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Lower Your Standards and Build a Better Team

In the 2008 essay “Most Likely to Succeed” that appeared in The New Yorker magazine, Malcolm Gladwell looks at NFL quarterbacks, high school teachers and personal financial advisors in the top firms.  College quarterbacks experience rather high failure rates in the NFL.  School teachers see rather high retention even with varied results; the worst teachers cover ½ of a year’s material in an academic year while the best cover 1 ½ years material in the same amount of time.  Compare both of these with North Star Resource Group, a personal financial advisory firm, which has had over 56% of its advisors recognized by the industry as top advisors.

Gladwell paints a picture of recruiting with NFL quarterbacks on one end and teachers on another.  NFL recruiting is entirely experiential, with performance being personally observed by scouts.  The problem in this arena is that the game is different – the NFL has better, stronger and faster players and the play of a quarterback can’t be determined by simply watching what is fundamentally a different game (college).   Teachers, on the other hand, almost entirely without observation and based almost solely on their academic resume.  It turns out that the complexities of teaching is such that academic prowess is only one skill and others like personal interaction, emotional intelligence, and “withitness”, the ability to control the classroom, are just as important.

North Star Resource Group does their recruiting a little differently.  They interviewed 1,000 candidates, hired 49, put them through a four month training camp where only 23 graduated and then over the next three to four years expects to keep only at most 9 individuals from the original group. While this may seem harsh as we mentioned above the North Star Resource Group consistently gets great performers.

One implication for us as hiring managers is that perhaps the standards for hiring shouldn’t be raised but rather lowered.  Learning from both the NFL and teachers, perhaps we should lower our “offer” standards and evaluate more people on the job with the foreknowledge that we will cut them quickly.  We are clearly unable to predict future success based on past performance in a different environment (different employer, different culture, etc) and academic prowess alone isn’t likely to be a good indicator of job performance.  Clearly a couple hour interview will not net a better result.  Perhaps we should approach hiring, especially in “right to work environments” such as we have in the US more akin to the way we purchase cars:  take the employee for a test drive.

Said more simply, we should hire more people but make the cuts way faster. If you have read and implemented our model of seed, feed, and weed then you’re actually on the right track.  If you’ve allocated 33% to each phase, Gladwell’s hypothesis is that you might get better results with a ratio more like 10% seed, 45% feed, 45% weed. Continuing with the gardening analogy it would be like spreading a wildflower mixture of seeds, providing them with plenty of fertilizer and water, and removing the ones that don’t thrive in your garden.

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    in December 2nd, 2009 @ 12:40

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  • Ori Lahav

    in December 2nd, 2009 @ 14:28

    Fish
    good post that… raises the debate.
    Think of start-up that want to stay lean and mean. you want to hire team of 5 people you may want each one of them to have slightly different skills to complete the puzzle and… you have very low budget.
    can you afford hiring 45 people train them for a year so you can finally pick 5?
    actually you don’t have many shots – only one bullet in your gun each time. you have to pick the best to your knowledge, interviews background checks, referrals, etc… and then you hire.
    the truth is that you have to be candid enough with yourself, that as early as you see you made a hiring mistake, cut it and move on to the next one.

    Ori


  • Fish

    in December 2nd, 2009 @ 18:15

    Ori,
    Great comment. I agree with you that startups without the option of hiring more and pruning are best to admit hiring mistakes early. Thanks for adding your valuable insight to the post.

    Fish


  • Top 10 Internet Startup Scalability Killers | Stoth

    in December 20th, 2009 @ 12:17

    […] written about how to hire, fire and mentor and why to remove underperformers quickly for superior teams. Our message is simply that you can never eliminate underperformers soon enough […]


  • Top 10 Internet Startup Scalability Killers | 4nasco Technology

    in December 20th, 2009 @ 15:42

    […] written about how to hire, fire and mentor and why to remove underperformers quickly for superior teams. Our message is simply that you can never eliminate underperformers soon enough […]


  • Top 10 Internet Startup Scalability Killers – GigaOM

    in December 20th, 2009 @ 20:20

    […] written about how to hire, fire and mentor and why to remove underperformers quickly for superior teams. Our message is simply that you can never eliminate underperformers soon enough […]


  • Top 10 Internet Startup Scalability Killers [GigaOM] | BYOHosting.com Blogs

    in December 21st, 2009 @ 06:22

    […] written about how to hire, fire and mentor and why to remove underperformers quickly for superior teams. Our message is simply that you can never eliminate underperformers soon enough […]


  • Stop Doing Annual Reviews | AKF Partners Blog

    in March 22nd, 2010 @ 22:30

    […] argued in a recent post Lower your standards and build a better team that the standards for hiring should be lowered. The reason is that we are unable to predict future […]


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