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Don’t Hire Managers Who Don’t Know How to Hire

Too many managers are hired based on the quality of their individual contributor skills and personality. Managers should be hired on the quality of the people they’ve hired and developed.

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BY Lou Adler - 11 Jul 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

If you know any hiring managers who haven't embraced the importance of hiring top talent, this post is for them. It's part of a new program on providing hiring managers the motivation and skills needed to hire strong candidates who have multiple opportunities.

A personal story from long ago will help set the stage.

I personally learned the importance of hiring strong people a few days after starting on my first management job - I was 26 at the time - the manager of capital budgeting at a "boring" multi-billion dollar automotive manufacturing company. My boss - the Controller - needed me 20 miles away at the University of Michigan to help interview MBA students. We were competing with IBM, Ford and P&G for the best of the bunch. At the time these supposedly were the best companies to work for and ours didn't even make the top 100.

I had no time to do this. I protested. Vehemently. I told Chuck I had way too much to do and an important report due to the VP Finance and Group President the next morning.

The words he didn't mince still ring in my ears. They ended with:

Hiring the best talent is the most important thing you'll ever do. Everything else can wait.

Well I hustled over there, we each interviewed 10 students, took seven to dinner in Ann Arbor and ultimately hired four outstanding people who over the years all became CEOs, CFOs or VPs with significant companies.

My boss and I got back to the office around 10pm that night and worked until about 4am to finish the report. It was handwritten. The VP Finance and Group President asked why it wasn't done properly. My boss told them we were doing something more important. After the short explanation, they both agreed.

Hiring the best talent is the most important thing you'll ever do. Everything else can wait.

By living this lesson, within a few years I was running a small manufacturing division for another Fortune 500 company. When I became a recruiter - my boss was a jerk and I quit four times in seven months - it was just to look for another job. However, I quickly discovered that finding and hiring great people for other people was a scalable process if done correctly.

I applied the same hiring is #1 talent lesson when I was recruiting people for management roles. In this case I'd quickly find out about the quality of the people these candidates hired and I'd only work with those who were successful.

It's important to recognize that hiring managers have a huge responsibility for hiring great people. Unfortunately, most don't take it seriously enough. Instead they delegate it to a recruiter or to the HR department. Maybe it's because they don't know how to attract and hire great talent. However, there's more to it than that.

As far as I'm concerned if hiring is really #1 at your company hiring managers need to be judged on the quality of the people they hire, the collective performance results of the team, the job satisfaction of each person in the group, the overall department turnover and how many of these people get promoted into bigger roles. Collectively this is how hiring manager success should be measured. Unfortunately, too many managers get hired because of their individual contributor skills, not their management ability.

Bottom line, if managers aren't good at hiring and developing people, they shouldn't be hiring managers. Or at a minimum they shouldn't be given the primary responsibility for hiring people.

The big tipping point to hiring better people requires jobs to be defined as a series of performance objectives, not a laundry list of skills, experiences and generic competencies. Clarifying expectations this way has been proven time and again to be the foundation of good management. To attract AND hire top people these objectives need to be wrapped inside a compelling value proposition that proves the job represents a realistic career opportunity.

Just as critical, hiring managers can't let their recruiters talk to candidates unless they know these same performance objectives and can make the legitimate case that the job represents a true career move. If the recruiter isn't capable of doing this, imagine how many great people you won't see (or haven't seen) because the recruiter couldn't convince the person the job was a career move.

Of course, hiring managers must be actively involved in the interviewing and recruiting process from before the beginning to after the end. This starts with the first exploratory call, multiple interviews before finalizing the offer and meeting at least once or twice after the person accepts the offer but before he/she starts on the job.

If all of this seems like too much to do, remember this lesson from long ago:

Hiring the best talent is the most important thing you'll ever do. Everything else can wait.

It's more true today.