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Old Hiring Foxes vs. The Hedgehogs

You are about to compete for the best people again. The recovery is happening. Labor statistics indicate over 280,000 new jobs were created in the U.S. last May. Is your company's hiring process a competitive weapon-or a ball and chain? If you're not sure, here are some places to look:

1. You abdicate hiring responsibility to an HR person or executive recruiter. That's their job, right? Wrong. The job of HR is a support and advisory role. The role of a recruiter is to help you build a stronger pipeline of available candidates and advise you on key hires. For key positions, take a proactive role and implement a recruiting and interviewing process.

One software client of mine once relied on HR to design their job descriptions. For years, they attracted people with the right education and skills for open positions. The bad news is that the job description did not help a hiring executive assess a person's behaviors or cultural fit for that division. Two Directors who were hired under the old model were demoted after much customer uproar about missed deadlines on product launches.

2. You think lunch appointments and golf outings are great settings to conduct interviews. How much do you spend time wooing high-flying producers this way, yet cannot seem to get any decision from the interviewee? Listen for the much-dreaded response: "I'll think about it (which is a polite, wimpy way of saying no)."

3. You become attached to specific candidate(s). Do you ever hear yourself saying things like, "she would really do well in our culture?we go to the same church?I have a good feeling about her?" You lose commitment to hiring the best person, and get attached to a personality.

4. You confuse selling with interviewing. I recently heard the VP of a mortgage company tell me, "we want to build our candidate pipeline, get them in here for a meeting, and pitch them on our company." If you have to waste 2 hours "pitching" somebody to come work for you, what kind of loyalty and credibility are you fostering? How likely will they see through that inauthentic gamesmanship? Pretty likely.

5. When someone asks, "what makes your company an exciting place to work?" you draw a blank or start pitching. This may indicate that your company does not know its uniqueness-or, as Jim Collins calls it, your "hedgehog." In Good To Great, he describes how enduring companies are extremely clear about three things: what they are deeply passionate about, what fuels their economic engine, and what they can be best in the world at. If your company is facing this situation, how can you expect your future employees to be intrigued by what you offer?

Collins applauds GE's "process hedgehog." Their model is: build the greatest management development system (their passion), profit per unit of top executive talent (their economic engine), and developing the best general management talent (they are best in the world at it). Collins says "this basic hedgehog has driven their economic flywheel since 1910."

In my interviews and analysis of over 50 CEOs last year, I discovered that scattered, fox-like hiring behaviors truly separate the average companies from the superstars. I assert that in today's global economy, our only remaining competitive differentiators are our people, our innovations, and our hedgehog. How will your company secure solid ground in at least one these areas?

In our next ezine article, I'll present some fundamental hiring tune-ups every company needs to consider. As the Greek parable says: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

Lisa Nirell is President of Nirell & Associates in Del Mar, CA. She helps culturally creative leaders who want to attract and retain employees in order to sustain profitable growth.

Lisa recently completed a 10-month study of top performing services CEOs. For a free subscription to the monthly NirellNews ezine and a Special Report on this study, call 858-481-8787, visit, or email

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