Hires That Will Transform Your Company

Steven Tyler-PRK-032194You have staffed your team with all the right people: they graduated from top universities, worked at leading companies, stayed at each company the requisite length of time, and exuded intelligence in the interview process. Yet you see other companies with far less surface talent achieving incredible results and outstripping you. Why is this?

The most likely reason your company is failing to progress is that you still hire based on standard interview processes that have been followed for decades. You focus on qualifications only, and ignore focusing on the individual attributes that will help you find superstars, or game changers.

A game changer is a person who thinks outside the box and approaches problems differently from the rest of us. They approach problems with passion, a unique perspective, and their thinking inspires others to build on their ideas.

With game changers on your team you can move from average to an industry leadership position. Good examples are Apple and IBM, which transformed themselves from fading brands into dominant positions by adopting the ideas of leaders who were game changers. Three football teams have had great success this year bringing in game changers. The Seattle Seahawks (Russell Wilson), Washington Redskins (Robert Griffin III), and Indianapolis Colts (Andrew Luck) have seen vast improvements after they drafted rookie quarterbacks who have the unique attributes of game changers.

An example of a game changer in the music industry is Steven Tyler. In his entertaining autobiography he discusses how he approaches the four elements of writing a song: melody, words, chords, and rhythm.

He explains, “You know right away if a song has that magic. It has to have those extremes — the one thing it can’t be is okay. Okay is death.

He adds: “Never mind the melody, never mind the chords — no, no, no. You start with infatuation, obsession, passion, anger, zeal, craze, then take a handful of notes, sew them into a chord structure, create a melody over that, and then come up with words that fit it perfectly.”

His diverse way of thinking is completely different from standard music writers, but as a game changer, his unique perspectives have resulted in incredible successes.

If we analyze the way the majority of companies hire, we see a system that is designed to hire okay performers. We focus solely on the tangibles: the candidate’s job history, education, and interview performance. We ignore the intangibles like diversity of thought, work ethic, intelligence, and common sense.

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As an example, diversity of thought means approaching challenges using varied thought processes based on personal creativity and different life experiences. If you can combine diverse thinking with a strong work ethic, intelligence, and common sense, you have a game changer. The results of game changers can often transform the way we do business.

To hire game changers, you will need to make modifications in the following areas: 

  • The job description. The hiring manager and internal recruiter should schedule an hour meeting at minimum. Focus on listing what the new hire will successfully achieve in the first year before there is any discussion of candidate requirements. Then list minimal technical requirements and the personal attributes needed to be successful. You will likely discover that there is a far wider gamut of backgrounds that fit your position than you did prior to the meeting. The final position description should place more emphasis on what the new hire will do versus just a laundry list of candidate requirements. In fact, make sure you are displaying the minimum requirements so you don’t exclude potential game changers from the candidate pool.
  • Attracting game changers. They didn’t necessarily go to the best universities and score high on interview presence. They are sometimes the quiet person who got big results, and didn’t necessarily look for attention. To find game changers you should build recruiting strategies that focus on meaningful achievements at other companies or universities, and then find out who was responsible for them. Many times you will find a game changer came from a small- or medium-sized company where there were fewer resources available, thus the need for more personal initiative. This part involves hard work as you will need to network with your company’s employees, as well as outside contacts — but if you want to improve company performance you will need to take these steps.
  • Assessing for game changers. Re-examine your standard interview questions and hiring process. Your focus and emphasis should be on assessing for diversity of thought, work ethic, intelligence, and common sense, and not just work experience and technical skills. Sure, the candidate will need to meet minimum technical requirements of the role, but you will also need to focus on the four areas above. First dig into how they approached specific challenges in the past. (Example. “At your last company, describe something that was implemented primarily because of your idea. What was your role and what was the outcome?”) Learn in great detail how they got from point A to Z. What were they specifically responsible for, and how did they approach each situation? Second, present real challenges or problems in the interview and look for their diversity of thought, work ethic, intelligence, and common sense in solving them. Finally, ensure you include diverse thinkers on the interview team. (You may also want to explore assessments that test for these personal attributes, as a supplement.) With an interview process that focuses on assessing for these attributes you have a much greater chance of identifying game changers.
  • Making offers. Game changers are motivated by challenges far more than their peers. Yes, they like to be compensated well. But you know you have a game changer when she has been presented with your challenges, and creatively and passionately digs into solutions — and she doesn’t even work for you! Your best bet is to challenge her and let her know what she will be responsible for achieving when she takes the role. If your challenges are interesting, a game changer will take the bait every time.
  • Keeping game changers. Since their main motivation is creatively and passionately attacking challenges, the manager’s job is to keep them engaged in the long term. This is done by keeping them challenged on an ongoing basis, giving them resources, praising and rewarding, and simply getting out of their way except when needed.

Challenge yourself to move beyond traditional hiring methods, looking only for tangibles — and hire game changers who will bring the intangibles. Redefine how you approach the job description, how you attract and assess candidates, and how you hire and motivate, so you are a destination for game changers. You need them, because they will move the dial forward from average to spectacular. Your alternative is being okay, and as Steven Tyler says, “Okay is Death.”


photo from starpulse

Randall Birkwood is a former director of recruiting at T-Mobile USA, Cisco Systems, and Microsoft Corporation, and HR at Intermec Technologies. While at T-Mobile his organization was listed in an ERE article as a top 10 benchmark firm in recruiting and talent management. He has been an advisory speaker at General Electric and AT&T for VPs and directors of HR, and spoken at a number of conferences in the U.S. and UK. He was the subject of a cover story on the "War For Talent" in Internet World Magazine.


25 Comments on “Hires That Will Transform Your Company

  1. Randall,

    Words of wisdom – and the “constitution” and “by-laws” of what we do at Intuit. Great to see you on the ERE circuit again!


  2. Thanks, Randall. A few points:
    1) If your company requires being filled with superstars to succeed, you’re in a very precarious position. What happens when they leave? Maybe you should consider a different line of business.

    2) “Graduated from top universities, worked at leading companies, stayed at each company the requisite length of time, and exuded intelligence in the interview process.”
    *As far as I know, NONE of these have been found to be significant indicators in how well someone will do when they get a job- it merely gets them in front of arrogant and/or misguide people who think they ARE significant indicators.

    3) Think your company (job, culture, management, etc.) is special”? Well you’re probably wrong, and believing too much of your own marketing hype. It’s time to GET REAL.

    4) ISTM, the only “game changer” most companies actually want is someone who can kick up sales or profitability. Anybody else is likely to make too many waves- make the existing powers-that-be look bad, if only in comparison. Imagine your firm hires a knowledgeable and dynamic staffing firebrand who went in and showed that the premises and policies (like those mentioned above) which the hiring efforts were either counterproductive, neutral, or successful in spite of themselves? How long do you think that person would last in most corporate environments unless s/he had powerful allies.

    5) Steve Tyler as “role model”? REALLY?



    *Folks, if I’m wrong, show me your data.

  3. Randall, you make some excellent points, and you Keith bring a different perspective that most certainly has relevance.
    Over are the days when companies dared to take a chance and to take on someone not exactly 100% match why that has to be in place.
    Where I think both Randall’s piece and your comments Keith come together is in subject of getting a 100% match ensuring capability and background, however this potentially as per Randall’s piece coming from a different angle than the same old as always used.
    The skill lie in allowing the likes of Steve Tyler’s (who is no fool and although a ‘rogue’ knows what he is talking about, having an understanding, ear and capability within understanding music) to come to the table.
    This require an open mind and ability (why really only mature people should be the ones making in house TA and candidate assessments!) to understand and see beyond what is written on a resume to understand if the required capability and right level of passion/engagement there.
    If the arguments stack up and candidate in fact good with required skill set and abilities, I would like to see the hiring manager turning down a candidate that may not fit all the traditional criteria. I have hired ‘rogue’s’ into roles where hiring manager had stipulated strict criteria, only to willingly compromise on these once seen outstanding candidates coming from a near direct opposite background. I was part of getting an constructional engineer grad into a marketing graduate scheme at Microsoft, on the basis of an insight, an ability and a passion and engagement that knocked the socks of everybody.
    So Steve Tyler and the likes may be the odd ones, but should not be disregarded on that basis. Enough examples out there that the oddballs the ones with the best skills and abilities.

  4. All points carry much weight. Amazing how long they have gone unheeded. The hope is our employers will understand and courageously begin this long overdue transition

  5. @ Jacob. Thank you. ISTM that employers are increasingly looking for fairly jr/intermediate “order takers” (FT, contract, and 3PR) who lack the experience and wisdom necessary to confront managers and get them who’s *needed, not necessarily who’s wanted.

    @ Denise: “The hope is our employers will understand and courageously begin this long overdue transition.”
    Don’t hold your breath, Denise…



    * or obtainable.

  6. Long live bureaucratic recruitment of No-Internet days.

    The inertia of age old recruitment advertisement in news paper is the cause of this malaise. We never posted recruitment ads for soccer/sports coaches…it is left untainted by this recruitment bureaucracy. Hence we take example thanks to the purposeful recruitment we did in sports.

    When I interview, I often keep looking for Resilience in a candidate and the passion to get things done. These two ingredients with little bit of technical stuff not only makes recruitment accurate but simple as well.

  7. This is all good information.

    Quite frankly a candidate that is OK is not a good thing for organizations that want to dominate a given space. (As an aside, a product that is good is not all that much of a winning idea either…)

    The question becomes simple. How do you bring high impact players into your organization? All companies believe they deserve the best. In reality, few do.

  8. @Howard
    The way to.do.this is:
    Have senior management belief, buy in and living the values.
    Have a highly capable and best/latest practice HR management on the company board of directors who will.spend at least 30% of his/her entire time devoted to talent acquisition/management activities.
    Have a mature highly capable senior TA manager that live and breathe best and latest best in class talent acquisition.
    Live and breathe and believing in all elements of Recruitment 3.0, and a relentless reader and followe of ere and the outstanding advice shared here.
    Easy …

  9. @Jacob, Lovely advice but I would argue that it is hardly easy. Few companies can even do one of these things, let alone all of them. (I have found that things that are easy are in realty, usually very hard.)

    Perhaps things are different in the UK but senior management here in the US, with some notable exceptions, are more concerned with short term gain and inflated bonuses.

    Let me put it another way; if you believe that most of senior management is seeking to build shareholder value over time by planning for the long term and building great organizations, you do not understand the nature of capitalism here in the United States on this very cold day in January of 2013.

    They talk it to death but in the end, it is just talk.

  10. @Howard
    I wrote easy but my fingers slipped on keyboard, the word easy was said and meant (sadly) with the greatest sense of irony. Alas and far too well known the list I wrote is wishful thinking and probably only 1-3% (if that) of any companies on the planet may have all the elements and work to those virtues. But we can all dream (and hope) 🙂

  11. @ Howard.”All companies believe they deserve the best. In reality, few do.” My sentiments, exactly.

    @ Jacob:
    1) Have senior management belief, buy in and living the values.
    I think that may be a problem- since these are often the REAL values:
    a. Enough is never enough.
    b. What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine, too.
    c. I do not wish to compete- I wish to win and eliminate the competition.
    d. It is not enough that I must win- you must lose as well.

    2) Have a highly capable and best/latest practice HR management on the company board of directors who will.spend at least 30% of his/her entire time devoted to talent acquisition/management activities.
    Can anybody actually agree at this point what best HR management IS? (“Latest” is probably not the best.)

    3) Have a mature highly capable senior TA manager that live and breathe best and latest best in class talent acquisition.
    If you have someone like this, they will be going right up against the GAFI (Greed, Arrogance, Fear, and Ignorance/Incompetence) of the most powerful people at the company. (Again,”latest” is probably not the best.)

    4) Live and breathe and believing in all elements of Recruitment 3.0, and a relentless reader and followe of ere and the outstanding advice shared here. ISTM that following an ill-fined catchphrase as gospel may not be the best policy. As far as ERE, you have a point- someone should carefully see what the most respected employers of choice have as their policies and practices, and what the most respected of my fellow authors and I suggest, and do the opposite- you’re likely to be wildly successful! Or, you could actually do the UNSPEAKABLE: asking your own staff what they would do to improve their effectiveness and efficiency, and then doing it….



  12. I think the putting of a person on the board is a kind of chicken-and-egg thing. What I mean by that is this … I know of companies that (while financially successful at the moment) couldn’t possibly be considered employee-friendly, don’t have someone spending 30% of their time on leading talent activities as Jacob talks about, don’t live and breath recruitment 3.0, and don’t follow ERE’s advice.

    They don’t want people working from home; you have to have attended certain colleges; they deal with people returning from maternity leave in an inflexible way; and so on. And that’s where the chicken-and-egg comes along: I just don’t see some of these companies putting this latest-and-greatest-best-practice person on the board of directors. If they would have wanted to put this person on their board, they already would have changed their policies in the first place.

    So while in theory I like what you are saying, Jacob, in some of your comments — I think it’s more what we all want to happen more than what can easily happen in practice. Sometimes I think it’s the company management that needs to read about and hear about best practices in recruiting and managing people more than the HR and recruiting departments, as sometimes it’s the former and not the latter that are the stumbling blocks.

  13. Hi Todd
    Ofcourse (and unfortunately) you are right why my earlier comment of dream and hope. I know that it may not be TA folks or HR (although I think the majority of the HR community are shockingly behind when coming to TA knowledge, care, interest ) I have knowledge of only one company (being Unilever) where the CEO has getting the right and best and necessary people hired as one of his main pillars of focus. That is a rarity on par with a snowleopard sighting and sadly a fact of most businesses.

  14. @ Jacob. Thank you. Also, isn’t Unilever a Dutch (as opposed to an American) company?

    @ Todd: re companies- I agree. Furthermore, I see little likelihood of significant, large-scale, institutional change until such time as there:
    1) is a return to a sellers market for employees or
    2) a revitalized labor movement or
    3) the latest crop of corporate robber barons and banksters is replaced by more enlightened leadership…i.e. not very soon, if ever…



  15. Good discussion, as always…

    Some in the conversation are interested in data about hiring – I am happy to share the data I have collected.


    Numerous research studies show that the predictive value of interviews is low – about .18 – which is similar to the predictive accuracy of flipping a coin or random selection. If the interview is highly structured, it goes up to about .51.

    Years of Job Experience

    The predictive value of experience is similar to that of interviews – about .18 – a big surprise for most managers who assume that past experience translates into success in the new job. Most often, it does not. (Experience is different from job knowledge like how to program in Java or C++ or using the accounting rules that apply to nonprofit accounting. Job knowledge has a predictive value of about .48)


    Various studies have found up to 59% of resumes contain erroneous information like an edited job title, inflated years of experience, or false degree claims. Think of the resume as a personal marketing document containing unverified, self-reported information – kind of like the used car description written to get you interested.


    Conventional wisdom is that hiring someone referred by an employee leads to an employee with better performance and longer tenure. The problem is the data tell a different story. I have been unable to find any evidence of the claim that referral employees perform better and the research shows their tenure is no longer. What the research also finds is that if the employee making the referral leaves the company, the referred employee is more likely to leave, too.

    The best approach to hiring is a “whole” person approach – one that combines several evaluation methods. Begin with a valid assessment of cognitive and behavioral preferences (assessments like this can’t be faked.) The best approach is to have every candidate complete the assessment – there are affordable sources for this type of assessment – it saves time and money to assess first! Follow assessment with structured behavioral interviews of top candidates – this approach gets the predictive value to about .67 which is great!

  16. @ Deborah- This is the kind of stuff I like to read: *checkable facts vs. marketing hype….These factors show limited validation ability when used to SELECT potential viable candidates. However, if you don’t use these factors, what do you use to FIND candidates? I’ll re-state: these factors you listed (like years of experience, resumes, and my own favorite “academic experience” which you didn’t include) have varying degrees in predicting the best candidates when they have been located and identified. However, what are useful alternative factors to FIND potential viable candidates? Would you use these earlier factors to find them and then use assessments, structured behavioral interviews and **non-discriminatory General Cognitive tests to to SELECT them?

    “…predictive value to about.67 which is great!” Actually, as the legendary Meatloaf said: “Two out of three ain’t bad.”



    * What are your sources?

    ** Or have all cognitive employment tests been prohibited in light of EEOC v. Ford Motor Co. and United Automobile Workers of America?

  17. @Keith
    I promised an answer to your comments and here it is (albeit late)

    What the true motives are of a senior management team we can only guess, one can take the cynical route and say they are only out to win and destroy or the the more middle of the road that I subscribe to that it is about winning and being superior AND ensuring a sound and healthy work environment. I think you will find that companies have all variations of these two extremes.

    What truly constitute a good HR manager is I agree a good question. With the foundation for good HR practices laid over 25 years ago, yet with extraordinarily few companies where best practices lived to the full it can be asked what best and latest HR practice looks like. I do not have the answer, and suppose you have caught me out there. What I personally mean is someone who does have a good insight into what erstwhile scholars have written and said as being the way to do things (backed my evidence)

    As for TA manager, the maturity aspect in order to secure very good and long foundation in all matters people related (having had the exposure and experiences tend to lead to having a better overall understanding is my take on this)
    Much has over the years been written and said about best TA practices, much of it by Dr Sullivan, Kevin Wheeler and Lou Adler, and it is those learnings that I refer to. With those in hand and a good portion of maturity there should be a chance of getting it right.

    As for Recruitment 3.0: I have for the sake of making sure I know what I talk about re-read this. I challenge anyone working in TA to tell me that Recruitment 3.0 doesn’t make sense, that it is not the single most comprehensive and well written piece on the holistic and all encompassing approach to all matters corporate TA. I shall be careful not to sound too holy on Recruitment 3.0, but it simply from where I see it makes very sound business sense, why I for my part declare myself a devout follower.

    Finally asking and abiding by what your employees say is always an advice I would follow, it is a necessity to obtain full understanding as well as buy in.

  18. So true.
    I call that the “risk/reward” hire. People who work in finance know of that basic principle, which I apply to many things in my life. More risk, more chances to lose, but more reward if you win.
    Today, most companies chose to hire “no risk” or “limited risk” people. Hence, limited reward…
    Another full post would be needed to explain or share about WHY it so happens.

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