Are You a Leader or a Follower?

How satisfied are you with all the changes you’ve implemented to improve the hiring process at your company? If you’ve followed all of the latest thinking over the past eight years, you now should be:

  • Using job boards extensively to achieve all of your hiring needs (the promise of 1996)
  • Using the best ATS available, which allows you to easily improve your hiring effectiveness (the promise of 1998-2000)
  • Using a front-end career web portal, which allows you to hire all the passive candidates you’ll ever need (the promise of 1999-2001)
  • Using metrics to manage your hiring process and make it work seamlessly (the promise of 2002 and into the foreseeable future)
  • Following the next new wham-bam system, procedure, technique or promise made by the same people who promised you the above (geez, I hope I’m not in this category)

Geoffrey Moore, in his classic book, Crossing the Chasm (Harper Business, 1991), reveals why we do this. Most people follow, only a few lead. The leaders get good results, the followers don’t. So the message is simple: lead, don’t follow. Moore unveils the six different types of buyers based on when they purchase new technology. They’re quickly summarized below: Innovators: Techie-types who seek out and buy any new thing. Early adopters: Businesspeople who see the benefit of new approaches and how these could positively affect their businesses. Early majority: Practical and conservative businesspeople who are willing to try something new if others have had success. Late majority: Very conservative people who are only willing to try something if it’s been proven to work. Laggards: The extremely nervous who will only buy when they’re forced into it. My sense is that the innovators are a bit too rambunctious. They try new stuff just “because.” The early adopters (Moore says they represent about 20% of the target market) get the most advantage from the new technology. They relate it to their business needs and make it work for them. The early majority tends to use the plain vanilla version of the product after the bugs have been worked out, and they obtain solid but not necessarily outstanding results. This group represents about a third of the market, and is critical for a technology vendor to sell to in order to achieve sustainable growth. (Pardon me for throwing in a marketing strategy idea into this article, but it’s these people who are your biggest problem, because they dilute your efforts once you’ve proven it can work.) The late majority and laggards just follow the trend, and obtain minimal performance improvements. Given this rather brief overview, where do you and your company stand on this buying spectrum? Based on our audits of corporate recruiting departments (this is what we do at my company), most of you feel that you are in the early adopter category, but by the time you make the decision to buy you’ve moved to the early majority?? and by the time the stuff is debugged and running your results are equivalent to the late majority. What’s happening here? How come nothing works as promised, even for the early adopters? Here’s what I think happens:

  1. The original ideas are more promise than substance.
  2. The market and economy changes much faster than expected, and the technology can’t keep up.
  3. The systems are developed by people who don’t know much about recruiting (the stuff is designed to manage data and process average candidates, after all).
  4. Once everyone does it, the effectiveness of the new idea is diluted. This is what I meant by my earlier marketing strategy point. In essence, your recruiting solutions vendors can’t be successful unless everybody does what they suggest. However, if everybody does it, then no one can be successful doing it. Now there’s a real-life, Joseph Heller-like Catch-22.
  5. (I’m not allowed to print my other opinions?? they might be considered in bad taste.)

Actually, all of the product ideas noted above are pretty good (some are even great). But the companies that implemented them early, implemented them well and used them creatively had the most success. For example, great, compelling advertising on job boards can still pull in a few great candidates. An ATS with great filtering and one that’s easy as heck to use (only a few are) can make a recruiter’s life much easier (but not actually easy). A great career website will drive top candidates to your doorstep (and you’ll even hire some, if you have great recruiters). Metrics can work to improve the hiring process?? if you have a hiring process, and if you use metrics to manage that process and not just report on it 30 days later. One thing we’ve all learned is that you can’t use any of this stuff “out of the box.” You need to fine-tune it and push it to its extremes to make it work. Just as in product marketing, you must differentiate your company, job, mission and manager to stand out from the rest. This takes implementation and process improvement to gain the promised benefit of all of the latest technology. Based on this, here are my “Adler Rules” of the day. I suggest you follow them so you won’t get burned the next time you start doing something just because some industry leader says you should, or because everybody else is doing it, or just “because.” (Note: Adler Rules are made by a “semi”-pundit, who changes the rules when they don’t work as stated. Here’s one rule of these rules to follow: Don’t pay any attention to these Adler Rules if the “semi” is ever removed or when I won’t change them.)

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  1. Don’t do what everybody else does unless you want average results. You need to be an early adopter, but be a continuous-improvement early adopter. This way, you’ll get continuing benefits when the followers start doing what you did six months ago.
  2. Try it out first in a controlled pilot environment and prove that it works.
  3. Prepare a Pareto analysis (a pretty chart with fancy colors, listing all of your problems in frequency order) of all of your current problems, and then justify how any new solution would improve these. In fact, you should first try to just improve these, before trying anything else. Then you’ll see why continuous process improvement is the key to hiring the best, not another new-fangled idea.

Here is the typical list of hiring problems that will end up on the Pareto analysis you perform above:

  • Inaccurate interviewing. Hunter and Schmidt indicate that the typical interview is only 7% more accurate than flipping a coin (“The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology”; Psychological Bulletin, 1998). We use the interviewer assessment difference metric to measure this.
  • Lack of job knowledge, causing poor sourcing and weak assessments. Ask everyone on the interviewing team what the person taking the job is required to do to be successful. If you get more than one answer, you have a problem that needs resolving. It means that interviewers are looking for different things. This is probably a pretty good metric?? difference in job understanding. How many of you use this one?
  • Poorly written ads. Ninety-five percent of the ads on the job boards are boring. As Groucho Marx said, “If anyone would apply for this job, you shouldn’t hire him.” (What he actually said was, “I wouldn’t want to join any club that would have me as a member,” but it means the same thing.)
  • Sourcing channels that attract too many of the wrong candidate. Your ads basically say, “Call us if you’re desperate.” Just read a few. Would you apply?
  • Too many weak candidates being sent out for each open requisition, in the hope one will stick. If your sendouts per hire are over four, you’re guilty of this one. By the way, this is my favorite metric, and by managing it correctly all of the other problems noted will be resolved.
  • Weak recruiters who administer, or want to be in HR, or don’t know how to recruit. Just ask them, and then ask their hiring manager clients how good they are.
  • Focusing on managing data. How much time is spent on this versus finding top candidates?
  • Ignoring the needs of the best candidates, who look for, evaluate, and accept jobs using a totally different set of buying conditions than average candidates. Do you know the nine differences, and have you designed them into your systems?

You don’t need metrics to find out if you have any of these problems. If you’re not hiring enough top people, you have these problems. Use metrics to see if you’re solving these problems. Hiring top people is too important to leave to chance. Hiring is not a game. It should be a business practice with rules, steps, procedures, metrics, and enforcement. Why not? It’s supposed to be the most important thing managers and companies do. The problem won’t be solved by buying more snake oil, or by buying into the latest new con. It will be solved by courageous line managers and recruiting executives who will put their necks on the line. They’re the ones who take responsibility, commit the resources to focus on the problem, and fight to change the process. You have all of the tools available to hire top people. Now, it’s time to get to work. It will be hard. Many people won’t agree with you. Others will resist. It will take a long time. You will have doubts. It won’t always work. But that’s what leaders do. They’re brave. They take risks. Leaders make things happen. Followers just hope for them to. (Note: As many of you know, I host two monthly online discussion groups where we explore topics like this in greater depth. One of the discussion groups is exclusively for those in corporate recruiting management where we focus on metrics for recruitment management. The other group is exclusively for third-party recruiting management. Here we discuss everything about managing a recruiting practice. Both groups are sponsored by POWER Hiring,, and ERE. If you’re on the corporate management side you can join by sending me an email at, and for third-party recruiting management the email is I’ll be presenting much of this information at ERE’s ER Expo 2003 West in San Diego in March, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to meet there. This is an event you won’t wan to miss if you want to be on the leading edge of recruitment management. Also, if you’d like a white paper prepared by Fisher & Phillips on why using POWER Hiring’s performance profiles are the best way to both minimize your legal exposure and maximize your hiring effectiveness, send an email to

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


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