A man shopping at a garage sale spies a sign above a dog: “Talking dog. $10.”
The man asks the dog, “Can you talk?”
“Sure,” answers the dog.
“That’s amazing. What’s your story? Why are you being sold?”
“Well,” says the dog. “I recently returned from Afghanistan, where I worked for the U.S. Army. Since I’m a dog, I was able to spy behind enemy lines. I’d then return to the base and debrief with the generals. Before that, I was in Iraq working for the State Department, reporting directly to Hillary Clinton. The Iraqi leaders didn’t notice when I’d slip into secret meetings, so I’d listen and then fly back to the Pentagon to debrief Secretary Clinton and the president. Then, I met my master, and he wanted me to retire and come live with him here. And now he’s selling me. I don’t know why.”
“Wow,” said the man. “Hang on. I’ll be back.”
The man returns to the dog’s owner, “I can’t believe you have a talking dog! That’s amazing!”
“Yup, it’s a talking dog, alright,” answers the man, in a bored tone.
“Well, I’ll take him,” he says, handing the man ten dollars. “But I gotta ask. Why are you selling a talking dog?”
The man looks at him impatiently and replies, “Cause he’s a liar. He never even met Hillary Clinton.”
When I work with clients to improve selection or succession planning, I often encounter an inability to spot exceptional talent. There is a general unwillingness to hire those who embody it—usually because it doesn’t come tidily packaged. Instead of a decision-maker saying, “Wow! This is a talking dog! What else matters?” people start to examine the talent rubrics. These rubrics are usually created in some off-site meeting. They use this to evaluate the candidate according to its measures.
Four Reasons People Don’t Hire the Best and Brightest
My experience has taught me there are four reasons for this behavior; the reasons people don’t hire the best and brightest:
- They don’t know what gold looks like, but they know how to evaluate a person against the pre-set metrics. They couldn’t spot a talking dog if it bit them before it spoke.
- Some feel threatened by the idea of hiring someone who might outshine them.
- Status quo talent practices make them feel secure—replete with all the random metrics.
- Star performers can be high maintenance—challenging traditional approaches, insisting on innovation and improvement, killing sacred cows, and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Ordinary people are easier to manage.
I don’t advocate hiring liars, but I challenge clients to avoid establishing arbitrary criteria in their hiring and promoting plans. Too often, decision-makers focus on the wrong things, like subjective standards, experience, or conditions for a given job. These observations force me to question whether most companies would have hired their industry’s equivalent to Steve Jobs.Continuing to hire average performers won't give you a competitive advantage. You have to create an environment where employees do their best work. Read more here: Click To Tweet
Position Yourself For A Competitive Advantage
Steve Jobs was not a model boss or human being, neatly packaged for emulation. According to most accounts, Jobs was neither typical nor particularly likable; but he did display talking-dog characteristics. A college dropout, Steve Jobs launched a startup in his parents’ garage built into the world’s most valuable company. Not always nicely and occasionally not very smart, he was a genius—his imaginative leaps instinctive, unexpected, and magical. His insights came out of the blue, wherever that is. We will remember him as the most outstanding business executive of our era. History will place him in the virtuoso hall of fame, but would your company have hired him?
Continuing to hire average performers won’t position you for a competitive advantage, much less an exceptional edge. You’ll need to do more, especially as we all try to recover from the pandemic. If you want a Steve Jobs or a talking dog, you have to create an environment where they can do their best work. Or you can let your competition hire them—your choice.