Tuesday, March 26, 2013

HIRING GOOD PEOPLE : ETHNOGRAPHIC CUES

This is a topic that every HR manager and every business owner can go on and on. Despite hundreds of kinds of psychometric tests, personal interviews and many guru- insights, it still remains a fuzzy area. I have gone wrong in hiring multiple times in last fifteen years for my company. But I also checked with some business owners who run an empire of millions and sometime billions of dollars. They say that even they go wrong many times, despite being equipped with big paraphernalia of HR brains & filters. Some of the things that we have done differently have really worked. Here are some insights that I have generated so far:

1.  DINNER TABLE FILTER: Can this person be taken to the family dinner table?

This was a very simple filtering advice given to me by one of the clients I worked with. And it does seem to provide an answer for a good-teammate selection. Person’s external polish that his/her qualification and degree provides gives way to his/her real self in a long stretch interaction. Small nuances of how to address, elders, women, subordinates etc. can throw light into a person’s value build-up and his/her longevity into the organisation.  This is rather conservative yet innovative way to look at people. And believe me; it applies to all levels of hire- right from office boy to CEO. After all, we spend some important part of our life in office. It is essential that we are COMFORTABLE in everyday interactions with the new person over a long time.  The ‘interview varnish’ that people put on at the time of first interaction, gets worn off very fast and their real self starts coming out and reaches every available ear if not eyes, if there is something amiss.  A similar filter is ‘airport filter’- imagine you would be stuck on an airport for long hours with this person. Would you like to spend that time with this person without needing to mentally shut-off?

 
2. RABBIT-TORTOISE FILTER : Speed v/s Longevity

A rabbit runs fast but take naps in-between while the tortoise is slow but steady. We all know this. In a business scenario, we need both the profiles; those who can outperform others in SPEED, as well as those who can OUTLAST everyone else. Rarely, we get both the qualities in one person. I have always been baffled with the latter. Those who are super sharp, super articulate and a bit of street-smart – the rabbits- are also like ‘hired-sharpshooters’. They come, do the job and move on. They don’t stay with you forever. My company (many companies share this concern) is a training ground for them. They know how to milk the best of every world they get in. They are easy with people and generous with words. They are the Rabbits of our filter. We need them, time to time, in different shades and intensity.

Tortoise of our story is usually slow. They come usually from humble backgrounds. They are thoughtful and watchful of what they say and do. They are quick learners because of the hunger for going ahead. They are aware of the distance between them and the Rabbits within the company. They are consistent. Rabbit may arrive in office at 11-12am (and goes for a smoke every now and then, and claims that his/her working style is ‘non-linear’), while our tortoise is a bit old fashioned ‘linear’. He/she arrives at the regular time and does not leave till the mandated task is done. In parties they don’t show extra-ordinary talent and never a cynosure and an instant hit. They are mild with criticism and generous with empathy with fellow mates. Their work is not super brilliant. It just about meets the requirement. You need the Rabbit’s brilliance and garnish to make the work ready for delivery. However, they are the pillar of stability and peace within the organisation. On them rests the mandate of carrying forward the values and the legacy. They are honest flag bearers of what needs to be continued. Change is not their cup of tea. Change can be brought about by infusing a fresh breed of Rabbits into the team.

 

3. LOST & FOUND FILTER : Old friend in the new town

It has a strange pull. People who worked with us and left for different destiny, one day find themselves again facing us. Sense of familiarity and the expectation of the new energy they bring in from previous experience, together present a heady mix for a growing team. Team mates usually welcome such inclusions and relish the sense of home coming. Corporate world is replete with cases of returns and magnificent second stint, including the most famous one is of Apple’s chief.


4. NATURAL GROOVE FILTER : What drives a person

We hired a web-programmer long back. Very soon we realised that it is not going to work out as he started stumbling on every assignment.  However, as a person he was good and gelled well with the team. With some heart-to-heart talk with him I found out that he actually abhors the ‘computer’ work, but got into it as it seemed to be only ‘safe’ career option. He liked working with hands and showed me several pictures of some crafted objects in his backyard workshop. Well, I tried something new- we had a need to setting up a ‘model-proto-making’ facility within our company and just gave him a mandate of making it happen. To my surprise, he not only set it all up but also worked at the prototypes better than any professionally trained people I had seen. He worked hard without worrying about working hours and soon became an important pillar of the organisation. I used to introduce him as ‘master craftsman’ at our company, a designation which he probably never imagined but relished. Recently, he started his own model-making business and we were happy to provide him some referential work. He became an extended network resource who can be relied upon for a good quality work even in odd and demanding situations.

 
5. OTHER ENERGY FILTER : What’s behind the office veil

You can see the degrees a person carries. You can also see the list of other organisation he/she has worked in. In creative professions, a visual portfolio of work also works wonders. But there is always a lurking need to know more. What does a person do beyond the office work or during weekends- this discussion yields some important insights on the person’s life & energy channels. If a person is a die-hard movie-buff, on slight prompting he/she would go at length about a movie’s plot, direction, presentation etc. Passion drives this world. A passion & quest for excellence in one field gives respect to passion & quest for excellence in another field. This also provides a good connecting point to colleagues beyond office hours. It helps to have colleagues who have very diverse interests and who follow them passionately.