Most managers – regardless of whether they sit within a government building or a private sector organization’s office – are responsible for hiring new staff. The ability to select new talent to bolster the team comes with the job. Indeed, an entire cottage industry has arisen in response to this ubiquitous responsibility. There are thousands of books, courses, and videos on how to hire better, faster, cheaper.
I won’t attempt to synthesize the “best practices” for killer interviews. Nor will I share any compelling frameworks for maximizing one’s candidate pipeline. Google is your friend. Instead, I want to focus on one cross-cutting dilemma all hiring managers face when it comes to selecting new talent: the implicit human desire to hire in one’s image. That is, we (the collective we) tend to hire those who look, act, think, and sound like ourselves – often without even knowing it. We just inexplicably feel better about those who remind us of us. We mistakenly call it “hiring for fit”. But it really is our egocentric bias. A bias that costs our organizations in the long-run by limiting new ideas, exposing us to risk, and reinforcing the status quo.
This post could be construed as being about the value of hiring for organizational diversity. It is. Just diversity of a different type. Gender, racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and cultural diversity are all proven to make an organization stronger and higher performing. Hiring for inclusion in the form of diversity just makes sense. Just do it. But diversity is also intellectual and emotional. This type of diversity is much harder to assess and (potentially) fraught with employee on-boarding ramifications.
Complementarity is King
There is a latent power in purposefully and mindfully hiring with one’s own weaknesses in mind. That is, instead of hiring those who remind you of you, hire those who especially do not. Make a list of all the things you as a manager/employee/professional don’t do well – especially skills and traits. In other words, think about your … weaknesses. Then seek out and hire those whose strengths map to that very same list. Let’s broaden the lens of evaluation beyond the job requisition and interpersonal likability. Let’s use complementarity.
Of course, hiring for weakness is easier said than done. First, you must be self-aware. I must understand the areas and capabilities I struggle with based upon the observations of others. Skills and traits that despite any future focus/upskilling will never be an area of strength. Admitting true weakness is painful. Imagine how you would answer the “tell me about your greatest weakness” question if you were strapped to a lie detector-enabled shock collar. We all spin stories around strengths dressed up as weaknesses (see “I work too hard.”). The first step to hiring for complementarity is being completely honest with yourself.
Second, you must have the inner confidence to buck your bias and try something new. Hiring someone who is better than you in the areas you are weak will undoubtedly make you feel uncomfortable. It may even make you paranoid. After all, your weaknesses will constantly be in your face in the form of another person. Salt meet wound. Repeat.
Third, give the new, fragile working relationship time to develop. There may be some bumps along the way. The dynamic between two very different styles/world views/personalities will surely take time to harmonize. Indeed, a new, complementary hire may (will) make life at work more difficult. Some organ rejection is to be expected. The way a complement thinks is ipso facto radically different. After all, they may communicate in ways that are foreign to you. They may question aspects of the job you would never dare to challenge. You may (unintentionally) piss each other off. However, the short-term pain will be worth the long-term gain.
Complementarity in hiring – when done right – should unlock newer ideas, reduce organizational blind spots, and accelerate the acceptance of change. All positives in a world that is evolving faster than ever before. Instead of clinging to what we know (clones of ourselves), let’s take an intentional chance on the different.
Ending Egocentric Hiring
As a hiring manager, it is far too easy to wrap oneself in the cloak of organizational fit when making decisions. Resist the urge. We are inherently attracted to others who remind us of ourselves. It is human nature. We simply adore ourselves.
But when it comes to building a team or creating a company that scales, we must look beyond those we intuitively “like”. Imagine that you and I bring the same strengths to the table. We get along great but are both of us really needed? Egocentricity yields redundancy. Instead, we must look for those who make us (and everyone else) better by doing what we cannot. The hiring math is simple. In 2020, let’s make 1 + 1 equal 2.
Wagish Bhartiya is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He is a Senior Director at REI Systems where he leads the company’s Software-as-a-Service Business Unit. He created and is responsible for leading a team of more than 100 staff focused on applying software technologies to improve how government operates. Wagish leads a broad-based team that includes product development, R&D, project delivery, and customer success across state, local, federal, and international government customers. Wagish is a regular contributor to a number of government-centric publications and has been on numerous government IT-related television programs including The Bridge which airs on WJLA-Channel 7. You can read his posts here.