The Accidental Hiring Manager

You’ve been promoted from an individual contributor within a team to a managerial role. There are many skill sets, toolsets, and mindsets you’ll have to learn and make your own. One of the most critical of all will be how you find, select, and nurture members of your team. Your team is either essential to your success or the reason for failure. 

Often your focus as a new manager may be targeted at becoming the “decider in chief” or, on setting a bold vision. Or on taking that creativity and energy you exhibited as a team member and scaling it beyond yourself. You may have accidentally become someone within the organization who is now responsible for not only being a great solo contributor but also building a team that can do things you could never do yourself. 

Warren Bennis, one of the most cited leadership researchers, studied how great groups are formed and go on to change the world. He discovered something subtle but profound in his research for “Organizing Genius,” great groups create great leaders, and great leaders create great groups. You can’t be a leader if nobody wants to follow you or if your mission and vision don’t inspire them to strive. You can’t grow as a leader yourself if you aren’t curious and open about the new directions and superpowers that are a part of your team. 

When you are suddenly in the room as a hiring manager interviewing potential candidates, you are making decisions that will make or break your career. Hireguide conducted a study of hiring managers and found that over 74% of them admitted that they had hired the wrong person in the last year, which could represent between 33% and over 100% of the cost of that person’s salary when it came time to deal with the problem.

The cult of genius

One of the dangers of suddenly becoming a hiring manager is that you’ll believe if you just find people who can think as you do, it’ll all work out. But the insidious nature of that belief is that you fool yourself into thinking that intelligence is fixed or that if you’re smart about one thing you can apply those smarts to any topic. Unfortunately this sort of “fixed mindset” ignores what we now know about both intelligence and how to thrive in business. It can lead to a cult of genius within your organization that leads to a dangerous monoculture of people who think and act just like you do. That may make you feel comfortable as you get your feet on the ground as a new manager, but beware. This thinking can create a psychologically unsafe environment where people are afraid to make mistakes or ask for help and blame themselves for not being smart enough (I guess I’m just not good at X or Y).

If you build a team of people who are experts in just the same way that you are, it can lead to a tragic inability to make wise predictions about where your business is going. James Surowiecki noted in his book, The Wisdom of the Crowds, that groups of experts tend to self-reinforce their own beliefs–creating an echo chamber–and are often the least likely to be able to assess the accuracy of their predictions. So not only do they fool themselves into believing they have all the information they need to make a critical prediction, but once they do, they fool themselves into believing that the prediction is a good one. As a new manager try not to fall into this seductive trap.

We now also know that building a diverse (gender diverse, culturally diverse, cognitively diverse, experientially diverse, chronologically diverse) team drives outsized business success. If you don’t invest in hiring and nurturing your team from the minute you become a manager, you’re leaving money on the table. Monocultures are fine as long as the world is static and you can tune that culture to fit the current situation, but in times of change, hybrid vigor rules the day. 

Celebrate the struggle

When Satya Nadella took over Microsoft he embraced the work of Carol Dweck and the idea of a growth mindset. He reshaped Microsoft to change from a know-it-all culture to a learn-it-all culture and changed the way Microsoft hires, nurtures, promotes, and rewards individuals and teams. Microsoft under Satya’s leadership has now become an almost 2 trillion dollar company and is ranked in the top 5 most valuable organizations in the world. The core ideas behind a growth mindset are that intelligence is not fixed, and getting rewarded for success is far less important than being rewarded and celebrating the struggle. In fact, the struggle to learn new things is when you are growing and learning, we learn by trying out many new and different approaches and when they don’t work we learn why and try again (this ability to try again and again is often summed up as grit). We seek help from others who see the world differently than we do and we aren’t ashamed to ask for help. As a new manager, consider how you can embrace the growth mindset and who you may want to hire onto your team that will bring a different perspective to the table (and a different kind of intelligence).

Always be hiring

While you can set any number of things on autopilot for little bits of time as a new manager (after all there is plenty to do), hiring and being ready to hire, is not one of those things. Don’t leave finding and nurturing people up to luck or happy accidents. Keeping in touch with curious and different people, who have learned different skills and mindsets than your own is something you’ll need to do with some level of effort, all the time. You may not be hiring at this very moment, but nurturing a bench of potential teammates is critical when something changes. The next time you have a chance to go to a different kind of conference than you’re used to or socialize with people that don’t look just like you, make a connection with that person and cultivate it. The next time you hear an amazing talk at a conference that surprises you or forces you to look at things differently, the next time you read a paper or hear about an up-and-coming thinker and doer, make a connection with that person and cultivate it. The next time you meet someone that has skills that fill in your blindspots, make a connection with that person and cultivate it. Don’t ask them for something - be curious about them, and support them on their career journey. Over time you’ll build a rich and diverse set of connections that will be critical when it’s time for you to either backfill or grow. 

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Often, when companies hire for “fit”, it's just another word for discrimination. It may be an unconscious bias that leads you to find people that went to your school, had the same kind of degree that you did, or seemed particularly charismatic and built an instant rapport with you. Beware if you’re not a little uncomfortable. If you’re not hiring to complement your existing team and hiring someone who is exactly like existing team members, you and your team will begin to stagnate. One of Amazon’s leadership principles demands its leaders, be curious, always know there is more to learn, and act on that curiosity.

You weren't made a manager by accident

Remember, someone saw something in you, believed in your skills and potential, and you were chosen with purpose. Embrace the challenge and hire the next generation of individual contributors who could someday stretch your potential, teach you something new, and/or become your next leader.

Hire the best team with Hireguide

With Hireguide you can create custom value propositions for your candidates. You can also reduce bias by leveraging Hireguide’s interview templates. And, learn to be an efficient hiring manager using our tailored content, transcription, and candidate scoring to elevate your interviews. Ready to start? Try us for free today!

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