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Posted: December 10, 2012

A secret to hiring success

Try this talent-driven technique

Dan King

Acquiring and retaining top talent is challenging. When you are ready to hire, what approach gives you the greatest likelihood of success?

“Casting” a person in the right role, as outlined in First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, is one of the best methods. Casting means matching a person’s talents to the right role. This might sound simple, but applying the concept can be difficult. It's both an art and a science. 

Generally, consider at least three, hard-to-measure, but incredibly important casting attributes when recruiting: talent, knowledge and skill.  Talent is the most important of these, and here's why.

  1. Skill - can be learned.  Skill requires the ability to get a task complete by following certain processes and procedures.  For example, doctors perform surgery by following a specific process.  Doctors aren’t born with the ability to perform surgery.  This is a skill acquired through a significant amount of practice.  The same concept applies to finance and accounting because of how technical the profession can be.
  2. Knowledge - is information acquired over time.  Knowledge is the general things you know, which can also be learned.  Don’t mistake knowledge for wisdom.  Similar to skill, one doesn’t need to be born with knowledge to be good at Finance or Accounting, but should acquire knowledge over time. 
  3. Talent - is the most important attribute.  Why is that?  You are either born with it, or you aren’t.  Talent cannot be taught or trained.  Talent is the “fire in the belly," or the “it” factor.  You generally know it when you see it.

Harvard Business Review blogger says to “hire for talent, train for skill."  Additionally, Stanford University researchers found that potential (or talent) is generally more compelling than the past (skills and knowledge).   A cultural fit will naturally emerge with the right talent.

A recent Fast Company article said that “integrating strategy and people accelerates the potential growth of any organization and is critical for high-growth companies."  I prefer to look at this way: Companies should look to integrate the right strategy and the right people to accelerate the potential and growth.   Casting for talent is a step in the integration process. 

So what happens if you hire someone who consistently struggles to perform?  Stick to the concept of “casting." They may not excel at the specific position you brought them into, but they may be fantastic in a different role. You can draw the best out of people based upon their talents. 

Once the person is on board, focus on enhancing their strengths.  If they don’t like the role they are in, it may be a casting error.  If they consistently struggle in other roles, then casting might not be the issue.  They may lack the talent, skillset and knowledge needed to perform.  Or perhaps you made a bad hire. 

Research has found taking this approach yields a much better return on investment in time and productivity.  Spend your time enhancing the talents already there. 

This topic is extremely important to early and mid-stage technology companies.  Keep in mind talent can scale with the company as it goes through the many stages of growth.  Knowledge and skill don’t necessarily carry over into a company’s next stages of growth, but these attributes can be trained.  Identifying talent earlier than later is an important step to execute in a high-growth environment.  Engaging financial operations early can help an organization objectively view these critically important decisions.

Dan King is a financial operations leader with significant experience in venture capital and private equity-backed technology companies in software, SaaS, Cloud and ecommerce business models. He began his career as a CPA with KPMG in the Silicon Valley and is active throughout the Colorado technology and small business community.  Dan can be reached at djk235@hotmail.com

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