Hiring the best people


I’ve worked in retail and in Corporate America. Over those many years I’ve hired a lot of people. I tried very hard at hiring the best people. It’s not easy. But, I think I managed a pretty good track record. All it takes is following some pretty basic rules.

Admittedly, when I was a young man and experience was in short supply, there would be times I might miss key signals about a potential employee. Still, even then, I managed to hire some pretty solid employees.

Over the years, I learned some really helpful lessons about hiring:

– You’re not always going to get along with the people you hire

– You’re not always going to hire the best looking people

– It always helps to hire people smarter than you are

Now, you could make a case that only point two is obvious. The other two seem counter-intuitive. And to some extent, they are. But not if you look at them more closely.

First, not getting along with someone doesn’t mean you dislike them or even have problems working with them. It could be as simple as they are constantly challenging you.

This can potentially make you a better manager. A contrasting point of view helps you see sides of a decision you may not have recognized yet. And, you still have the benefit of simply saying, “Thanks, but we’ll do it my way.”

Second, obviously, is the old “don’t judge a book” adage. One of my best workers during my Toys R Us assistant manager days was an odd-looking guy, gangly, with a scruffy, thin beard. He talked funny, too. But he worked harder than any other employee and he never complained.

Third, one of the best things you can do is to hire really bright people. People who will do their work professionally and efficiently. This will only make you, as manager, look better. And, if you share the credit for their work instead of “owning it” (see: Dilbert’s Pointy-Haired Boss), you will motivate those employees to provide even better work in the future.

It took me a while to get these lessons down. Probably around my mid 30’s. But, I learned. And to my benefit as a manager (and a person).

There are always pressures to fight off; things that can move you from hiring the best people. For example, in my last job, I was looking for someone to run one of my sub-departments. My boss at the time reflected a lot of VP’s views that a hiring pre-requisite should be a female form and figure appealing to the eye.

Now, despite some rumors to the contrary, I enjoy the female form as much as any red-blooded heterosexual. But, you know what I enjoy even more than pretty females at work? Going home on time from work.

So, I focused on my real task: hiring the best people. I ultimately settled on a mid-50’s woman of mature looks. It was perhaps my best-ever hire. She had a calming influence on a department that had mostly younger people and she lasted well after I left the company.

I received some ribbing for hiring her over the lone competing candidate, whose skill set was not as sharp as her looks. But I was able to go home from work on time far more often than other managers, so I think I won that deal.

Hiring the best people is not an exact science, though. No person is going to pick the right person every time. Here’s another example from my past to illustrate that.

Remember the Toys R Us employee I mentioned earlier. One day, I came in and noticed he wasn’t at work. Since he was so reliable, I checked in with my other assistant managers. Turns out, he had been arrested for something related to child crime.

I never got the full story (I’m not sure I would want to know). But, even though he was a little weird, no one, even the co-workers who didn’t like him, thought in those terms. In that case, I hired the best worker, just not the best person.

Looking at the sad joke that is this administration’s employment record, I can see immediately why Trump has so much problem fulfilling his vow of “hiring the best people”.

– He absolutely has no patience for hiring anyone who might challenge him, let alone that he might not get along with

– He definitely only wants people who look good – specifically, in front of a TV camera

– His insecurities won’t allow him to retain people who are smarter than him, for fear of the public comparisons

So, you get a revolving door of personnel that would be even longer if not for the fact he would have to fire just about everyone he has hired!

Still within his employ are several cabinet members who use the government as their personal credit card (drain the swamp, my butt). He has had to dismiss accused abusers, foreign agents, ethical transgressors and other blemishes that range from crime to simple stupidity.

Yes, as I know too well, once in a while a bad apple falls into the basket, but with Trump’s hires, it’s the entire bushel.

The current sacrificial lamb, Ronny Jackson, is now suffering the public humiliation that goes with being a Trump appointee. There is no vetting of the candidate to check for roadblocks. No coaching on how to respond to questions from Congress or the press. There is no unwavering support (“we’ll see how it goes”).

Hiring the best people only requires some simple rules and a practical review process. Every company in America knows that. Just not the current president.

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