Getting the Right People on Your Bus

Business.com / Hiring / Last Modified: August 21, 2017
Photo credit: Pandora Studios/Shutterstock

Getting the right people on the bus is crucial to success. Medical device maker Stryker developed systems for talent acquisition over a 30-year run of 20 percent annual growth. Learning about three key elements of those powerful systems may make you rethink your hiring process.

Perhaps no activity has greater bearing on the long-term viability of a business than the recruitment, selection and hiring of people who join the team. Medical device maker Stryker achieved an unprecedented string of 28 consecutive years of 20 percent earnings growth (1977-2005) during which it became highly proficient at getting the right people on its bus. 

Over nearly three decades, Stryker added tens of thousands of employees and evolved powerful methodologies to optimize selection and recruitment. Many advancements came through an extensive working partnership with the Gallup organization. Along the way, Stryker learned many do's and don'ts. I was the VP, general manager of one of the company's fastest growing businesses during this evolution and that experience supports me in taking you on a deep dive into three of the most cogent lessons.

Look for those who make an impact

It is crucial to understand the needs of each open position, but a great hire is more than someone whose resume checks all the boxes. Resumes and curriculum vitaes often catalog work experience, education, skills, etc., but you are looking for people who not only filled particular positions but also achieved something notable in each role. 

The cost accounting candidate who has previous experience with the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system your firm uses has a CPA license and worked in cost accounting for two previous firms may seem a great match for your requirements. But you want the candidate that did not just work with the ERP system. You want the one that capitalized on the ERP's technology to significantly improve cost visibility for important projects. You want the cost accountant that was promoted three times because of noteworthy efforts instrumental to the success of project A, B and C.

High-impact players are typically people that achieve something of note in every significant activity of their lives. We began to look for these telltales in the resumes and CVs, and the quality of candidates brought in for interviews significantly improved. We also began to place greater emphasis on activities outside of work and, for recruits out of colleges, things outside of coursework and GPA. The varsity athlete with a 3.0 who juggled the requirements of training and coursework might be preferred over the 4.0 student who had no outside activities. Success in looking for achievements and considering more of the whole person led to the next breakthrough in the process.

Profile your candidates

As you are hiring, screening and conducting extensive interviews are valuable, but they do not tell all. Few interviewers can discern prospective candidates' innate talents, let alone their fit for the organization during a short conversation. Checking references has become encumbered by legal restrictions. A dependable methodology that helps you understand a candidate's innate talents and helps discern their psychological "fit" with the organization and the team of which they will be a part can be a powerful tool.

In seeking such a method, one Stryker group struck gold. They discovered that using tools developed by Gallup greatly helped define a prospective sales candidate's strengths and weaknesses. These statistically validated psychological assessments completed by Gallup's trained analysts during rigorous phone interviews also greatly increased accuracy in assessing the fit for Stryker's environment. When this team began looking for sales candidates whose strength profiles were congruent with those of other top sales performers, it was a game changer. The highly congruent candidates more often than not became top performers.

The positive experience with sales candidate selection was the tip of the spear for Stryker's use of hiring profiles. We expanded it rapidly due to the astounding success. Teams that developed and applied the profile-based approach to engineers, accountants, buyer/planners and other roles saw an immediate impact. Gallup's rigorous adherence to statistical principals dovetailed well with Stryker's results-based culture. Those who wholeheartedly embraced this new approach saw their teams become stronger with every new hire. The key lesson is that developing a valid method to assess the innate talents of a candidate and the likelihood that the candidate will fit into the environment is transformational.

Talent often trumps experience

Once you have a reliable way to assess talent, it is absolutely crucial to weigh both innate talent and experience in the selection process. In the long run, we found it almost universally true that a candidate's personality makeup and fit for the organization had a greater influence on their success than their prior experience. 

We also found that the definition of the "long run" was highly dependent on the nature of the position. For example, with sales people talent ruled, and the long run was as short as six to nine months. At the extreme, the sales candidate highly experienced in the target market that lacked essential talents would quickly be eclipsed by the more talented salesperson who had no experience selling in the market.

For more technical positions, such as engineering, accounting, etc., the experience factor weighed more heavily. With R&D engineers, particular experiences would often account for years of advantage over a more talented, but less seasoned engineer. Nonetheless, the gap would constantly close. After 10 years, the more talented engineer would likely be outperforming the previously more experienced one. Certainly, the best choice was always experience and talent, but such opportunities were often hard to come by.

Thirty years of extraordinary results

These were three of the most important lessons learned at Stryker during its nearly 30-year run of growing 20 percent per year. Putting the right people into the right seats on the organizational bus is an absolutely crucial element to long-term success.

When you are in the hiring mode, value achievements. You want people that did much more than simply fill a seat. Develop a reliable methodology to assess talent and "fit" to the organization and team. Once you can more accurately assess talent, make the best tradeoffs between talent and experience when filling each position. 

Talented people can generally climb a learning curve much more quickly than many expect. These were three of the most powerful lessons learned during our three decades' run. Applying them can be instrumental in driving your business to achieve extraordinary results.

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