Effective hiring managers know their strengths and weaknesses as well as where their energies are best spent. They are forthright in describing these things to job candidates and new hires. Like a company forming a strategic alliance with another, such managers select "partners" whose strengths augment the overall ability of the team to meet its objectives. Often, this means the managers will choose candidates with temperaments or ideologies markedly different from their own but when they do so, they are careful to establish ground rules that enable even polar opposite to work together.
Managers who give in to the "just like me" bias, hiring candidates who are almost carbon copies of themselves, are only setting themselves up for failure. The tendency to feel more comfortable around and give preference to people with a similar education, ethnic/racial background, socioeconomic status, and industry perspective is well documented. It's also potentially lethal in an economy that seems to demand that companies have it all: deep technical skills, broad perspective, and extensive experience, as well as powerful intuition and great people sensitives.
Using colleagues as a mirror
"Accurate self-assessors" people with a realistic sense of their own strengths and weaknesses "are better able to improve their performance," write researchers Dianne Nilsen and David P. Camphell in a 1993 study, But time, experience, and solitary reflection aren't foolproof teachers in the quest to develop the necessary self-awareness. To strip away the layers of self-deception, you often need others' help. "Knowledgeable observers give more valid, accurate ratings" of a manager's human relations skills including the ability to attract and develop talent than the manager herself, Nilsen and Campbell continue.
Nora Denzel, Senior Vice President in Hewlett-Packard's software global business unit in Cupertino, California, got plenty of opportunities to receive constructive criticism early in her career, when she worked at IBM. There, she says, personality instruments like the Myers-Briggs, videotaped exercises, and regular 360-degree feedback helped her become more aware of her strengths and limitations. As a result, she developed the maturity and self-confidence required to be candid about the kinds of behaviour she could and could not tolerate, which has made the hiring and motivating work she does in her current job much easier. Owning up to your shortcomings "is easier with technical skills," says Carol Day, Vice President of Business Development at West Caldwell, New Jersey-based Ricoh, a leading manufacturer of office automation equipment. "For example, if I didn't know anything about Web browsers, I'd hire someone who did. When it comes to more intangible skills, like communication or networking, it's harder to admit your shortcomings. But it's essential to set your ego aside and realise you're not the only hero on your team."
A structured approach to preventing selection bias
Caterpillar's Engine Centre in Mossville, III., uses a more formal process to guard against the "just like me" bias. Internal organisational effectiveness consultant Patrick O'Brien gathers objective evaluations of promotion candidates and potential hires based on their skills, qualifications and talents. Toward the end of the interview process, when it looks like there may be a fit with a candidate, O'Brien brings in an assessment tool that helps the hiring manger understand her own information processing style and compare it with that of the potential hire, or the whole team, to identify where the alignments or gap are.
Such two-person or team analyses have helped nearly 200 of Caterpillar's managers mitigate the interpersonal problems that can occur between people whose work strategies are very different.
Ensuring that the friction is creative
If you want your group to be creative, write Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap in When sparks Fly, you as the leader can't simply tolerate dissent - you must encourage it. Otherwise, your unit will be unable to free itself from "the expectations of how some thing (or someone) normally functions."
The challenge, therefore, when you're adding new members, is to bring as much intellectual diversity as you can into your group while ensuring that the resultant friction between varying perspectives and approaches works to improve business results and not to promote interpersonal strife. One way to do this is to define the boss-subordinate relationship right up front.
"I've worked for companies where senior management hired clones that are slightly less smart than themselves and therefore are unlikely to challenge them," says Christine Regan, CEO of Bone One Studios, a Warwick, New York-based audio and video production company, "That always holds a company back. In today's ultracompetitive business environment, it's all about flawless execution.