Nancy Napier: Why hiring requires more than finding skilled people

Executive director of Boise State's Centre for Creativity and InnovationMarch 19, 2014 

Nancy Napier

Think you're doing a good job hiring people? If you're a leader in a company that depends upon finding smart people who need knowledge to do their jobs, you may use a "find them and leave them alone" approach.

You're not alone.

But some day, maybe you will be.

In the next decade, more than 60 percent of jobs in the U.S. will demand some sort of education beyond high school, meaning that more jobs will depend not on what people do with their hands but what they create from their heads.

Some countries and universities have already grasped that idea and are focusing their programs on knowledge-intensive industries to be sure they have the people they need for the future. In Idaho, we are woefully behind on the numbers of people we need, so the few who have the right knowledge and skills are in high demand. If you're lucky enough to hire some of those smart folks, then what do you do?

A CEO of a high-performing tech firm recently said that for years, his approach was "survival of the fittest." He hired outstanding people, put them in their jobs and waited to see who rose to the top. What happened? Just what you'd imagine. Lots of turnover - people felt neglected, they felt like they were in a shark tank, they lost interest in their jobs. If they didn't work out, that disrupted the unit and other employees around the replacement hire. That turned into a costly way to find people. Finally, the CEO realized that while some people were highly competent, they didn't fit in well with the other employees or the culture.

Turnover in many jobs is expensive, but in some cases it can cost two or three times the salary that you've just paid out. Think of the time and energy spent attracting good candidates, sifting through them, interviewing ones you think might work out, and bringing them in - especially if they are moving from out of state, which is inevitable for Idaho, since we lack enough engineers to fill many of the jobs we have - if you can find people willing to come.

Then you hire them and cross your fingers that things will work out?

As Boise human resource expert Linda Clark-Santos would say, "What kind of a plan is crossing your fingers likely to be?"

Thankfully, this CEO recognized he was wasting resources - himself, the firm, the candidates and new hires. So he changed hiring practices. He now brings people into the firm with a goal of making things work, instead of just hoping they will. And he's especially careful about evaluating more than the technical qualifications - "culture fit" is one of the many intangibles that he and his senior team, as well as those who will work with the newcomer, really evaluate.

The result? Few hiring mistakes, happier employees and a slimmer hiring budget. And no need to "just hope."

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