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Rejects or stars?

by Miki Saxon

A manager and I had an email discussion today that I thought would interest many of you. It started with a reference to a Gallup poll stating that ““Engaged performance” occurs when employees feel ownership of their jobs and invest themselves fully in their work and career.” (It also says that only 27% consider themselves engaged.)

He went on to say that one of the speakers at a networking event he attended yesterday said that “most successful companies (in the long term) retain and grow their human resource base from within the company, which insures engagement.” The speaker went on to intimate that when a company fulfills it’s human resource needs by hiring from the outside, in most cases, it’s picking up the “rejects” from other companies.”

That’s when I went through the ceiling. Of all the totally wrong-headed attitudes I’ve heard on the subject of hiring, there is only one that is comparable and, in fact, they go hand in hand. During every recession through which I worked as a headhunter, I’ve heard variations on the theme that the only employees worth hiring were the ones who were still working. Even when companies had cut 50% of their workforce and were still cutting, if you were laid off you were “dead wood.” My blood still boils when I remember the excellent people who were completely trashed by that attitude.

I do agree that growing people from within is good company policy, however, there are excellent reasons why a company would hire at levels other than entry.

First, I defy any company to grow from $X to $Y and not hire from the outside—it’s a given part of growth. For example, most startups and high-growth companies have neither the diversification, nor the depth, of talent needed when growth kicks in, so they hire at all levels. Next, hiring only at entry level and promoting only from within can create a hidebound culture steeped in a not-invented-here mentality, not only for products, but for processes—as happened at both IBM and HP.

But the major reason for my vehemence is that most people work to the quality of their managers—they don’t shine because they aren’t engaged! The saying is that 10% are “stars,” well, good luck trying to run a company on just 10% of the workforce, however, give people good managers and they can all be stars.

Finally, in addition to poor management, people change jobs for many reasons,

  • the company lays off 5-10/20/30+% of it’s workforce;
  • their manager or best friend leaves;
  • they’re in the wrong culture or it changes due to executive turnover or acquisition; or
  • they’re ready to grow, but there are no opportunities.

There are dozens of other reasons (think about your own experience), but the both the reject and the dead wood attitudes are way out of line.

Whoops, I didn’t mean to rant, but I do tend to go a bit berserk when work quality is laid completely at the door of workers with no responsibility on the managers.

Just a note: my correspondent is very pleased that in his company (my client) responsibility is placed at the door of managers, where he, too, believes it belongs; and that he works hard (successfully, I might add) to keep his people engaged.

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