Why recruitment is the most important managerial skill

Paul Simpson


When looking at what makes a great leader, qualities like toughness, decisiveness or the ability to inspire are often top of the list, however people often forget or undervalue the most important managerial skill of all. The ability to recruit the best people to their teams.

In their recent book “How Google Works” Eric Shmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg from Google say that they have found that recruiting the best people is the key skill for a manager.

Why is that?

Firstly, if you recruit the right people everything else becomes easier. This argument has two strands. Firstly, the right person adds value, but perhaps of more significance, secondly, the wrong person can actually be destructive.
Lets’ look at those two elements.

The right person is a combination of talent and fit.

We want A players on our team. A players mean that as a manager you have the best people working on the toughest problems of your business. You can’t do everything yourself and can’t be an expert in all things, but by having the best people on your team you can achieve much more.

Google argue that B players are more likely to recruit C players, (as they feel threatened by A players) and that this can lead to a downward spiral and under-performance. Rather than this we should be looking to hire people who are better than us. For example, If I was going to hire a HR Software programmer – I’d want someone who could do the job better than I ever could, freeing me up to focus on the larger HR strategy.

But it’s not enough just to recruit talented people. It’s not just about having the right people on the bus, but also about having them on the right seats. As Jim Collins famously said in “Good to Great” we should look for a “First who then what” approach, where the best people are the most important factor and then we build strategy.

So if we only want ‘A’ players, how do we attract them? In ‘Hire with your Head’ Lou Adler argues that the best candidates don’t want average jobs, they want better jobs. He argues that the offer has to be ‘30% more’ than the candidate currently has. That isn’t about salary; most of that 30% is about the role being a genuine career opportunity.

To find out if a role is a real career opportunity people want to know about:
• The role
• The team
• The manager
• The company

Often when recruiting the important roles of the manager as a coach and mentor and the role of the team can be underplayed. Recruiters (HR included) can focus so much on ‘selecting’ the right candidate they can forget to ‘recruit’ them. This is more important with ‘A’ players who will be more selective about their job opportunities and will want to know more about the opportunity and all it’s factors.

So invest more time in your overall recruitment and selection process, enabling not just you to find out more about the candidates, but also allow them to find out more about you. After all, this is going to be a long term relationship and you wouldn’t move in with someone before you’ve had a few dates, so why the hiring is process that different?

Which brings me on to the importance of fit.
What if someone has all the right talents but they do not fit with the existing team or culture. This is a real balancing act. Having diversity and different ideas in the team is essential to enable a flow of ideas and creativity; however a complete mismatch is unsurmountable and potentially damaging.

Google talk about the “LAX Test”. That is if you would not want to spend 4 hours in LAX airport with this person, that they would not hold your interest or that you just would argue, then why would you want to work with them? That’s a pretty hard test, but the point is that it’s really important that you have team members that fit with your culture.

On the other hand Goffee and Jones say that a Dream Company has a culture that values difference beyond diversity; one where people can genuinely be themselves at work and difference is actually celebrated.

My recommendation: Build a culture where difference is encouraged and then involve team members in your recruitment to ensure the team and the candidate both can judge if they will be able to work together and get benefit (development) from doing so.

The wrong fit

Ultimately the reason recruitment is so important is not just because getting the right person gives so much advantage, but the wrong person can cause so much damage.

The difficulty with the wrong person in the team is:
• It means less productivity, not just whilst they are there but also in any time spent in replacing them.
• It takes a lot of your management time.
• It can affect the performance of other team members.

One often forgotten reality is that in a situation where a new recruit does not fit or is under-performing, the likelihood is that they are unhappy and it is not helping their career. So if we get recruitment wrong we not only hurt ourselves and our teams, but the appointee too.

Ultimately our customers are suffering during all this and ultimately they could go elsewhere if the service or product quality drops.

So what to do? If the signs aren’t good, obviously we want to give people the right training, guidance and opportunity to improve and make sure that we’ve done everything we can to support someone to succeed, but once you’ve identified that someone isn’t going to meet the standard then deal with it quickly.

No one benefits from a situation where a poor performer or difficult team member is not dealt with promptly. In my experience one of the biggest criticisms of managers is of those who fail to deal with under performance, as it causes so much upset to other team members who perceive unfair treatment.

The Take Away
You can’t really be too thorough when recruiting and selecting people for your company so having the right processes and developing your people to see the importance of this and have the skills to select the best is key for your future business.

Paul Simpson

Head of Human Resources

Rotherham College of Arts and Technology