Receive daily articles & headlines each day in your inbox with your free ERE Daily Subscription.

Not logged in. [log in or register]

Stephen Balzac

Stephen Balzac is an expert on leadership and organizational development. A consultant, author, and professional speaker, he is president of 7 Steps Ahead, an organizational development firm focused on helping businesses get unstuck. He is the author of “The 36-Hour Course in Organizational Development,” published by McGraw-Hill, and a contributing author to volume one of “Ethics and Game Design: Teaching Values Through Play.” Steve's latest book, "Organizational Psychology for Managers," will be published by Springer in late 2013. For more information, or to sign up for Steve’s monthly newsletter, visit You can also contact him at 978-298-5189 or

Stephen Balzac RSS feed Articles by Stephen Balzac...

The Paradox of the Quest for Hiring Perfection

by Sep 13, 2013, 5:58 am ET

The trap of looking for the perfect candidate manifests in a few different ways.

The first manifestation is something I refer to as the Godot Effect, based on Estragon’s line in Waiting for Godot: “Personally, I wouldn’t even know him if I saw him.”

All too often, a prospective hire becomes the repository of every hope and every need of the hiring organization. The fact that the person does not yet exist in the organization only makes this worse. I’ve seen this particular phenomenon happen in front of me more than once. In particular, I was sitting in a product design meeting while the team discussed the next few hires it needed to make.

They started by observing that they needed someone who could handle some specific piece of technology. So far, so good. Then things went downhill. keep reading…

The Destroyer of Cultures

by Jul 19, 2012, 5:40 am ET

“You have to haggle!”

Fans of Monty Python’s Life of Brian might recall the haggling scene: desperate to escape from pursuing Roman soldiers, Brian attempts to buy something to use as a disguise. The merchant, however, won’t simply sell it to him; instead the man insists that Brian haggle, forcing Brian to bargain loudly as the Romans close in.

Walking through the bazaar that is the Old City of Jerusalem, I found that Monty Python had, if anything, understated the aggressiveness of the merchants. At one point, my wife glanced at a camel leather bag. Immediately, the merchant opened with, “This bag is wonderful. Only 600 shekels.”

For reference, that’s about $150.

My wife wasn’t particularly interested, and the merchant kept insisting on haggling, much like the scene in Life of Brian. In this case, though, there were no Romans, and before long the merchant had bargained himself down to 90 shekels, or about $22. Even at that price, though, the bag wasn’t worth buying.

No matter which part of the city you might be in, Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Armenian Quarter, or Christian Quarter, merchants were loud, aggressive, and quick to haggle. You might find it frustrating, or you might view it as part of the entertainment. Either way, though, the behavior never ends. Indeed, anyone who opens a shop soon falls into the standard pattern of behavior.

This is culture in action: although the bazaar may not have an obvious corporate structure, it is still an organization. When you put people together for long enough, culture forms and is passed on to the new people who enter the organization. It doesn’t much matter whether the organization in question is a corporation or a bazaar.

Changing the behavior of a merchant in the bazaar is almost impossible, if for no other reason than each merchant sees what the others are doing and imitates them. In a business, new employees see what the existing employees are doing and imitate them. New employees also hear the history and stories about the company. In newer companies, employees might hear directly from the founders what the founder believes to be the best way to get work done. Finally, employees and managers act according to the way other companies in the area act: at one Silicon Valley technology startup, the expressed mindset was, “We’re a Silicon Valley company, therefore we work long hours.” Performance was measured almost entirely by how many hours someone was in the office, not by how productive they were, how rapidly they met their milestones, or even whether their software worked!

Thus, I’m always somewhat amazed when a manager says to me, “We have to be very careful whom we hire so that we don’t damage our culture.”

These same managers then complain that they cannot find any qualified people. keep reading…

One Difference Between the Jobless and the Employed: Luck

by May 10, 2011, 1:06 pm ET

In an upcoming Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership I make a case — counterintuitive to many of you — that poaching an employee from your competitors isn’t that big of a win as compared to hiring someone who’s actually looking for a job.

In the Journal, I make a few arguments. Let me tackle just one of them here. Luck.

Sometimes we think that those people who are employed have some ineffable, awesome, amazing talent that makes them so valuable that they didn’t get laid off.

Maybe. Or maybe they just got lucky. They were in the right place at the right time, or at least not in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But don’t people make their own luck? To a degree, yes. But less so than we’d like to think. keep reading…

Recruit Confidently

by Nov 11, 2010, 2:41 pm ET

Recently, I heard a hiring manager comment that she would “Prefer not to hire anyone at all.”

Her company is growing. They are actively looking for people. At the same time, this manager who has been tasked with building up her team is openly telling candidates that if she has her way, not one of them will be hired. Indeed, given the choice, it’s hard to imagine candidates accepting an offer if they did get one, compared, say, to an offer from an enthusiastic and confident employer.

While making the observation that this woman lacked confidence might be something of an understatement, it is only a start. keep reading…

The Challenges With Hiring Slow

by Sep 21, 2010, 1:26 pm ET

In an upcoming Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership I talk about the perils of “hiring slow” and “firing fast.” As I’ve been doing, I wanted to give you just a taste of the “hiring slow” part here. keep reading…

8 Questions About Your Hiring Process

by Jun 28, 2010, 3:10 pm ET

What is the most important factor in successfully recruiting top candidates? If you said things like salary, benefits, or the economy, you’d be wrong. It’s your organizational culture. I have a longer article in the upcoming Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership about the role of organizational culture in the hiring process. To give you a taste of it here … let me first say that when you start to throw around terms like “organizational culture” you may think that it’s academic, or that it’s abstract. It’s not.

How a company approaches the recruiting process and treats candidates during that process says a great deal about the culture and, in turn, reinforces the culture. For example, how a company treats candidates during the recruiting process teaches those candidates a great deal about how to succeed in that company. keep reading…

7 Things You Should Communicate

by Dec 30, 2009, 11:37 am ET

crl_mastheadIt’s not enough to say that if you want to keep the best people when the economy improves, you just need to communicate more. It matters what you say and how and when you say it. Communication occurs in the context that you’ve created over time, and how your communications will be received will depend a great deal on that context. If you want to keep your best people, then you need to do your homework. (Or, conversely, if you want to recruit someone else’s key people, find companies that did not do the homework suggested in this article.)

Fortunately, it isn’t terribly difficult to communicate better. It does, however, require recognizing that emotion, not logic, is the driving force, and it requires starting now — not next week, next month, or next year. If you wait until people are leaving, it’s too late.

So how do you highlight someone’s contributions? I offer more, detailed suggestions in the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership, but for now, I suggest the following in brief. keep reading…

The Godot Effect

by Dec 22, 2009, 5:35 am ET

Personally, I wouldn’t even know him if I saw him.  –Estragon, Waiting for Godot

Some years ago I was sitting in a product design meeting. The discussion kept circling around some particularly knotty issues that no one in the room actually knew much about.

In one sense, this wasn’t a serious problem given that the company was still actively hiring and there was a recognition that more people were needed. Someone finally commented that we’d have to make sure to hire someone with the particular expertise in question, and in one fell swoop, that task was assigned to a non-existent person. Again, this is not necessarily a problem … yet. It became a problem, however, as the meeting progressed:

“We don’t have anyone on the team who can handle […technology…] either.”

“That’ll be the next hire.”

“Wasn’t the next hire supposed to be […original problem…]?”

“We’ll need someone who can do both.”

And so it went, with each problem that came up being assigned to the same non-existent person. Each problem would be dealt with when the right person was hired. Unfortunately, each individual present had a very different idea of what that right person looked like and the necessary skills that he or she would possess. Those who have ever read a college catalog might have noticed the vast number of courses in a wide range of subjects taught by Staff. Well, by the end of that meeting, Dr. Staff was probably the only person who could have handled the job.

More recently, I was conducting a training exercise. The exercise was focused on leadership, negotiation, and creative problem-solving. Part of the structure involved people being given a problem and a list of names of people who might be able to help them. Only some of those people are actually present. The objective is to figure out alternate solutions that do not involve the missing people. What was particularly fascinating is that every time I’ve conducted this exercise, a significant number of participants become fixated on the missing people, convinced that if those people were present, all the problems would immediately evaporate. They spend the entire exercise waiting for help that never arrives.

When I ask at the end, “Why do you think that [missing] person will actually help you? What if they have their own agenda?” the participants are taken aback. They had never considered the fact that Godot might have his own wants and needs, even if he should happen to show up. I’ve run this exercise with managers, college students, psychologists, engineers, and so forth, and the same behaviors emerge every time. In each case, the person who is not present becomes the repository of the hopes and dreams of the rest of the group. In the end, that “person” has become a tool whose only purpose for existing is to solve the problems of the group.

The difficulty, of course, is that the longer this behavior persists, the harder it is for the organization to find anyone they are willing to hire. First, none of the people they are looking at actually fits the mental image that they’ve developed: a person with some of the desired skills is simply not recognized or passed over for a future someone who will have all the skills. Unfortunately, Dr. Staff is a very busy person, and is somewhat less likely to show up than Santa Claus. Also, Dr. Staff is not only expected to show up eventually, but to be totally and completely enthusiastic about working for the company. People who do not exhibit that mindless enthusiasm are deemed to be not serious candidates.

Hiring, however, is a two-way street: part of the job of the existing employees is to help get the candidate excited about the company. To be fair, the search rarely lasts forever. Eventually, people get tired of interviewing candidates and someone does get hired. Often, though, it’s the last person to walk through the door, as opposed to the most qualified of the people who came through.

A Focus on Goals, Objectives keep reading…

We Multitask Here

by Aug 26, 2009, 5:03 am ET

The Northern Lights have seen strange sights,
But the queerest they ever did see … – The Cremation of Sam McGee

While they may not quite compare to the sight spoken of by the nameless narrator of Robert Service’s famous poem, nonetheless some of the tales I’ve heard lately of interviews certainly give Cremation of Sam McGee a run for its money.

By far the most dramatic was the interviewer who spent the entire interview reading email. When the candidate tried to get the interviewer’s attention, the response was, “We multi-task here.”

The interviewers who ask technical questions and then say, “That’s not how I would solve the problem, so you must be wrong,” are, sadly, so common that they don’t even rate.

I must confess that when I heard the first story, I was left speechless. Here’s an interviewer trying to convince a candidate to take a job at a company and is treating that candidate with a total lack of respect. If that’s how the person behaves when the candidate isn’t working there, how will he behave when the candidate is working there? That’s assuming, of course, that the candidate takes the job.

Now, it’s highly likely that some people are thinking that there must be a mistake in the previous paragraph: shouldn’t it say that the candidate is trying to convince the company to hire them? Sure they are; however, it’s a two-way street. The company clearly needs someone to fill a certain position, even if it’s not that specific person. Conversely, that person needs a job, even if it’s not that specific job.

But wait, it’s a terrible economy! Does the candidate really have a choice? keep reading…