Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Is there Hiring Beyond Skills?

The topic of hiring has come up in several recent discussions on our radio show, The Leader’s Edge.

Hiring can be a tricky subject, as there are different schools of thought on the process. HR departments often insist that hiring must be done based on a person’s skillset and their ability to immediately perform the tasks at hand….with no forethought to how this person will perform long-term, or in other roles, or as a team member or leader.

Wise leaders (including those we’ve talked to on our show) and many great leadership experts believe that there is a better way!

In September, Steve Cooper, CEO of the Hospice of St. John, was a guest on our show. His non-profit staffs a combination of paid and volunteer personnel. Steve talked about how important a person’s passion for the hospice patients and families is to their ultimate success there. Similarly, several months ago I read an article in the Denver Post about the Autism Society of Colorado. Their executive director also mentioned that true, authentic passion is the key to hiring successful, long-term employees in their organization. The common message from these non-profit leaders: Hire for values and train for skill.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself…. “well, I can see how that makes sense in the non-profit world…but it really doesn’t apply to my business.” Again, several of our radio show guests would disagree with you. Heidi Hollenbeck, John Scarborough, and Richard Battenberg are all high-level executives in high-tech industries. All three talked about how important it is to determine if a candidate’s values and expectations match the company’s values and culture. The message from these successful business executives: Hire for fit and train for skills.

Are you starting to see a theme here? Let’s look at one more perspective. In this excerpt from the Hiring and Interviewing chapter of “The Engaged Manager”, my business partner, Coach David R Meyer, shares thoughts from his personal hiring experience:

Finding the right players for your team, not only for today but also for the future, is one of the most enjoyable tasks that you will perform as a manager. Searching for talent and improving the quality of your team can only serve to make your team stronger and your own job easier.

The purpose of this chapter is to help you find the best talent for your organization. Ultimately, hiring for talent, while more challenging and time consuming than hiring for skills, is one of the keys to your long-term success.


If you want to hire the very best people, if you want to build a great team, if you want to be a great leader, then hire for talent and attitude and train for skill.

Certainly, there are some exceptions to this rule. If you were in a hospital and hiring neurosurgeons, then you would not hire a great guy or gal who did not have a medical degree. But being a neurosurgeon is a specialized skill that takes years to acquire. This is not true for most positions. In addition, as you interviewed neurosurgeons, you would look for the neurosurgeon with the most talent and the best attitude, NOT the one who had performed the most operations.

Skills are the most routine part of any job. Yes, you need to make sure that the basic skill-set exists in your candidate, but not the specific skills. Skills can be taught, talent cannot. When you hire based on skills, you are hiring based on the lowest common denominator of the job. When you hire for talent, you are hiring the potential to do so much more than the job requires. When you hire for talent, you are hiring for future growth.

When you hire for talent, you are hiring for things that cannot be taught!

Hire for talent and you will hire for greatness.

Dave’s message from this chapter: Hire for talent and attitude and train for skill.

Now, as Dave points out in this excerpt, skills do play a role in the hiring process and are certainly critical in certain professions. But, once you ensure that the person has the basic skills to do the job, hiring the RIGHT person for the job can depend heavily on their passion, values, expectations, and overall talent. Remember….skills can be taught, many of these other attributes cannot. And, these attributes could mean the difference between hiring a successful long-term employee and replacing someone who was not a good fit a few months down the road.

Take a look at your hiring processes. Is there room for improvement? Do you hire only for skill-set? Is it appropriate for your business to consider hiring based on other attributes? Besides passion, values, expectations, and talent….are there other attributes that make sense for your organization? If so, we’d love for you to share them here!

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

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