Many of us are going through growth spurts now, and many of us are hiring recruiters as well as new teams into work-from-anywhere roles or into new geographies. This is great. Scaling up is generally fun — we’re changing lives.

But it doesn’t come without risk.

I want to talk about how we can mitigate three major risks as we scale up.

  1. New people hiring new people. 
  2. Same people hiring same people. 
  3. Same people hiring new people. 

New people hiring new people

One of the greatest risks to an organization’s culture can sneak up on us. I was training an executive team from a fast-growing startup and many of them had been with the company for only three to six months. I asked how many of them began actively recruiting for new roles within their first few weeks on the job. About two-thirds of them raised their hands. 

It turned out that they were hiring mostly directors and managers, who would also start to interview and recruit new people within their first few weeks, too, as this company’s hiring goals were aggressive. Every people manager had open reqs. 

Overall, more than 30 new hiring managers were hired and asked to prioritize hiring as part of their goals for their first 90 days. Not unusual but, wow, what a risk to culture, right? These new hiring managers weren’t acclimated to the culture yet. They were still unknowns themselves: Were they high performers and did they have appropriately high hiring standards?

What happens if one of those new people managers hasn’t been calibrated on what good looks like before they start recruiting, interviewing, and selecting new talent? What happens if new hiring managers bring their own ideas about hiring risks and trade-offs and end up hiring people who may not demonstrate the key capabilities — like adaptability or learning agility — needed to thrive in a startup environment? What if they lack the key competencies, like collaboration and influence, needed to succeed in a heavily matrixed larger organization? And then layer in biases. What’s the impact if their affinity biases and pedigree biases drive most of their decision-making? How does it impact a company’s diversity goals if new hiring managers focus on very narrow profiles and don’t fully understand and embrace the company’s commitment to widening the aperture

To mitigate the risks that can come with new people hiring new people, consider the following steps: 

  • Define and align your hiring teams early on what good looks like. Don’t just teach people the basics of behavioral interviewing 101, biases, legal dos and don’ts, and some basic process. As Talent Advisors, we should ensure that all new hiring managers get into our company-specific interviewing, selection, and diversity training before they start to hire for their own teams. They need to calibrate with our hiring standards, our hiring principles, our diversity focus. Many of the large tech companies require training — even for very experienced hiring managers — before they’re set loose with open reqs and start to scale up their teams. (I shared more about this idea in my earlier License to Hire post.)

  • Some companies put inspection and accountability mechanisms in place. For example, when I was at Amazon in its early years as the head of tech recruiting, I built and led, along with the CIO and VP of engineering, our Bar Raisers program that placed a trusted interviewer — with veto power — into every interview team. The bar raiser’s job was to ensure that the hiring manager made a quality hiring decision, with a longer-term time horizon, and didn’t succumb to pressure to just get a butt in the seat. The primary reason we implemented this program was to address the risks we experienced in 1999 during a massive dot-com growth period — new people managers hired to build out new teams. Our company’s focus was articulated by Jeff Bezos: “Get Big Fast.” (You can learn more about the history and design of this program in the new book about Amazon’s practices, Working Backwards.)

    • Bar Raisers is not the right approach for everyone. Most companies we work with see the recruiter playing this accountability partner role with the hiring manager. They see recruiters as Talent Advisors who play more than an order taker and observer role in the strategy/candidate profiling and candidate/interview debrief process. Recruiters facilitate the debrief meeting and work hard to prevent making bad hires and missing out on good hires, via influencing skills rather than veto power.

    • You can learn more about the pros and cons of bar raisers and hiring committees in this webinar I delivered. 

  • A simpler approach? Pair up newer hiring managers or interviewers with experienced, well-calibrated, role-model hiring managers and interviewers. Teach your “company way of hiring” by creating opportunities for new managers to observe and share feedback.

Same people hiring the same people

Affinity biases are powerful. Research shows that more than half of an employee’s performance ratings can be explained by the rater’s own biases and idiosyncrasies. In fact, Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School found that the best predictor of your performance rating was how similar your boss thinks you are to them. Managers rate employees who are like them higher. Ugh. Not very performance-oriented and hardly a meritocracy. 

When it comes to hiring, it’s very likely affinity biases play a huge role, as well. To many hiring managers, hiring people who are like themselves just feels “safer.” This leads to the same people hiring the same type of people.

If diversity and inclusion is a priority, this “sameness mindset” is a massive blocker

What can we do?

  • We need to transition our thinking from culture fit to culture add. We need to explicitly — and with a prescriptive tone — communicate that we want talent that isn’t just carbon copies of our existing teams, that we don’t want a monoculture. During our strategy meetings and candidate/interview debrief meetings we — as Talent Advisors — need to make sure we’re not just hiring the same profile. We need to make the case against homogeneity. 

  • We need our business and tech executives — not just HR — talking about the power of diverse teams, the business need to seek team-adds and culture-adds. Ideally, the hiring manager is so onboard with this idea that they are asking, “How can we find talent that will add to our great team now, make us better, bring something to our team that we don’t already have?”

  • We’ve worked with one of our clients to add a “diversity champion” role to their recruiting process. This person, who was nominated for this role because they demonstrated commitment to D&I, partners with the company’s recruiters and hiring managers to ensure a fair, equitable process where culture-add and inclusion are not just “nice to have.” Instead, they are given real weight in the hiring decision. 

Same people hiring new people

I recall leading a focus group with VPs at a client company going through massive business change. Their entire 30-year-old-plus business was being disrupted by the cloud, subscription models, mobile, and changing consumer behaviors. One particular VP was on fire. He was literally pounding on the table as he spoke about the risks he saw if his teams didn’t get the next 100 hires right. 

“We will not transform this company,” he said, “if we don’t change up our talent profiles. We are a global tech company now. We need new talent (profiles) to get us there. I cannot have more of the same. I need this new interview training you’re building for us to serve as a catalyst to help my tenured (1.0) hiring leaders feel connected to these new profiles, to champion this work to hire more 2.0 people, to get the challenger mindset into our culture, as we need different thinking and innovation at every level in our company.”

He recognized the incredible change management challenges ahead. How do we get existing, tenured people — many of whom all came from the same industry, the same companies, with the same ideas around what good talent looks like, who have been rewarded for hiring this great talent for their whole lives at this company — to now focus on completely different profiles? How do we get them comfortable hiring for a challenger mindset when, up until this point, they have viewed that kind of personality as a “bad culture fit”? How do we bring the innovation and new ways of thinking into the company via new hires when the very people tasked with this important work — middle managers, who do the bulk of interviewing and hiring in a company — may not represent this new 2.0 profile themselves, or may be risk averse? 

How can we as Talent Advisors help?

  • Training is a start: interviewing, selection, diversity, leadership training. But most of our training needs to be way more prescriptive and innovative — it can’t just be basic, 101 training that reinforces the old ways. It’s key that senior business leaders who are driving company transformations are present, explaining the why behind this major shift in profiles, making it safe to hire differently, removing the rewards for playing it safe. 

  • Our recruiters need to be true Talent Advisors. We need to help our hiring managers rethink target candidate profiles, job descriptions, target companies. We need to come to strategy and kickoff meetings with 1) the ability to articulate the business reason — the why — for changing up our profiles; 2) strong internal and external insights to get teams targeting new companies, new schools, and new profiles; and 3) real-world success stories from other hiring managers at the company that make hiring different feel normal, safe, rewarded. We need to show 2.0 hires who are true adds to the culture, the team, and the business. And if we’re presenting 2.0 candidates, we need to make sure we’re “selling” the candidate appropriately, not just sending resumes or LinkedIn profiles without any context or without connecting the dots to show the hiring manager how this candidate aligns with our new business focus and goals. 

  • We need to ensure we adapt our core competency model (attributes, behaviors, values) to the needs of new profiles. This may include adding new competencies like innovation and challenger mindset, so they 1) become part of “what good looks like,” 2) get assigned as focus areas during interviews, and 3) get proper weighting in candidate feedback/interviewing hiring decision meetings

    • You’ll need to coordinate this work with your partners in learning and development as well as organizational development.

    • You’ll want to reconcile how collaboration and challenger mindset coexist in the same competency model. Many interviewers may see a candidate who challenges traditional thinking, who pushes on their assumptions, and who approaches problems differently as a bad “fit” or as not very collaborative or too edgy of a communicator.

We are all in the change management business

My team and I have trained over 10,000 hiring managers and interviewers from more than 30 countries and, over the past 15 years, we’ve learned that our jobs go well beyond teaching interviewing skills. We are driving alignment, gaining commitment to new profiles, engaging hiring managers to champion diversity, improving candidate experience, and helping these managers to hire, in partnership with their recruiters, the right talent to drive real business outcomes. 

As you think about your role in coaching and training hiring managers, you need to know you’re in the change management business too. Training is just a means to an end. You are actually shaping culture, mitigating risks, and giving talented people new opportunities. You are transforming your company to its 2.0 with every hire you recruit.

I hope this article helps you identify and mitigate risks and leverage opportunities to transform your company. And maybe, just maybe, help you justify the investments you’re asking your organization to make in competency work, job description updates, alignment work, and training.

John Vlastelica is a former corporate recruiting leader turned consultant. He and his team at Recruiting Toolbox are hired by world-class companies to help raise the bar on who they hire and how they hire. If you’re seeking more best practices, check out the free resources for recruiters at TalentAdvisor.com and for recruiting leaders at RecruitingLeadership.com.

*Photo by Joanjo Pavon on Unsplash

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