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Do you recruit for skills or values?

If my experience is anything to go by then skills will be the top answer. Why? Often, I suspect, because skills and knowledge are far easier to measure than values and behaviours.

Years ago an old colleague of mine coined the phrase “oven ready recruitment”. It is one I still use today. It perfectly describes how many line managers approach hiring. They see an empty chair and a desk covered in work and they just want a body to fill the former and deal with the latter.

The brief to the recruiter will be straightforward and precise. I need these skills, this experience and ideally that knowledge. To lazy recruiters that is manna from heaven. Faced with 100 CVs to go through it is easy to find the ones with Prince 2, Windows 8.1 or even a CIPD qualification. They’ve either got it or they haven’t.

Chances are the selection process is heavily geared to skills, knowledge and experience too. But beware what you wish for.

You see over the years I have seen too many “superstar hires” turn out to be next year’s performance management case. The problem: their behaviours. You see they turn out to be a nightmare to work with – not just for the manager but their colleagues too.

Skills and knowledge can be trained but values are deep-rooted. And they underpin everything from our behaviours to the decisions we make and the relationships we form.

I had a great conversation recently that really highlights why you have to think broader when hiring. The organisation concerned have far fewer managers now than in 2008. With less opportunity for promotion and just eight tiers from graduate entrants to CEO, even the brightest and best can only achieve a maximum of 7 promotions in a working lifetime within the organisation. Given we’ll all be working to at least 68 that means one promotion every 6-7 years if you are going to get to CEO. Most won’t.

In fact the reality is five would be a real achievement. So that’s a promotion perhaps every 9-10 years on average. How many high-flyers have that sort of patience? Which of course raises the whole question of how many people can you afford to have in the business whose engagement is driven primarily by things like promotion prospects and status? How long before those star hires with the big ambitions get frustrated? A big debate in its own right.

Their solution, which I agree with, is to improve lateral career mobility. Helping people move across divisions and professional functions. However achieving that requires a focus not on deep technical expertise but rather values, behaviours, potential, learning agility and transferable skills. Which is fine in practice until you hit the barrier of the “oven ready” hiring manager.

He or she invariably doesn’t want someone with great potential and transferable skills. They want an immediate impact hire who already knows all about marketing, HR or procurement. That pile of work is calling and the high flyer that has spent the last three years in finance doesn’t have it.

And thereby stands the real challenge of career mobility – and in the long term career management and succession planning. It is about managing the tension between the “here and now” and the long term talent needs of the business.

Great managers need to be creators not consumers of talent. At least that’s my view. Their job is to take raw material and turn potential into capability. So that means balancing their ability to develop talent and deliver results. This has implications for how they are in turn managed and assessed.

For people to have longevity in their careers with an organisation and be worth the investment of all this talent management they need to be culturally aligned. This has big implications for recruitment, where of course it all begins.

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