By Ken Greger
One of our clients, which owns and operates prestigious luxury resorts, recently defied ‘gravity.’ The company was seeking a top human resources executive and considered a number of well-qualified, ‘obvious’ candidates. In the end, the C-suite decided to promote from within, and tapped the head of security for the top HR job! Yes, you read that correctly – the head of security was promoted to oversee the entire human resources function! No, his resume didn’t make sense for that job. However, he – the person – made total sense. The thinking was quite simple – the human resources team consisted of strong players whose skill sets provided all the necessary expertise. But the head of security provided something of the greatest importance – who he is as a person epitomizes the company’s culture and values. There was nothing linear about the decision to promote this person. It was new, and rather deep thinking. It is to be admired. The person who embodies the culture is running human resources. Awesome.
Another client, well-known globally in travel and entertainment, created a new digital media company and retained us to find a CEO for the start-up. Putting our credibility on the line with this prized client, we presented three candidates whose backgrounds were spot on in terms of what one would expect, and we presented an additional candidate who made no sense on paper. You guessed it! The company hired the one who made no sense, because, once they met him, he made total sense.
While these are nice stories to share, they are far too rare. The truth is that too many companies say they desire to infuse new thinking, but, in the end, they hire the ‘safe’ candidate. So, what, exactly, is ‘safe?’ Is it safe to hire the same profile you’ve always hired before? Are you living in a world that doesn’t change? Are you making progress, or actually slipping a bit? Let’s be honest – what’s really being demonstrated here is a lack of confidence, a lack of courage on the part of the hiring executive. Perhaps he or she is afraid of being criticized if that out-of-the-box hiring decision doesn’t pan out. Or, worse, perhaps the hiring executive is concerned that this new person may be such a hit that it makes him or her look obsolete. So is the decision, then, to perpetuate obsolescence? Hmmm…
While you’re pondering that, consider another thought: What would you do? Do you have the moxie to hire out-of-the-box? Do you hire the ‘best athlete’ or the ‘safe’ candidate? Do you push the envelope in your company to help move it into the 21st century? Or is rocking the boat just too much risk for you to take?
In business school, some of you may remember hearing a story about the 8-year-old boy who was riding his bike home when he saw that an 18-wheeler pulling trailers too tall for the underpass had become hopelessly stuck. As the boy watched, engineers gathered on the overpass looking down at the trailers jammed against it, studying the situation and hoping to find a way to dislodge them. They were working hard, measuring and calculating. Finally, the boy rode up to the police officer directing traffic on the road below the overpass and asked, “Why don’t they just let some air out of the tires?”
Insisting that only we know our business and no one else can learn it is ludicrous. Hire a smart, solid person with fresh eyes and your business will not only benefit from what he or she sees in those first few months, but you’ve hired a smart, solid person who will also learn your business.
So how open are you? Will you risk rocking the boat, or continue to find comfort in the dead calm?