that less can do it.

  • Keith Halperin

    @Jay:
    Thank you. This makes a great deal of sense.

    “you may expend a tremendous effort to acquire someone that is going to leave in short order.” This helped me expand my original concept:
    A company in a large dynamic, labor market needs to assume that unless it’s willing to provide “*golden chains” of some sort (say, a “multi-year, guaranteed-raise or bonus, no-layoff-without-cause” employment contract) a fair share of **its most-talented people WILL leave in short order for better opportunities. Wouldn’t you?

    Cheers,

    Keith

    *Not necessarily financial, but something tangible.
    ** I guess you could call this “Non-executive Succession Planning”.

  • Keith Halperin

    @ Cindy: Thank you, too.
    “Or, you can try to achieve a balance of the two. Have REALLY talented people in key positions.”
    I think this is what most companies (at least realistic ones) try to do.

    “People that you know have and will deliver great results, that can motivate and influence those around them. And I’m not talking about team leaders, but people that are good at what they do. No matter if it’s a foreman, or top programmer. Quality can make the rest strive to achieve their best performance.”

    I agree, you can create a culture of “cooperative excellence” and it needs to be meaningfully supported from the shop floor to the board room.

    I do draw a distinction between high achievers and inspiring managers/leaders- you can be one without being the other. You could be a fantastic sales rep that everybody hates, or you could be an incredible sales manager who can’t really close. Furthermore, I think if you have wide discrepancies in a group, say a “Fab 5 Superstar” and a bunch of 40-80% folks who realize that no matter how hard, long, or smart they work, they’ll never do or be rewarded as well as the Superstar, and you’ve got the potential for major demoralization. I think your “hare and hounds” analogy is particularly appropriate in a situation like this- the hounds don’t want to beat the hare in a race, they want to catch him and tear him limb from limb!

    Cheers,

    Keith

  • Keith Halperin

    @ Jacob: Always appreciate your comments.

    Yes, we live in what has been called “the Winner Take All Society” (http://www.amazon.com/Winner-Take-All-Society-Much-More-Than/dp/0140259953) which describes just that- the very top get it all, and this book was written in 1996, before many of the more extreme examples of this took place… I think there is a deep, dark, and particularly nasty subtext to this:
    “It is not enough that I must win- you (and all others) must LOSE.
    I think there are a significant number of people in this country (and probably in the UK too) who would rather have less money if it would mean they can be part of a small group at the very top with a large number way down instead of more money if it were more equitably distributed e.g. people willing to pay $35,000/yr/person to keep people in prison, but not willing to pay much less money/yr/person on programs designed to make sure people don’t go to prison. Furthermore, *a study has shown that increased income inequality leads to less rather than more social mobility.

    “The Team GB at the last Olympic Games applied ‘aggregation of margins method’ by which they broke down all elements that made their athletes (across a range of disciplines) by just improving 1 or 2% of each element they aggregated a difference of say 3-4% – exactly enough to win medals.”

    Helping EVERYONE do better, and not just the already-best? Why, that’s SOCIALISM, and we can’t have that!

    Keith

    *http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_inequality_in_the_United_States
    Distribution of income in the United States has been the subject of study by scholars and institutions. Data from a number of sources [1] indicate that income inequality has grown significantly since the early 1970s, [2][3][4][5][6] after several decades of stability.[7][8] While inequality has risen among most developed countries, and especially English-speaking ones, it is highest in the United States.[9][10][11]

    Studies indicate the source of the widening gap (sometimes called the Great Divergence) has not been gender inequality, which has declined in the US over the last several decades,[12] nor inequality between black and white Americans, which has stagnated during that time,[13] nor has the gap between the poor and middle class been the major cause—though it has grown.[14] Most of the growth has been between the middle class and top earners, with the disparity becoming more extreme the further one goes up in the income distribution.[15] Upward redistribution of income is responsible for about 43% of the projected Social Security shortfall over the next 75 years.[16] The Brookings Institution said in 2013 that income inequality was increasing and becoming permanent, reducing social mobility in the US.[17]

    A 2011 study by the CBO[18] found that the top earning 1 percent of households gained about 275% after federal taxes and income transfers over a period between 1979 and 2007, compared to a gain of just under 40% for the 60 percent in the middle of America’s income distribution.[18] Other sources find that the trend has continued since then.[19] In spite of this data, only 42% of Americans think inequality has increased in the past ten years.[20] Income inequality is not uniform among the states; as measured by the Gini coefficient: after tax income inequality in 2009 was greatest in Texas and lowest in Maine.[21]