Alway hire people smarter than yourself

First, a confession. During my long career I have been responsible for firing more people than I have been responsible for hiring. Not only that but during my career I have been responsible for considerable business growth – so how can that be? Growing business and firing people at the same time – it doesn’t make sense.

Admittedly the stats are skewed by 2 significant events – one where I was involved in a company insolvency (so all employees lost their jobs) and the other was a merger where my job was the synergy manager in the merger (synergy = job losses). If I take those 2 events out then I am net positive in terms of hires.

What have I learnt about hiring?

Of course I have made some mistakes. And making a hiring mistake is a trafgic mistake, because you are playing with a person’s career, you are influencing their life. So these are important decisions. The biggest thing I have learnt about hiring is how to hire for the future. Let me explain …

What is my proudest achievement?

Many of the people that I have been responsible for hiring have gone on to senior positions and career growth, many of them eclipsing my own career.

Why am I proud of this?

I know it sounds rather corny to say this but I am passionate about the advancement of humanity. Each single person that I can help advance themselves is a step in the right direction. Please understand I am not taking responsibility for other people’s success, that would be dishonest, they have all deserved their career success through their own actions.

What I am saying is that my contribution to society comes from the many actions that I do daily to help others, but is offset on a daily basis by the actions I take to hinder others. Now the hiring vs firing stat is simply a very raw metric for this and, as I have shown, it may or may not reflect real achievement.

Assuming that it does (for the next 5 minutes) …

Then the simple logic is that in order for the people I hire to contribute more than myself (i.e. a net growth in contribution) I need to hire people who, either:

  1. Have sufficiently well developed skills that they are able to do the job better than me; or
  2. Have the potential to learn fast and, when properly developed, do the job an order of magnitude better.

Now point 1 is a relatively static view of the world – funnily enough it is the view that most people take when hiring – does the person I am interviewing have the skills to do the job today?

Point 2 is my preferred view because it takes into account the future potential of an employee. Although employee tenure in a job overall is reducing it still tends to be measured in years, and the degree of change has accelerated meaning that each and every employee is being hired for a job today that you cannot say (with certainty) they will be doing tomorrow. Makes sense?

The implication is that you are hiring for adapatability to a (yet undefined) future job.

My appraisal of the critical skill needed is the ability to learn … and learn fast.

Whilst this is not necessarily the same as intelligence or smartness I will conveniently re-define the term “smarter” as the ability to learn new things and excel at new things fast.

Consider, for a moment, the opposite approach.

As you hire more and more people who have less adaptibility to change and less ability to excel at new things your overall company will get dumber and dumber, slower and slower, until finally it will grind to a halt!

I believe in the approach “always hire people smarter than yourself”. Do you?


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