As managers, most of us hire in our own image. We feel more comfortable with applicants who have backgrounds, educations, and personalities similar to our own. This approach to hiring may make us the most comfortable with our final selections, but it may also undermine our organization's future success.
Case in point: Years ago, a manager who worked for me was looking to hire a computer specialist. She gave all applicants a performance test, a technical assignment similar to the type of work required in the position. After a month or so of diligent interviewing and evaluating some 40 applicants, she said she was ready to make an offer.
"There's just one thing," she said. "Helen has a head tattoo."
"A what?" I said.
"Half of her head is shaved, and she has a dragon tattooed on it."
I reflected on the likely negative repercussions of a head tattoo on the department and the organization, took a deep breath, and asked how Helen had done on the performance test.
"She did the best of any candidate we interviewed."
"Then let's hire her!"
Valuing Difference When word got out that we were hiring a woman with a head tattoo and shaved head, the reaction was strong and immediate, mostly along the lines of: "Have you lost your mind!" with ample doses of "Bob must be trying to get even with the organization in some way."
A bit frustrated with my seemingly open-minded colleagues, I went to a music store and bought removable tattoos for everyone in the department to wear on Helen's first day. I thought this would be a fun way to openly deal with the concerns of others, which--as is often the case--were mostly unfounded. The temporary tattoos gave people an excuse to bring up Helen and gave us the opportunity to give people the facts about her experience and potential.
A typical interaction in the hallway went something like this: A perturbed colleague would point to my temporary tattoo and say sarcastically, "I guess you think tattoos are real funny!"
"Oh, this!" I'd answer. "You know, Helen was the top-ranked candidate we had in more than 40 performance-based interviews, plus she has more than eight years of related technical experience. What a lucky find she was!"
Everyone's fears dissipated on Helen's first day. Having someone who brought a different perspective, extensive experience, and a well-defined skill set to the department gave us fresh ideas. Helen went on to win the organization's highest award for exceptional achievement in the shortest time of any employee in the organization's history, and she became one of the staff members whom customers requested most frequently.
Helen left a few years later to move closer to her family. On her last day of work, we threw a companywide celebration--and everyone wore temporary tattoos!
1. The best predictor of future performance is past performance--Focus on what people achieved in other jobs during interviews.
2. A strong team has individuals who complement each other--Look to hire people who are better than you in areas that are important to your business's success.
3. People's differences can make your operation stronger--If everyone who works for you sees things the same way, you might be fostering redundancy rather than fresh approaches.