Why I Don't Hire People Who Do Their Job
If a company is going to create real change, its employees must be innovative and go above and beyond in their work.
When companies look to hire more employees, they usually follow a standard protocol: post a job description, use SEO keywords, contact candidates, conduct interviews, then offer the position to someone who passes every round. There's nothing wrong with this process. In fact, it usually leads to finding someone who can do the job.
However, most of the time, doing the job isn't enough. Disruptive organizations need innovative people. Companies that have changed entire industries have one thing in common: the ability to take risks and push limits. The leaders in these companies have moved against the grain and challenged the status quo. It's important for both founders and employees to be visionary if a company is to stand out from the crowd and make real change.
Moving beyond being "good on paper"
When looking for people to fill new roles, you might see hundreds of applications for one position. Chances are a lot of these candidates are qualified and completely suitable to do the work. They likely have resumes adorned with good colleges, relevant experience and even volunteer activities or entrepreneurial projects. In short, they look great on paper. But looking great on paper doesn't always translate to going above and beyond in their work.
It's easy for candidates to put their best foot forward during the interview process by including their most impressive accomplishments on their resumes and in the discussion. However, this doesn't speak to how they will actually perform on the job. Resumes can't paint the full picture of an applicant's motivation, healthy sense of risk, innovation or creativity.
A job is not just a "job"
Think of the job description as an outline for the kind of skills you are looking for. It's the skeleton that guides your hiring process, but it's not the ultimate determining factor for who you bring on board. Roles change and pivot just as companies develop and morph.
It's not enough to match a candidate to a job description. Early-stage startups especially go through a lot of development as they find their footing. Just as companies change and pivot through their different stages of growth, employees should be able to adapt in their positions. By boxing them into norms and strict expectations, you're not giving your workers the room to progress and, in turn, contribute to your organization's shape and direction. There's a difference between "doing a job" and "building a business." Flexibility, creative thinking and going above and beyond can help build a position by making the role more fruitful, efficient and dynamic.
Creativity can solve problems
I previously spearheaded communications at SRI International, Silicon Valley's pioneer science and deep-tech research institute. With science writing, we avoided using too much academic jargon that would make our media difficult to understand, but we also didn't want to oversimplify our research. One of our projects included making an animated video for a life discovery platform. We needed to show that if a cell accepted an injected substance, it would be suitable to use in a drug.
The team ended up making a video that started with an animation depicting people trying to get into a bar, but the bouncer refused entry to most and only let one person in. After this scene, the video showed the actual cell membrane animation. The opening metaphor was funny, human and relatable; once viewers saw it, they could easily connect it to the way cells work. This made the cell processes easy to understand without dumbing down any content.
The team that worked on this went above and beyond my expectations and tapped into their creativity to solve our issue of making content accessible. A traditional scientific video would have only depicted the cell animation. This project changed and pivoted to meet the needs of our audiences. The team brought to life something that was different from what we originally envisioned. This ability to change a project and use creativity to bend standards to create new and surprising results is required in innovative teams. But these skills aren't always apparent in job interviews.
So, who should you hire and how?
Communication is key during the interview process. Understand that the role you're hiring for will change over time, and be honest and upfront about these expectations. Ask interview questions to glean whether or not people can grow into a role, change the role, then grow into what the new role is. This is what determines success for a company.
When conducting interviews, keep in mind how people will work together. In my leadership workshops, we break down leadership traits people have a natural propensity for and then build on them. Look for these traits in candidates and think of other team members that would complement them. Think of how to build a set of people that can achieve excellence together.People can be amazing on paper, but it's hard to fully know someone in one or two hours — or even in six rounds of interviews. Just as people date and get to know each other before marrying, hiring people on as contract employees before making a commitment can help both parties see whether it's a match. Chemistry matters. Don't be too quick to hire people. Hiring on a contract basis — whether it's six weeks, six months or more — can let you both see whether there is synergy among all members of the team. Once that synergy is established, you can hire permanently. Every moment you invest in a person will cost you if he or she isn't a fit. Taking the hiring process slowly and giving people a chance to demonstrate value will help you both see if there is potential for growth, adaptation and the ability to go above and beyond.
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