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Want to Learn Effective Hiring? Play in a Band

In my younger days I played guitar in a 7-piece jazz-rock band for over 15 years. It wasn’t famous, but it was popular enough to sell a lot of T-shirts at area gigs. We had a lineup of talented musicians, but of all of us, probably the most gifted member was the sax player. He could blow such amazing solos that people on the dance floor would sometimes stop dancing just to listen to him. He was also as good a keyboard player as any of the full-time players we ever had.

But several years into the band, he started suggesting we cover a bunch of classic rock tunes. We did do many of them since they were popular, but after a while we realized why he wanted to learn all these songs; it was so he could sit at the bar and hit on girls while the rest of us were still on stage, and still take home his full cut of the pay.

This is what working musicians call not cool.

Not only that, but no amount of pleading would get him to play second keyboard parts so we could fatten out arrangements. Rather than haul his keyboard gear around, he just wanted to toss his gig bag and two horn cases in and out of the car and be done.

This was also other than cool (especially with the drummer).

If he had ever auditioned for professional spots in a touring band, I’d bet he could have picked from many offers. But I don’t believe he ever bothered. And if he had, I don’t think he would have been successful. It’s not because he’s not a great player; it’s because that just isn’t enough to be successful.

Gigging on the weekends offers a great lesson for those trying to hire the right people in their workweeks. In our hiring of Talent Recruiters to conduct Talent Searches in our quests to win the War for Talent, we’ve come to conceive the challenge of staffing as identifying people who possess a specific set of capabilities. Get the people with these attributes/personalities/competencies/skills, we think, and our organizations become successful. But people who succeed in the real world repeatedly demonstrate that delivering the actual results that we expect from our Talent requires a lot more than possessing a capability. They can demonstrate that they work hard.

A few months I wrote about Napoleon’s genius in several fields. He had an extraordinary native intelligence, to be sure; but in studying his many successes you can’t help but notice that the guy also worked his butt off. While the rest of Europe’s kings were in bed or at parties at 2am, Napoleon was often dictating to his secretaries.

Going back to the musical bent, you might be thinking, “what about Mozart? It all just came naturally to him.” That’s not the way he saw it. (Amadeus is a great movie but it’s historical nonsense.) In a letter responding to a friend who had called his composition style “effortless,” Mozart wrote, “It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, that no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I.”

So when you’re considering how to fill your next open position with a winner, consider the following:

· Don’t start with ticking off what knowledge, skills or abilities the person has to have. Start by listing the three to five valued-added results you want from this position in the next twelve months. In other words, one year after you’ve hired this person, what do you want him/her to have put in your hand, left on your floor when they’ve gone home at night, or moved in your organization’s performance metrics?

· Ask candidates about the results they’ve achieved – similar or not to the ones you’re looking for – and probe to determine whether the circumstances under which they delivered those results are analogous to the position you’re offering.

· If the resume shows the person was promoted, explore how he/she got the promotion. Was it because it was the person’s turn, or did the person earn it by delivering results?

· Ask some or all of these interview questions and probe the heck out of the responses:

o Give me an example of your ability to work hard.

o What’s the hardest you’ve worked in the last three years?

o What kind of hours do you typically work?

o (For professional roles) What work-related books have you read in the last two years?

o (For entry-level roles) How much overtime did you work in the last year? Do you think that’s a lot or a little?

Next time you’re strategizing how to win the Talent War, remember what Stephen King said: “Talent is as common as table salt. What separates the talented from the truly successful is a lot of hard work.” He should know. Not just because he’s one of the most successful authors alive; he used to play guitar in a band.


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