Who’s to Blame for the Perfect Fit Syndrome ?

Mar 6, 2014

An employer trying to hire the perfect candidate is in many ways a good thing. It’s a significant improvement from the days of hiring anyone who could fog a mirror. But has the pendulum gone too far?

The answer is a resounding yes. A perfect candidate does not exist. He never has, he never will. The best any manager could hope for is the candidate who has many of the essential skills and experiences, lots of potential, a willingness to learn and develop continuously, and is engaged with and by the culture. That’s a tall order — a very tall order and one that many managers take to extremes.

The result of falling victim to The Perfect Fit Syndrome is that sometimes these positions are never filled. I’ll admit that might be the extreme case but it’s also not so uncommon.  Many managers place the sole blame on the poor quality of job applicants.

But that’s a cop-out and one excuse that senior management has bought hook, line, and sinker. 

Managers and recruiters point the finger at applicants, and senior management accepts the company’s inability to attract top talent on the hearsay of managers and HR.  I’m here to say that it’s fair game to point the finger right back at senior management.

If raw materials or supplies are in short supply, the COO, plant manager, and general manager are held accountable for developing a strategy to correct the problem — at least that’s how it works in top performing companies. Rarely does senior management just give up, chuck the strategic plan, and contract the business. If they can’t find another source, they re-write the rules and do whatever it takes to divert resources from competitors.

But when it comes to recruitment and staffing, senior management seems to be victimized and blinded by a manager’s spell. Plans to grow are curtailed and revenue goals are lowered because HR can’t find and managers can’t identify enough qualified employees.

Here’s the solution: Senior management must begin holding managers accountable for both filling open positions and retaining top talent.

  1. If current recruiting and retention strategies aren’t working, it is a manager’s responsibility to develop, present, and sell alternatives and recommendations to senior management. Finger pointing is a skill that many managers have transformed into an art form. As the saying goes, managers should not be able to present problems without offering solutions. It’s a manager’s responsibility to ensure operations are carried out so that strategies are executed effectively. A lack of skilled workers may be a real-world reality but it’s also an over-used excuse for poor management.
  2. Managers must be held accountable for identifying the high-potential candidates and employees and developing them to full potential. It might be HR’s responsibility to source and resource better, but it’s a manager’s responsibility to ensure a new employee is on-boarded, developed, and engaged. Few companies hold managers responsible for guarding their “most important asset” with care. Turning down candidates who are near-perfect or have high potential because a manager doesn’t have a penchant for mentoring and development is unadulterated negligence.
  3. Managers must stop pointing fingers at job applicants and HR. Senior management must stop taking managers and recruiters’ word at face value. For sure, recruiting and managing employees this day is hard. In fact, for some positions in some industries, it is near impossible. Sometimes finding the right employee is akin to finding the needle in the haystack. But it’s time to stop the belly aching. For every media story about companies feeling the effect of skilled workers, there is a success story about how another company fought and won another battle in the war for talent. Since when is “hard work” an acceptable excuse for poor performance, especially when a lack of willingness or inability to do what it takes compromises strategic goals and outcomes?

Admittedly many candidates fall short of even the most basic qualifications. But managers and recruiters can’t just blame job applicants for making the job of finding qualified candidates so hard.

I’m not suggesting in any way, shape, or form that companies lower their standards. Setting a high bar for hiring is the right thing to do. But the height of the bar has to be realistic.

That means that companies must hire employees who have the essential qualifications or potential and then train, mentor, and develop them up to full performance. In other words, managers need to learn to identify the diamonds in the rough and accept responsibility for making them shine.

Managers and HR can’t be blamed for the shortage of skilled workers. But they can be held responsible for finding and implementing ways to deal with it. It’s just unacceptable and even preposterous to see how many companies are compromising growth plans because HR and managers have been afflicted with The Perfect Fit Syndrome.