Searching On Paved Roads

Seth Godin's blog is a daily source of invaluable nuggets. Take this one, for instance (the emphasis is mine).

When I write about linchpins and people on a mission, I often hear from bosses who ask a variant of, "Any idea how I can find people like that for my business?"

It's unreasonable to expect extraordinary work from someone who isn't trusted to create it.

It's unreasonable to find someone truly talented to switch to your organization when your organization is optimized to hire and keep people who merely want the next job.

It's unreasonable to expect that you'll develop amazing people when you don't give them room to change, grow and fail.

And most of all, it's unreasonable to think you'll find great people if you're spending the minimum amount of time (and money) necessary to find people who are merely good enough.

Building an extraordinary organization takes guts. The guts to trust the team, to treat them with respect and to go to ridiculous lengths to find, keep and nurture people who care enough to make a difference.

What strikes me is that this rumination begins with a common question asked by bosses: "How does one find indispensable employees?" 

I don't doubt that many bosses ask this question. It's an important one. I do doubt that this question is the reason for Seth's insightful response; the reason has to do with how bosses hire. Which is why I wanted Seth to go further. It's not enough to warn against spending "the minimum amount of time and money" in searching for "good enough." What about eschewing standardized recruiting in lieu of a system designed to attract and find these linchpins? What about the numbers game that recruiters play—screening tons of candidates, allowing a sufficient number of acceptable ones to continue, and minimizing the number of people the people doing the hiring have to see, thus saving time and money? I've heard of "good months" being two hires, "great" ones being three. And yet that fills only a small fraction of the vacancies, thus increasing pressure on people doing the work and those trying to hire more to do the work.

It's untenable. And we're not even talking about linchpins; we're talking about "good enough." If building something extraordinary takes guts, can standardized recruiting machines do that? Do extraordinary people fall through the cracks because the bosses who want "great people" are nowhere near the process until the end? 

The pressures inherent in running a business require us to rely on common credentials, accolades, and references—say, getting a Juris Doctor from a top-25 law school and being on law review. Doing so, in theory, saves time searching for Mr. or Ms. Right. But it also risks overlooking nontraditional candidates, some of which just might be linchpins that will drive extraordinary organizations.