Talent is Easy; Alignment is Hard

Oct 9, 2017

When it comes to hiring new team members, “finding the right fit” is not as simple as it sounds. One of the things I have learned throughout my 18 years in the executive search business is that many managers make the mistake of oversimplifying their quest to hire “the best.” The problem is that “the best” candidate depends on several factors that are constantly in flux, including the company’s status and goals (both short-term and long-term), the candidate’s motivations and aspirations, and the strength of the job market.

Consider, for example, if a racing team wanted to hire “the best” driver in the country. They could use metrics such as awards and other public accolades, driving history, and number of endorsements to deduce that a particular person was a phenomenal driver. However, on that driver’s first day with his new team, they might discover a fundamental miscommunication: the driver is used to driving a Formula One car, and the racing team only provides a NASCAR setup.

Start with Skills and Motivation

Just because someone is great at what they do does not mean that they are a great candidate for your open position. Of course, any new hire needs to be able to perform the job you’re hiring them to do. However, a resume only describes someone’s technical capabilities. Let’s look at alignment. What are the candidate’s long-term career aspirations and current motivations? If a spectacular driver has just finished fixing up his or her favorite car and is searching for a team to drive it with, that person will not be a good fit with a racing team where every driver must use the same company vehicle; the alignment is off. The same is true of someone with a passion for collaboration in a “create and orchestrate” corporate environment. If your company operates in a “command and control” fashion, no amount of technical skill will help a super-collaborator to excel and feel fulfilled within your company.

Be Honest About Your Company’s Needs

This piece of the puzzle requires some self-reflection and a healthy dose of honesty: what kind of company are you? Are you a Formula One company or a NASCAR company? From there, you must decide whether you’re looking for the kind of person who will perpetuate your company’s current dominant culture, or someone who will transform it. The type of person who will succeed within your company depends heavily on the type of culture you’re asking them to succeed within. Even if your company is in need of transformational change (whether you’re a dysfunctional Formula One team or a terrible NASCAR crew), that does not preclude you from acquiring top talent. Plenty of high-powered candidates are looking for a challenge and can help grow and shape your company into a Formula One juggernaut or a NASCAR champion. However, it is important that they know about that challenge and are signing on with enthusiasm; otherwise, you risk loss of trust or even quick turnover when they get behind the wheel and discover what they’re driving.

Timing is Everything

A candidate with a strong background in transformational leadership and a passion for “rebuilding racing teams” sounds like a great choice for a company in need of change. However, if that person is seeking a relocation within two years to be based closer to family, any momentum he or she builds within your company could be derailed when they leave. Similarly, if a great candidate is coming on the market at the conclusion of a big project in six months, but your need is immediate, the timing is off and the fit is unlikely to work out. Candidates’ skill sets may be equal, but their alignment with your company’s current needs may not be.

Rather than simply boiling down to finding “the best” candidate, true alignment is about both task and culture, and requires finding the right person for the right company at the right time. It’s easy to find an impressive resume, but no matter how skilled a person appears on paper, if the timing or cultural fit are not a match, the hire cannot be successful in the long term. Not even the best driver in the world can win a race when his or her car’s alignment is off. And that car is your company. Know it well BEFORE you take on any new talent. The best drivers and the best teams win championships. Pretty simple.

About the Author

Lynn Failing

Lynn began his career with Kimmel & Associates in the Waste Division in 1999, and he started the Supply Chain & Logistics Division later that same year.

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