Over the long-term, selecting talent has an unequal influence on team effectiveness. Which candidates we recruit, select and hire defines much of what is possible in the future. If, as Peter Drucker suggested, culture eats strategy for breakfast, then talent sets the table.
The selection of the right talent is both art and science and suffers from a lower success rate than leaders generally expect or desire. Mistakes in selecting talent abound for experienced and inexperienced leaders. Everyone has a story about the ideal candidate who flamed out within the first week or month. As a general rule, the best leaders have a long list of preferred questions and tests to determine who should become a part of the team. But even those with a proven and rigorous process have a winning percentage lower than they like.
The first step in becoming better at assessing talent is to clarify what mistakes we are willing to make. In terms of talent selection, which is the bigger blunder: missing out on a great hire, or selecting someone you thought would be great only to find they are a big fat dud?
Think back to that statistics course. ‘Type I’ error, if you recall, is accepting a hypothesis as false that, in actuality, is true. ‘Type II’ error is accepting a hypothesis as true that in actuality is false. In the world of science, ‘Type I’ error is considered a fatal flaw, as we miss out on finding a truly amazing discovery, such as a new medicine or source of energy. But in the world of talent selection, it is ‘Type II’ error that undermines success.
When a leader introduces a new talent to the team who does not succeed, the team takes a step backwards, having invested in the new talent without anything to show for it when the person self-implodes. The best leaders would rather miss on a quality candidate than select a poor one and have them infect the team.
To paraphrase legendary football coach Bo Schembechler, if you fail to recruit a great player, “He’ll beat you once a year.” But if you recruit the wrong player and make him a part of your team, “He’ll beat you every day.” Stop taking “a chance” on people and hold out for the candidate that can’t miss. You’ll find the team gets stronger person-by-person as a result.