A Rather Unusual Proposal About Magic Buses, Training Fleas, and Other Things Hiring Related

Jul 7, 2011

Spend your days driving a honkin’ dual-tandem, 700 hp eco-machine through the most beautiful city in the world.

This was the winning job posting for a creative job posting contest we recently ran. This one was for a bus driver for the city of Vancouver, Canada.

Keeping on the bus theme, most of us recall Jim Collins’ theme from his bestseller Good to Great: In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.

Which brings us to my rather superficial Magic Bus Theory of Recruiting. The quick summary goes something like this: imagine your bus is a big job posting with compelling titles, flashy neon lights, cool horn, and stuff like that. It’s a big bus with enough space for all types of people, although some routes would just be for sales folks, or engineers, or whatever. The idea is to get everyone to want to get on the bus and drive it. This is what good sourcing is all about. Good recruiting is about putting the person in the passenger seat as soon as the person gets on board, with some type of clever phrase like “would you be open to go for a drive if this job represented a true career move, even if it only offered a modest salary bump?” Most talented people will eagerly hop on board, at least to go for the drive.

Once on board you’re going to conduct a quick screen to see if the person qualifies to be on the bus and possesses the “Achiever Pattern.” This means the person is in the top half of the top half from a performance and quality of candidate standpoint. If so, you’re then going to describe a job that is slightly bigger than the person now holds. If the person shows interest in proceeding, ask about a major accomplishment most comparable to the job just described. The candidate will then begin to sell you as to why he or she is qualified. You’ve now successfully put the person in the back seat.

Of course, now you’ve got to figure out where to let the person off the bus, which gets to the real purpose of this article and why you must learn to train fleas. With this as the first stop in our bus ride, let me add some destination points.

One key point: from a talent strategy standpoint, and paraphrasing Collins’ “right people on the bus” concept, the idea is to first get the most talented people possible onto the right bus, but don’t let them off until you get them to the right stop. Unfortunately, most companies have predesigned bus routes and too many filters to even get the right people on the bus in the first place. Worse, it takes an act of god to change bus routes.

Second key point: to get great people onto the bus to begin with, you can’t use job descriptions. That’s why these must be banished as boarding passes. To take this idea one point further, I’m going to suggest that once you have the right person on the bus, create a job that offers the person a true career move, not a lateral transfer. In HR speak, write the job spec after you’ve found the person, not before. Here’s this same idea in more graphic terms: rather than try to fit a round peg (the person) into a square whole, modify the shape of the hole (the job requisition) to fit the round peg (the person). Now comes the hard part, since you’re already thinking this is not possible. That’s why you first need to understand the point about fleas.

Zig Ziglar used to tell a story about how fleas can be trained to jump lower (not a typo). Before any training, fleas can naturally jump 20? or so high, unless you put them in a 5? mason jar with a lid on top. After 20 minutes or so, the fleas get tired of bumping their heads on the top, and “learn” to jump only 4.9?. When you take the top off of the jar, none can get out, since getting out is beyond their perceived current ability. They’ve mentally put a limit on their jumping ability. The idea here is that many folks in HR and recruiting sometimes act like trained fleas, seeing only the restraints preventing them from implementing change, rather than the opportunity in doing so.

Of course, banishing skills-based job descriptions and writing the job spec after you’ve chosen the person raises legal compliance issues, impacts ATS and workflow design, affects recruitment advertising, requires better workforce planning, changes the role of the hiring manager, requires flexible budgeting, and even requires figuring out who should be driving the bus. Despite these challenges, the benefits are enormous compared to the issues to be overcome. As a minimum, you’ll hire more talented people; you’ll increase on-the-job performance, job satisfaction, and retention; your newfound job design flexibility will allow you to structure work to better meet the needs of a demographically changing workforce; and your hiring productivity will soar by eliminating all of the self-imposed bureaucratic inefficiencies.

Of course, to pull this off you’ll first need to recognize there’s no lid on the jar, except for the one you put there.

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