Hiring Business Athletes


My observation is that many businesses overly constrain themselves by being too wedded to hiring people with industry experience. Yes, our businesses are unique – but so is everyone else’s. I would rather hire a quick study who possesses the ethics, drive, and personality that I want vs. the middle-of-the-pack performer who used to work for my competitor.


My observation is that many businesses overly constrain themselves by being too wedded to hiring people with industry experience. Yes, our businesses are unique – but so is everyone else’s. I would rather hire a quick study who possesses the ethics, drive, and personality that I want vs. the middle-of-the-pack performer who used to work for my competitor. But we as leaders, feeling the pressure of an important hire, often revert back to “industry experience” as a security blanket that we hope will guarantee the success of a new hire.

A number of years ago I worked with a great industrial products company whose CEO insisted on hiring salespeople with industry experience. I never saw him hire one salesperson from a competitor who thrived. Yet, inexplicably, his two top salespeople came from outside the industry (way outside – one previously sold alcoholic beverages, the other marketing services). Objectively, the data indicated that hiring the best salespeople, independent of their industry experience, was the best strategy. But itfelt risky, and this CEO kept hoping and praying that his next industry hire would come with a platinum Rolodex. So the company persisted in hiring middle-of-the-pack salespeople from the industry. Meanwhile, the two sales studs from outside the industry carried the entire business.

Contrast this to those of us who have embraced hiring “business athletes.” Andrea Greco is a senior supply chain and operations leader whose career has spanned leadership roles in multi-national corporations and consulting firms. He has proven his ability to lead very complex supply chains, including ones that merge manufacturing, distribution, and service. Andrea embraced a long time ago that hiring people with specific industry experience is less important than hiring great business people regardless of specific industry background. His supply chains are often so complex that such business problem solving skills are non-negotiable. If you have those skills, he and his team are willing to let you learn the unique aspects of the business. As a result, he is always in the market for top supply chain talent regardless of specific industry background.

I do hear this emphasis from other leaders like Andrea – but it still surprises me that I don’t hear it more. Admit it, we like “plug and play” people whom we don’t have to train. And many of us hate making the investment in time and training to teach people our business. Yet the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result. If we are not getting the pay off that we need from the hires we are making from within our industry, then the time has come to recruit the best business talent we can find regardless of its source.

 

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