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Forget the Glass Ceiling; It’s Time to Break the Talent Ceiling

Despite the grand talk about talent acquisition being the most important thing a company can do, I contend that companies actually set up policies that prevent them from hiring great people.

CAUTION: you should not read this post if you are an advocate of behavioral interviewing, competency models, assessment tests, compensation bands, hiring based on cultural fit, and the use of traditional skills- and experience-laden job descriptions.

Spoiler alert: I am about to demonstrate how these tools and techniques filter out the best people before they’re even considered. This essentially puts a lid on the quality of people a company hires. Despite this huge problem, it’s important to note that these tools have some value, specifically:

  • One: these traditional hiring tools can minimize hiring mistakes attributed to superficial interviewing, the impact of first impressions and similar biases, and an over reliance on gut feelings and intuitive judgments.
  • Two: they help increase efficiency by screening out the candidates who shouldn't have applied.
  • Three: they ensure your company will continue to hire people like it’s always hired.

Now, if you’ve always hired great people, including plenty of fast-track and high potential folks, all types of diversity and non-traditional candidates, and the best returning military veterans, it’s okay to continue to use these tools without modification. However, if you want to hire a different class of top performers, especially those who will raise the current talent level of your organization, you’ll need to break through your current talent ceiling. Here’s how to get started.

How to Break Through the Talent Ceiling

  • Stop the cloning. Managers always hire in their own image. Everyone wants to hire people who are likeable and fit the culture. Consider the idea that the manager’s image might not be the gold standard, or that it might be worth hiring people who can improve the culture.
  • Stop hiring for the short term. Managers need to get things done right away. That’s one reason they emphasize depth of skills and heavy industry experience as prerequisites for all of their new hires. Unfortunately, the best people make job decisions for the long term, and in the short term they want stretch jobs, not identical jobs.
  • Stop the use of traditional behavioral interviewing, Every candidate can give examples of when they’ve applied any generic behavior, e.g., results-oriented, teamwork and technical competency, to some business outcome. Unfortunately, these behaviors are not easily transferable and it takes multiple behaviors to accomplish any major task. That’s why it’s better to get examples of the person's major accomplishments and compare them to the actual job requirements. This way, the most important job-related behaviors will stand out.
  • Stop giving assessment tests before the person has agreed to become a candidate. These tests have some predictive value, but if the best people refuse to take them, they have no practical value.
  • Stop the use of traditional job descriptions to screen candidates. The best people (including all types of diversity candidates) either have a different mix of skills and experiences, or less than what’s listed on the traditional job description. Doing more with less is why they’re the best people, and being different is part of the definition of diversity. Why would you want to screen these people out? The use of performance-based job descriptions eliminates this problem by filtering candidates based on what they’ve accomplished.
  • Stop the use of competency models. You’ll continue to hire people just like you’ve always hired if the people doing the hiring are using themselves as the benchmark for having the right competencies. To break this limiter, convert the competency into a performance objective. For example, team skills for an accountant might be “collaborate with department heads in negotiating annual budgets,” and for a sales manager it might be, “train and coach all team members to meet their key monthly sales objectives.”
  • Stop screening people on compensation. Sometimes the best people don’t fit the standard comp ranges. More important, when a job offers a true career move, the compensation package is negotiable. Also recognize that the best people get promoted faster, have less experience than their peers and many make more money. So, rather than filter on compensation, start with a career discussion. You may have to pay more or adjust the job to better fit the person, but that’s how the talent ceiling can be broken.
  • Stop using a transactional hiring model. Companies that checkbox skills, experience and compensation before having any type of career discussion are destined to hire people like they’ve always hired. To hire the best people, organizations need to design their hiring process around how these people collect information and make career decisions. Most important: it’s a slower process spread over weeks, not a hurried transaction completed in a few hours.

Bottom line: in order to hire stronger people, you’ll need to think out of the box. But consider that the box you’re in now was built with the wrong tools.

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