Saturday, August 4, 2007

Paradox of 'hiring good people and letting them decide'

How do we build a high performance organization? There are many 'answers' to this question. There has to be many answers (or at least 'attempted answers'), because, this is the core issue in 'management'. Hence, most of the management literature should be dealing with some aspect of this this question ('quest' !) in some way. So we have many approaches/answers. There is one particular approach that I find to be particularly interesting. It is something like this : "Hire good people and empower them to decide what is to be done and how it is to be done". The basic idea here is that in a complex and rapidly changing environment, it the traditional approach of specifying (to each employee) what exactly has to be done is unlikely to work. So it is better to hire good people and let them figure out what needs to be done.

I am not saying that this approach is 'wrong'. My point is that there is a paradox here. In order to hire 'good' people the organization has to use a definition of 'good' (a 'working definition' of what 'good' means in their context - so that it can be used in the hiring process/ as the selection criteria). After all one can't do hiring without some sort of criteria (implicit or explicit). This leads to an interesting situation. This definition of 'good' (implicit or explicit) is colored by the current thinking in the organization. To put it in another way, the criteria for a good hire gets influenced by the organization's (often implicit) understanding of what is to be done, how it is to be done and hence what sort of a person can do it. So the existing limitations (and prescriptions of what is to be done/how it is to be done) gets built into the hiring criteria at least to some extent.

Let us look at the most common example of this situation. Organization 'A' is in trouble. The organization does not have a clear understanding of what is to be done to get out of this situation. So it decides to hire a 'good' CEO and let him/her figure out what needs to be done. However, when the organization chooses a 'good CEO' that choice is colored by the explicit/implicit definition of 'a good CEO' which in turn is limited by the current thinking/consciousness in the organization. This can be addressed to some extent by looking at 'best practices' (what has worked in CEO selection elsewhere in similar situations) and by using external advisers. But this might not always work as the the uniqueness of that particular organization context might get missed out and also because the external advice/best practice information often goes through one level of processing within the organization (when decision making is done by existing people) which in turn brings in the limitations in the current processing/thinking in the organization.

Hence the approach of 'hiring good people and letting them figure out what needs to be done' might not be as simple as it appears to be. Actually, it can not be simple. Otherwise it would have been very easy to build and sustain high performing organizations.

Any comments?

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Anonymous said...

Quite true. Often we forget that as with clothes,one size does not fit all. Thus, the need for a more broad asked judgment. Prabir Jha

Prasad Oommen Kurian said...

Thank you very much Prabir!