You are using an outdated browser. For a faster, safer browsing experience, upgrade for free today.


Do You Avoid the Most Talented Candidate?

Avoid Talent

I have always believed and often teach the virtues of hiring the best person for the job.  My naivety has also made me think that most “right-minded” managers agree with this simple premise.  Organizational talent is the best indicator of long-term success in the game of business.  The team with the best players will win the most games.  Blah, blah, blah!

I recently experienced something remarkable in my life as a speaker, author, and business coach.  It was painful, like a toothache that would not go away.  I tried to ignore the reality of its presence and postponed the inevitable.  The existence of this knowledge became something I could no longer ignore.  I stirred with this information until I finally had to verbalize my newly formed opinion about the current view of talent in a typical organization.

Like most HR (human resource) types, I had been boiled (as in the frog and the water) to the point of accepting that we constantly seek the best talent for the team.  I had been confident that most managers agreed with this simple idea.  I wondered why something so vivid in my mind was cloudy in the sense of struggling leaders.  I could not imagine an organization that didn’t want the best talent money could buy.  After all, the modern resume, behavioral interviewing techniques, testing, and personality profiles all lead us to the logical conclusion that we are searching for that “one” right and often the best candidate to do the job.

And, yes, I believed the hype.  Until that day, of course!  That day changed my thinking completely.  I was enjoying a relaxing afternoon by the pool of a beautiful hotel on the Texas coast.  I spoke that morning at a large convention, and the audience loved my speech.   I was basking both in the sunlight and the success of my work that morning. 

While sitting by the pool, I resumed reading the book I had purchased for the trip.  I had heard good things about the book by Seth Godin called Linchpin and was enjoying the read. This book changed my thinking and started my figurative toothache about selecting and hiring people.  My interpretation of Godin’s message is a potent and a bitter pill for me to swallow.

Since the industrialization of this country one hundred years ago, we have been on a path to find the least common denominator (LCD) in most organizations.  In other words, most companies seek the employee with the predetermined maximum amount of knowledge and capability that meets a minimum requirement to perform the needed work.  This LCD has resulted in the creation of systems that minimize the need for human excellence and human existence. 

Since the inventions of modern manufacturing, we have slowly become a culture that works very hard to limit our dependence on human talent. Factories have become less dependent on people, and work gets shipped to almost any country in the world.  This reality includes countries where the value of human labor is virtually zero by developed country standards.

We avoid incredibly talented individuals because they are more expensive and usually harder to manage.  As Godin explains, these “Linchpins” are often challenging due to their higher level of capability and talent.  They know their value and are not threatened by the same “stick” and often require a more significant “carrot” to perform.  We will quickly “cull” these candidates as overqualified for the position.  We justify the action by stating these people would not stick around or stay with the company very long anyway. 

Over and over, the typical company looks for any edge that will allow them to hire a less skilled and often more affordable employee.  Higher modern turnover and generational changes accelerate this thinking.  We use pictures on cash registers to count change, so the employee need not count money.  We undervalue the excellent customer service of days long ago.  We have replaced the beauty of the artist with the affordability and predictability of the assembly line.  And sadly, we set a budget for wages based upon a theoretical average based in accounting or industrial engineering rather than an examination of the potential talent on the team.

I know what you are probably thinking, and you are correct!  This perspective is NOT always reality.  Some companies do seek and value human talent and creativity.  But you must admit that these companies are the exception rather than the rule.  Finding an organization that places human talent at the core of the competitive advantage is elusive and challenging.  Examine your organization for a moment, are the front-line employees truly valued, or has the human element (HU) become another replaceable commodity?