I was a guest at a breakfast meeting at the headquarters of News International in London this week (don’t worry, I switched off my phone) as part of The Times Business Masterclass series, a broad based series of events and thought leadership designed to help growing businesses share and obtain insight from some of the UK’s most successful business leaders. It was a great session. The discussion touched on many predictable areas like how and when to raise capital as well as general business strategy.
However the topic of people was the one that resonated most with me; not just the challenge of deciding when to hand over the reigns of responsibility to others as your business grows, but specifically about the hiring process and the need to hire the best people.
Learning how to hire great people is something most business owners and managers are never taught as a core business competency. Nobody ever showed me how to hire well and I’m sure I’m not alone and that it’s something most people just learn as they go. Often painfully.
While instinct is absolutely key in hiring decisions, in my experience hiring on the strength of a couple of conversations or a single interview, a flick through a resume and a liberal chunk of instinct is more often than not, precisely how you end up in what the late, great Steve Jobs called the Bozo Explosion.
Regardless of the label, it’s a popular theory that goes something like this.
Conceptually rank candidate employees on a general scale of capability from A through to D, with the best, most capable people being the As, and the least capable being Ds.
The thinking is that uber-confident and capable A grader managers will always hire other A graders into their teams because they want to build the best possible organisations, but B grade managers will never hire As because they fear – consciously or subconsciously – that if they hired an A grade report, their own B grade failings would be exposed and their report might soon steal their job.
So, B-grade managers always hire downstream in terms of capability, and so on.
The Bozo Explosion colourfully described by Steve Jobs is what happens to companies who make the mistake of hiring B-grade managers. Hire a B-grade manager, turn your back for a few months and then watch your business, once a shining example of excellence, get over-run by hordes of well meaning incompetents, from the top right down to the tip of its toes. And the spectre of the unwelcome Bozo Explosion usually portends an inevitable decline in decision making, product quality or design, customer service – you name it, everything turns to mush. And unless you’re very lucky, say good-bye to your business. Oh, and that’s just for starters. Getting rid of a Bozo Explosion in your business is a whole other world of HR pain for which there’s unlikely to be a quick fix.
All of which places supreme importance on the job of great hiring.
No matter how busy or time pressured you (or your managers) are, no matter how good you think your gut instinct is, always sweat the details, always do extensive background reference checks and never compromise on quality for the sake of short term expediency.
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