Paradox of ‘Hiring Good People and Letting Them Decide’ 0

The criteria for hiring the ‘right’ kind of people is highly influenced by the organization’s current understanding of what is to be done in a particular situation. The author here tries to bring out the paradox inherent in the act of companies trying to decide who are right people who can decide what is right for the company.

How do we build a high-performance organization? There are many ‘answers’ to this question. There has to be many answers (or at least ‘attempted answers’), because, this is the core issue in ‘management’. Hence, most of the management literature should be dealing with some aspect of this question (‘quest’!) in some way. So we have many approaches/ answers. There is one particular approach that I find to be particularly interesting. It is something like this: Hire good people and empower them to decide what is to be done and how it is to be done. The basic idea here is that in a complex and rapidly changing environment the traditional approach of specifying (to each employee) what exactly has to be done is unlikely to work. So it is better to hire good people and let them figure out what needs to be done.

I am not saying that this approach is ‘wrong’. My point is that there is a paradox here. In order to hire ‘good’ people, the organization has to use a definition of ‘good’ (a ‘working definition’ of what ‘good’ means in their context – so that it can be used in the hiring process/ as the selection criteria). Peter F Drucker coined the term ‘knowledge workers’ in his management theory in 1959. These knowledge workers would work with their heads and not hands. They would transform information into business solutions.

The basic idea here is that in a complex and rapidly changing environment the traditional approach of specifying (to each employee) what exactly has to be done is unlikely to work. So it is better to hire good people and let them figure out what needs to be done.

“The basic idea here is that in a complex and rapidly changing environment if the traditional approach of specifying (to each employee) what exactly has to be done is unlikely to work. So it is better to hire good people and let them figure out what needs to be done.”

They were considered the right kind of people to hire. But this leads to the million dollar question- How do we know whether these knowledgeable people are actually the right kind or not? After all one can’t do hiring without some sort of criteria (implicit or explicit). This leads to an interesting situation.

This definition of ‘good’ (implicit or explicit) is coloured by the current thinking in the organization. To put it in another way, the criteria for a good hire gets influenced by the organization’s (often implicit) understanding of what is to be done, how it is to be done and hence what sort of a person can do it. So the existing limitations (and prescriptions of what is to be done/ how it is to be done) gets built into the hiring criteria at least to some extent.

Let us look at the most common example of this situation. Organization ‘A’ is in trouble. The organization does not have a clear understanding of what is to be done to get out of this situation. So it decides to hire a ‘good’ CEO and let him/her figure out what needs to be done. However, when the organization chooses a ‘good CEO’ that choice is coloured by the explicit/implicit definition of ‘a good CEO’ which in turn is limited by the current thinking/ consciousness in the organization. This can be addressed to some extent by looking at ‘best practices’ (what has worked in CEO selection elsewhere in similar situations) and by using external advisers. But this might not always work as the uniqueness of that particular organization context might get missed out and also because the external advice/best practice information often goes through one level. of processing within the organization (when decision making is done by existing people) which in turn brings in the limitations in the current processing/thinking in the organization.

Hence the approach of ‘hiring good people and letting them figure out what needs to be done’ might not be as simple as it appears to be. Actually, it cannot be simple. Otherwise, it would have been very easy to build and sustain high performing organizations.

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