Why is it so hard for us to hire top performers?
It seems like hiring top performers has gotten almost impossibly challenging. No doubt, the furious pace of global business is a big contributor, with demand for top performers climbing all of the time.
But the truth is that hiring top performers has always been one of HR’s most difficult challenges. It’s something I struggled with when I began my own career over three decades ago.
When the difficulty of hiring top performers first came up in my career, I made a list of possible reasons:
- Headhunters aren’t doing their job.
- Organizations can’t offer enough money.
- Role descriptions aren’t accurate.
- Role/industry/company image/location aren’t attractive.
- Ego issues (on both sides)
- “Old school” hiring practices
While these were good hunches, I knew that I needed to check with the field. As I was lucky enough to have working relationships with many of the top HR industry leaders, I asked them why they thought hiring top performer was so challenging. After analyzing all of their answers, I boiled them down to four main points:
1. Incompetent headhunters
2. Differences in compensation expectations
3. Inflated egos making unrealistic demands
4. Unattractiveness of industry/organization/location
This was from the HR perspective, but what about the top performers themselves? Again, as I had access to many top performers (I had “raised” most of them), I asked them the same question from their perspective: Why did you turn down your latest job offer?
This time, I received a much wider range of answers, but here are the top four (in descending order):
1. Organizational culture
2. Intraorganizational mobility
3. Compensation package
4. Hiring process
When I analyzed the data, I was surprised to see that compensation was listed as third. According to the HR professionals, they were missing out on top performers because of money. But according to the performers themselves, this clearly wasn’t the case. The number one reason was organizational culture. What was I missing?
To answer this, I needed to somehow bridge the perspectives of HR and the top performers themselves.
So I went back to the top performers to ask them what they think organizations see as their biggest challenge in hiring them. I got three answers:
- Incompetent headhunters
- Compensation demands
- Top performer’s ego
Clearly, the top performers were able to put themselves in the shoes of the organization - so much that unless the organizations were told that their culture was the number one culprit, recruiting top performers would remain elusive forever.
So it was now time to focus on organizational culture. As it’s such a catch-all term, I returned to the top performers to ask what they meant by organizational culture.
From their responses, their understanding of organizational culture seemed to center on how much a top performer can develop and advance within an organization. To gauge this, they’ll ask themselves some of the following questions:
- Is the organization open enough so that new performers can really learn how it operates?
- How transparent is the organization in terms of employee promotion and turnover?
- Is leadership development a priority?
- Are there sufficient resources for this?
Following this, I understood that many organizations, when attempting to attract top performers, were making the mistake of prioritizing money over an open organizational culture that encouraged top performer growth and advancement. This, of course, with work, can be changed.
From my perspective, every organization has the potential to hire top performers. They just need to make the choice to develop this potential.
What are your thoughts on the challenges of hiring top performers? I’d love to hear your ideas.
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