We hear a lot about the “War for talent”, but over here at Agile Elephant we are a bit dubious about whether “talent” is always properly understood by those recruiting it. We know from various studies that a motivated, well organised team of “B listers” can beat superstars on a regular basis, as “Moneyball” showed clearly.
This is an interesting piece about Google’s experience of recruiting, and how they have shifted from Old Google recruiting, which has found smart people but not necessarily the best talent. Google’s head of people operations, Laszlo Bock, detailed what the company looks for now. And increasingly, it’s not about credentials. Google has spent years analyzing who succeeds at the company, which has moved away from a focus on GPAs, brand name schools, and interview brain teasers. They have found that the race is not to the one with the strongest CV on paper:
– Graduates of top schools can lack “intellectual humility” – Megan McArdle argued recently that writers procrastinate “because they got too many A’s in English class.” Successful young graduates have been taught to rely on talent, which makes them unable to fail gracefully. Google looks for the ability to step back and embrace other people’s ideas when they’re better. “It’s ‘intellectual humility.’ Without humility, you are unable to learn,” Bock says. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure.” Many schools don’t deliver on what they promise, Bock says, but generate a ton of debt in return for not learning what’s most useful. It’s an “extended adolescence,” he says.
– Learning ability is more important than IQ – Succeeding in academia isn’t always a sign of being able to do a job. Bock has previously said that college can be an “artificial environment” that conditions for one type of thinking. IQ is less valuable than learning on the fly, Bock says. A behavioral interview, in contrast with those that ask people to figure out how many tennis balls fit into a tennis court, might ask how you’ve reacted to a particularly difficult problem in the past. They can also help find people who fit the company’s definition of leadership. It’s not about leading a club at school or an impressive prior title, Bock says, but the ability to step up and lead when it’s necessary.
I must admit, a part of me looks at this and says – “yeah – and?” but its a sign – in my opinion – that the last 15 years or so of recruitment “best practice” are being seen as the chimera they are, having been filled with too much pseudoscience, cod-psychology and arse-covering fear of being seen to make the wrong hire, so the best paper trail proof of “talent” is used as a substitute for judgement. Y Combinator’s Paul Graham recently noted that they have found the top software engineers are not minted at University, a useful predictor is what they were doing with their teenage years – hacking code and building computers is a good sign.
I think 2 things are happening now, both based on hard headed empirical logic:
– Firstly, we are starting to see a return to things everyone actually always knew, but its now OK to say it, think it, and do it again – human factors and judgement matters. This is largely what is going on with Mr Bock in Google
– Secondly, as data becomes digital its easier to measure the end to end effectiveness of employees vs. their attributes, and calculate algorithmically what sort of profiles work best in different companies. Some time ago I wrote about evidence now emerging that when cold analytics are used, it turns out that the most talented employees and managers are not the highly rated superstars.
Social business, in our view, is a blend of the technology and the human insight – so recruitment is, I suggest, not going to be any different. (interestingly, the same thesis comes up when Nate Silver discusses using Big Data analytics – the algorithm is not enough, you need the human insight)