What do your hiring decisions say about you as a leader?

Key Points

  • At a Schwab event, Dr. Suzanne Peterson, associate professor at Thunderbird School of Global Management, talked about hiring as a strategic and symbolic act: "Who you choose to hire, not hire, and promote speaks volumes about what results are valued and what behavior is tolerated to attain results."

  • Gain a fresh perspective on talent strategy and how it can be a reflection of your leadership and your firm.

Suzanne Peterson, PhD Associate Professor of Leadership, Arizona State University and Managing Director, CRA, Inc.

Q: You are known for your perspectives on what contributes to admired leadership. Can you talk a bit about how that plays a role in finding the right people?

A: Admired leaders simply think and act differently than most when it comes to recruiting. They are less interested in evaluating an employee's track record, skill set, and knowledge base and more interested in assessing their potential to be great over time. They use every hiring opportunity as a chance to add a uniquely talented and high-potential team member to their ranks. Recruiting high-potential talent is a strategy for arming the organization to perform at the next level.

Q: You've spoken about hiring being a strategic and symbolic act. What do you mean by that?

A: Who you choose to hire, not hire, and promote speaks volumes about what behaviors are rewarded on your team, what type of results are valued, and what behavior is tolerated in order to attain those results. The symbolic message is very clear: You can communicate constantly by saying who you are, but how you recruit shows it.

Q: Can you give us a few traps organizations fall into when assessing candidates?

A: The biggest problem is the desire to assess cultural fit first and foremost. While fit is certainly crucial to the ultimate hiring decision, we caution leaders to avoid putting too much emphasis on fit until later in a candidate’s interview process. The other issue is that we tend to be easily swayed by certifications and an impressive pedigree, skillset, and track record. The truth is that we know very little about the environment of a person with a great track record or what skills on paper will turn into in terms of their ability to perform. Our recommendation is to find ways for candidates to show you they are skillful rather than to tell you they are skillful. We also place a lot of weight on judgment exercises to determine if they will make good decisions when they need to. And certainly we believe that cultural fit is important, too. We just ask leaders to try to avoid assessing fit until they know if the candidate is skillful, has good judgment, and is talented.

Q: Any tips on identifying potential?

A: We think there are nine ways to assess true talent. Without getting into all of our predictors, I’ll give you one: We believe it is important to look for candidates who demonstrate excellence in two disparate areas. We believe that people who are excellent at more than one thing are showing markers of being more talented. For instance, if you are interviewing someone who not only appears to be good at their job but who is also an elite dancer, or who had the fastest marathon time, you might have a person who can show excellence in yet another area—namely one that is important to you.

To learn more about Dr. Peterson's work on leadership, you may visit CRA, Inc.

If you're thinking about becoming an independent advisor, consider a custodian who invests in your success. Contact us to learn more about the benefits of a custodial relationship with Schwab.