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Q&A with Lou Adler: Why the Best Hire Today Might Be a Lousy Hire Next Year

Cornerstone Editors

Hiring managers have a lot to consider when vetting a candidate. Does the person have enough experience? Do his skills match the job description? Will she fit in? An often overlooked element is timing, according to Lou Adler, CEO of recruitment and training consulting firm The Adler Group. Here, Adler discusses how companies can find the right talent at the right stage of growth, why the four basic work types matter, and how to ensure that the hiring department matures with the company.

Why do hiring managers need to consider both performance abilities and skills when vetting candidates?

The underlying issue is that a lot of things predict a candidate's ability to do work. The skills and experience listed on most job descriptions are the least important of all those things. What's important is a person’s ability to think, get results, achieve success despite challenges, learn new skills and adapt those skills to the circumstances. I call it performance-based traits versus skills-based traits.

Culture has an impact on a person's work and success. That’s where business cycles come into play. In an entrepreneurial environment, companies need a different type of person than a mature company, even if they're doing similar work.

How can companies ensure that the hiring department is maturing at the same pace as the company?

The business life cycle goes from startup to rapid-growth company (assuming it's successful), to sustainable-growth company and then to mature company. Imagine it as an hourglass. Most companies have difficulty bridging the middle part of the hourglass. Once they get through it, there is a totally different set of challenges, but getting through it is pretty significant. People who've been through the hourglass in the past understand how to transition the company.

It's usually not the brilliant thinker who can build or grow a business. It will take someone who can be multifunctional and who can work with brilliant people but also recognize the business challenges. If a business is growing rapidly, it needs people who have been there before to lead the company through the narrow bridge of the hourglass.

What are the primary types of workers?

There are four basic work types. A "thinker" is the type who is not only able to do a job, but who can figure out how to do it without a lot of resources. They ask questions such as, "What are we going to do?" and "How are we going to do it?"

The "builder" is someone who figures out how to get stuff done and execute in a rapid-growth environment. An "improver" is someone who understands how to scale the organization in a logical and cost-effective way. A "producer" is someone who is technically sound, and who can maintain quality in an existing process.

What goes wrong when companies don't match work types to where they are in the business cycle?

Microsoft's former CEO Steve Ballmer is an example of this. He's a brilliant executive, but he wasn't a product guy. At the time, Microsoft's biggest challenge wasn't running the company, it was rebuilding the company at the product level.

Steve Jobs was a product guy. He wasn’t a brilliant engineer, but he knew products and markets. Apple's current CEO, Tim Cook, is clearly a brilliant operations guy, but the company hasn't debuted a real product since Jobs passed away.

As companies grow, how can they recognize what type of worker they need?

Most companies recognize where they are in the business cycle. What they often don't recognize is how specific jobs change as a result of where they are in the business cycle. A company might be looking for an engineer who is methodical and understands process, but that person might not be as effective at a startup.

In general, though, companies understand where they are. But they don't necessarily think in terms of how to adapt or reorganize a position to make sure that the fit is appropriate given the company's culture and what it needs to do.

Photo: Can Stock

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