How Good Do You Have to Be to Hire Good People?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On January 30, 2017

How-Good-Do-You-Have-to-Be-to-Hire-Good-PeopleOne of the main tenets of The Rockefeller Habits focuses on hiring good people. Verne Harnish talks a lot about “Getting the Right People on the Bus” (Something I tend to talk a lot about as well!). What does it take to get the right people on your business bus? A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, however, looked at the correlation between the actual skills of those doing the hiring and the level (and happiness) of the people they hire. How good do you have to be to hire good people?

You can read the whole Harvard Business Review article, but here is a key nugget from that posting:

Although we found that many factors can matter for happiness at work – type of occupation, level of education, tenure, and industry are also significant, for instance – they don’t even come close to mattering as much as the boss’s technical competence. Moreover, we saw that when employees stayed in the same job but got a new boss, if the new boss was technically competent, the employees’ job satisfaction subsequently rose.

It would appear that the old adage of “Do as I say, not as I do,” falls just as flat in the business world as it does in the rest of life. That raises some significant questions, however. If you run a medical business, do you have to be a skilled physician? If you’re the head of a software development company, do you need to be a killer coder?

Some leaders would say, “I hire good people to do what I can’t do.” We’ve probably all known successful companies in which the leadership wasn’t necessarily technically proficient. What’s really behind what the Harvard Business Review (HBR) study discovered? Two things come to mind.

First of all, the HBR study focused more on supervisors and managers. Employees were happier when their direct supervisors had the same kinds of skills that they were expected to use. Using our software company example again, whoever is supervising the coders should really know the ins and outs of coding. They need to set parameters and expectations that are realistic.

Second, top management needs to respect and (at least to a degree) understand the skills involved. You may not need to know how to code, but you need to understand the basics, and the unique challenges of what employees are facing. It will keep you from making unrealistic projections and demands. That may require a bit of education on your part. But it can pay dividends. It will help you hire the right people (Quality workers prefer working for people who understand and appreciate what they do). It will also help you keep quality employees (happy employees tend to stick around).

How good to you have to be to hire good people? You may not have to be the best there is at what you want them to do, but you need to understand and respect what they do—and reflect that in the way you treat them.

I’d love to know what you think.